Imagine the usual disclaimers; I'm scared of the Mutant Enemy; what if it comes after me, crying, "Grrr! Argh!"

Warnings: Strong language, inept Latin spellcasting, and psychedelic POVs.



Crystal Cave



I go hunting.

I call it patrolling, but the word doesn't really fit. I go out every night, rising from our snuggly bed, while Riley sleeps the sleep of the innocent. I pull on my clothes, and tiptoe for the door. He never wakes up. Stealth is part of the Slayer arsenal. I'd make a great cat burglar.

I go out to the graveyards, do a regular circuit. Sunnydale has a lot of graveyards, for such a backwater dead-end place. I mean really, there's four crypts for every house, almost. Sometimes I think they ship in dead people from coast to coast. "Die And Be Buried In Trendy Sunnydale. Book Your Grave Right Next To The Hellmouth!"

On a good night I can stake a couple of vamps without even breaking a sweat, be back at the dorm by midnight. Fast and easy. That way I get my primal-Slayer fix and my eight hours too. Nice. Healthy. Then I snug back into bed with Riley and he does this great warms-my-cold-feet thing which I totally adore. I mean, my life is the pits: here I am, gotta live threescore and ten in the Suburb of the Damned, plus I'll probably be history by this time next year--but a boyfriend like that can really make up for a lot.

So why do I go hunting?

Graveyard number one is empty, silent. Bo-rring. But I like it that way. Peaceful. Graveyard number two also has this peace-of-the-grave ambiance that you just can't quarrel with. I'd be just fine with it, except that time's running a little late here, people, got to do the business and get back, bed is calling. Maybe after I'm finished I'll wake up Riley and do something to relieve this tension. Doing the rounds can get a girl's blood going. If I don't find something to kill, then I'll never get back to sleep without some kind of recreation. Of course if I luck out and find a nest of demons or something, then I'll be so pumped by the time I've got them that I'll wake Riley up anyway. And that's another way that a studly boy can be a girl's best friend.

A loop through the warehouse district and over Wolfsbane Hill takes me to graveyard number three. Seems like I know every grave by heart--like my soul has taken rubbings off every tombstone. That's pretty sad. But that's my life. And I like this graveyard--it's a great place in the spring, it has loads of magnolias and some awesome peach trees, plus the graves are well tended and a lot of them have flowers planted on top. The lighting is good, too. The whole place exhibits a standard of care not often found in the cemeteries of Sunnydale. The tombstones are generally tasteful, there's a marble angel I'm really fond of, and there isn't a lot of low underbrush or ambush shrubbery, either. You can really tell that people care.

Okay, it's clean. That takes care of the whole east end. Riley and I went over the west side pretty well during our nightly co-patrol. Maybe I'll check out downtown, look in on the empty storefronts by Fifth and Mayor. I've been keeping an eye on them. Empty business space is always prime real estate for the supernatural. Then if I don't strike paydirt, I'll give up and call it a night.

. . . Lately I've felt like I'm looking at the real world from outside.

Like I'm out in the dark, in the cold, nose squashed against glass, begging to be invited back in. Freezing to death in idyllic Sunnydale, folks. And the glass isn't window-plate, it's grimy and grim and acid-etched with eldritch runes, streaked with old dried blood; you can barely see through it, some days. The view through shows me playgrounds, happy homes and picnics, children romping in safe backyards and perfect careless college days. It's an unSunnydalesque world out there. Oh, the grass is definitely greener on the other side.

What's this?

It's the storefront for Mervyn Ambroise's Fine Crystal Emporium, but there's a glow in the back of the showroom that has nothing to do with security lights. I spotted it out of the corner of my eye from the intersection two blocks off. It was a dead giveaway. Well, maybe the manager's putting in an all-nighter on the account books, but I don't think so. Let's go and see.

Stake? Stake. Holy water? Holy water. Crucifix? Crucifix. And look, I've even got a couple of garlic bulbs in my pocket.

Around via the back alley, to the loading dock and the garbage bins. Are the delivery doors unlocked? Nope. Okay. I prowl round the front, keeping close to the building walls and in the shadows. Approach with caution. Out with the handy-dandy dental mirror that Xander gave me last Christmas, and take a peek. Yep. Someone's back there, up to no good. And are those voices? Drunken voices. There's something going on.

As gently as a ghost, I sidle through the door and toward the light.

#

Never play strip poker with a succubus--that's what I always say.

'Course, rules are made to be broken is also a motto of mine. But bloody hell--! When I accepted an invitation from the girls, I had playing for cash in mind. A man's got to live, and that takes money. Money for blood and cigarettes, and money to keep me in soap opera digests--who could have guessed that the damn things would come so dear? But the girls didn't want to play for money; they have no use for earthly things, though they do fancy their jewelry and makeup. They don't eat, they don't sleep. Don't have to fret about food or shelter. I never met a succubus who gave a damn for material comfort. Their cravings are other.

Shelomith, Lilatu, Vivien and Jezeziel: the loveliest quartet you'll ever see. The original party girls, they. They're all sisters, known them for decades. And they're mad for all sorts of indoor romps. Right-o. I ought have seen it coming. When they play poker, it's always strip poker . . . and when they play strip poker, they always play to lose.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Bragging is more like it.

So . . . we were on our seventeenth hand of five-card stud, and there were filmy unmentionables draped from the lighting fixtures, littering the floor, dangling from Jezeziel's rhinestone-sandaled toe as she sprawled across her chair with her feet up on the manager's desk; not to mention Shelomith's knickers in my back pocket. Her shocking-pink thong-cut knickers. As for me, I'd lost my shirt. Actually I'd doffed most everything but my pants. All four of the girls were leering, and every time I shuffled the cards, Lilatu pursed her lips and threw me a kiss. Vivien was the only one still decent--and that was 'cause her boyfriend was playing too, and he kept stacking the deck. They'd taken me to their favorite hangout. The place was wall-to-wall mirrors, and the girls were preening.

"Deal out, Spike. Oooh . . . look how my wingtips sparkle in this lighting!"

"She waxes," Vivien whispered behind her hand. (While her boyfriend smiled, the poor besotted wanker.) "And uses nail-polish."

I raised my bottle in its paper bag. "Well . . . here's to modern cosmetics, ladies!"

"Sweet William." Lilatu's enormous dark eyes were glowing. She rose, laying down her cards, and glided around the table. Of all the gang, she had betted most recklessly and lost the most. "I've nothing left to forfeit save the rings on my fingers." (She extended one hand, regal as Queen Victoria, and I kissed the rings.) "If I lose those too, what's next? My virtue?"

Jezeziel wriggled her toes at me. Shelomith licked the back of my neck. "Isn't that the whole point?" I said. "I--"

Vivien sat in my lap with a bump and a grind, and I lost my train of thought. "Alas, all she has is a pair of fives," she whispered, nibbling my ear. "I'm sure you can beat that."

"Sorry, ducks." I showed my cards. She took one look, snaked her hand down, and began to unbuckle my belt.

And that was the moment the Slayer chose to kick in the office door.

#

(God, I love this.)

Around the corner swift as thought. Ten leaps down the long central aisle of the store, with my image flying through a thousand mirrors, a thousand million prisms of chandelier-crystal. With the stake clutched in my fist. My sneakers thudding on the polished floor. My hair bouncing as I ran. I spun. I leaped. I vaulted one-handed across the decorative glass counter at the back of the shop, flipped completely over and there! that was the wham! of my feet hitting the office door.

(--I love this, I love it, I love it--)

It exploded backward, busted right open. I landed in a shower of glass, fragments sparkling everywhere around me. And skidded on something slippery, falling smack on my ass. "Whoo-whoo-whhoop--" Landed with a grip on someone's bare ankle and the cuff of his tatty old jeans. Saved from a concussion by my inborn Slayer grace. And there before my eyes was--a net-and-velvet teddy with scarlet lace inserts and faux fur round the hips?

"Oh my God," I said through stiff lips. "Like somebody call in the fashion police right now."

The manager's office was strewn with discarded articles of--of--of really cheap and tasteless clothing. Three women--but they were demonesses--were rising from chairs, towering over me, almost starkers, but wearing great wings of gleaming grey that brushed the ceiling overhead with clawed pinion-tips. (Hey, was the demoness on the left wearing rhinestone pasties?) Their hair hung in vast clouds, and it was hard--real hard--to focus on them--uhh--I mean, I couldn't even tell if they were blondes or brunettes or what. This old guy who looked like a wizard was with them. And right in front of me, turning to crane over her shoulder, was the fourth of the Fashion Monsters. At least she was dressed--if you could call that teddy number a dress--but I had caught her in the act, bending over some limp pathetic victim. Her claws hooked in his belt. Her wings casting shadows over him. His bare foot right in front of my nose. (Nail polish and a toe ring. Hm.) Poor guy. Well, I'll save him, and bear the burden of his awestruck gratitude. Been doing it ever since high school, though I have to tell you, accepting the gratitude of cute college boys sure beats hell out of saving ole' spotty Jonathon--

(--I love it, love it, love--)

He sort of heaved up and gawked at me.

"Spike?"

#

Her.

The holier-than-thou one. The Thing That Crawled From The Mall. That living Barbie-doll, that colossal stake up my ass, that little Miss Sunshine California-girl prom-queen-cum-Olympic-athlete Susie Wholesome born-to-rain-on-my-parade as if butter won't melt in her mouth Slayer.

Her.

#

Spike.

I should have known. There he was, flat on his back with Teddy-Girl straddling him--ick! was she unzipping his fly?--and me looking straight between her legs up his skinny, undressed bod to his stunned white face. I took a firmer grip on his jeans--he wasn't going to squirm his way out of trouble this time. Spike! The Bleached Bad. William the Bloody, the Peroxide Peril. That enemy to the suntanned lifestyle everywhere. The sorriest excuse for a vampire in creation, I mean he might as well have just killed himself when they put that chip in his head, I mean what good is a neutered vampire anyway? How pathetic is that? A vampire that can't even bite? I mean--not even Drusilla could put up with this guy, and she's a certifiable nutcase. But there he was, the ex-Big Bad. Looking daggers at me, as if I was the burglar in this joint. Disgusting Spike.

"Hallo, Buffy," he said.

And the Weird Sisters straightened, rustling their shadowy wings. Their strange faces all turned, mouths gaping, toward me. In the holes of their eyes, for a heartbeat, I spotted my own reflection surrounded by blazing glass, chandelier prisms and brilliant mirrors--geez, I look fat from that angle. I pulled in my stomach, and the nearest harpy demanded, "Is this some friend of yours, Spike my sweet?"

"We can always deal her in," said the old geezer calmly.

"Or perhaps we should gut her, and gorge on her entrails?" said another harpy. She sounded hopeful.

"Nonsense! We wouldn't do that--"

"--not with your lady friends, pretty Spike--"

"--not unless you were into that sort of thing--"

"--a threesome--"

"--a sixsome--"

"--maybe a little orgy action? Say the word, darling, and we're on."

"No," said Spike, "it's the Slayer--"

"--then she dies!!" they all screamed, and went for me. Just like that. Big mistake. I was up, spinning into a kick, and down went Harpy the First, catapulted backwards over the desk by my heel impacting her chin. Kerr-plunk! "Strike one." Three fast hammer-blows against the solar plexus of Harpy the Second, and down she went too. With a stake planted in her throat. "Strike two." The geezer with the beard was the only one who stayed put. He looked funny, all calm and a little sarcastic, holding his hand of cards fanned just so. Like I wasn't about to kick his Adam's apple out through the back of his neck. Around I went, grabbed the back of Harpy the Third's neck, and whammed her forehead into mine. She dropped like a rock. "Strike three. You're--"

Oops. They weren't out. They were rising again, surrounding me, with my stake gripped in the clawed fist of Harpy the Second, and I swear that they opened out their wings and all of them got bigger. Expanding like shadows as the light blows out. Their outlines leaped and wavered like, you know, those kitschy metal cutouts attached to candle-holders, that you can buy on the beach in those funky import stores? Like that. On the candle-holders, that's kind of fun. In a strange place, at night, when it's the Attack of the Fashion Monsters--it's not.

No, wait, they're all running.

Well, there's one undead monster who's not getting away tonight. I dropped flat to the floor and grabbed for Spike's ankles again--sheesh, he's as slippery as a wet Trojan--he's almost wiggled right under the desk--got my fingers hooked in the holes in his jeans--Ohmigod his pants just came right off!

#

She debagged me!!

#

"So was he, you know, commando-guy?" asked Willow, hearing the story later.

"I shut my eyes," I admitted. "The Slayer I may be, but I'm definitely not up to dealing with the Commando Spikey Action Figure."

"But you didn't like take a quick peek and see how big-bad was his Big Bad?"

"Hey! Please." I held my nose and said, "Ewww," and Willow dissolved in giggles.

But I lied. I did peek.

#

"Give me back my trousers, Slayer!"

You can't waste time on modesty when you're dealing with ten inches of polished oak in the hands of a Slayer--that's another motto of mine. But she has no appreciation for manly good looks. You should have heard the noises she made!

Rude is what I call it. Dead unmannerly.

She was backing away, gone all over prissy, holding my poor trousers between finger and thumb as if they were contaminated. Saying ick and eww. ". . . the most disgusting thing I've ever seen! You make me sick, Spike, you and your sleazy girlfriends--where did you find them anyway, the Crowley Park stroll?" Suddenly she whipped around, slammed an elbow into poor Lilatu's ribs, slung her right around and knocked over Shelomith and Vivien who were just colliding in the doorway. (Jezeziel was long gone.) "You stay right here! Whatever you are." They froze. She eyed them, made a face. "Puh-leeze, you look worse than the Witches from Macbeth." They hissed. "Specially you--what are you, the Teddy Monster?" Vivien bristled. Her boyfriend put down his cards, stood up from behind the desk. "I think you're plotting something, Spike. If I could read your mind--"

"If you could read my mind, Slayer--" I growled.

"--I take it back, I don't want to know. Being dragged through the muck that is your mind would be the worst punishment anyone could endure." She brandished my pants. "If you know what's good for you, you'll--" A glance at what she was waving; she went red, flung the pants hastily over her arm and brandished a crucifix instead. "--go hold your black mass or whatever in the nice stinky sewers where you belong--"

"Enough!"

Lightning cracked. Thunder boomed. The Slayer shut up, as Vivien's boyfriend--nobody you want mad at you, I can testify to that--slammed his hand flat on the desktop. Every mirror in the whole damn store seemed to flash at once. She actually faltered, backed up half a step. The big guns had been called in.

"Young lady," he said, "this store belongs to me and I shall invite to it whoever I wish, and entertain them however I please. You, however, are trespassing." He raised his hand, and the walls rattled; the shards of glass strewn underfoot all skipped and sparkled. I took advantage of the lull to grab my shirt and pull it on. "Go your ways," he said--shouted, really--and went on, "Animus puer cogitatio puelle composui! Magnificentia puelle stultissimo puer sensi--"

Good, he was laying a spell on her. Served her right.

"Aculeusi puer secta puelle acclarare!" There was my coat under the chair, too. And my boots. Maybe if I can get them on fast enough, nobody'll notice and I'll be a couple of hands ahead of the girls. "Puelle et puer alienari!" They're party animals, after all, but nobody ever claimed that succubi have brains--

"--Digiti crepantis signa!" He added, "Get out, girl."

"And good riddance," I couldn't help but add.

He pointed a finger straight at me. "You too, Spike. Get you gone."

#

. . . he's such a pig, he thinks we all like him but no one likes him, they're just being nice to him because he's neutered, and I'm going to tell him just that--I'm going to revoke his invitation once and for all, the minute I get to Willow, and then I'll go, "That ought to show you," and he'll go, "You wouldn't do that," and I'll go, "Ha ha, surprised you," and he'll go--

"Oi! Oi, Slayer!"

"Spike? Why are you following me? Quit it!"

"You still got my pants, Slayer."

Oops. Yes. I did. I made to throw them at him, and these really gross panties spilled out of the pocket. "Ugh! Whose were those?"

He said they belonged to Shelomith, and I said So who's she when she's not breaking into Lights-R-Us, and he started into this whole song and dance, but I wasn't in the mood to listen. So I tossed the jeans his direction, dropped the thongs in the nearest garbage can, and went my ways. Just like the geezer said. Riley ought to be pretty well immersed in REM-snooze by now, but I don't think I'll go back to the frat house. Let him sleep. I'll head for the dorm, catch forty winks. We have Anth Intro at 9 A.M. tomorrow, and the prof is pretty interesting. Lectures well, and has a nice bon-bon. Blushes when I sit in the front row, too. He's cute.

He's teaching us about the social contract. About how homo sapiens is really a wild animal, just like every other animal, but we've been domesticated by cultural mores. Like, we're all taking bribes to lay off the killing and raping. The basic behave-or-starve thing. It's the origin of common law--what the rest of the tribe will put up with, what other people will accept. Also the origin of good manners. Really, the origin of civilization--of totally everything. And all men and women were doing the nasty-brutish-short thing before . . . living their animal lives . . . but now we're all rolling in luxury--even the homeless and poverty-stricken are comparatively well off. Well, at least not scavenging on the savanna, getting eaten by baboons. Because of the social contract.

The prof goes on and on about it. (He's writing a book.) Willow's all pumped on the concept, hangs on every word, but I don't quite buy it myself. Think there's more to it than just the give and get. There's got to be more.

Like, Giles talks about the soul. How when a vampire is made, the soul dies and what's left is a demon-ridden corpse. An evil void. Well, isn't that just another way to say 'complete collapse of the social contract'? So . . . when I stake a vamp, I'm not killing anything. Just driving out a demon, putting a corpse to rest.

Angel is capable of goodness if and only if he has a soul. Subtract the soul, he becomes evil. Evilissimo. Evil Kinevel, even . . . So there's more to the social contract than just bribery. There's good and evil. A human being with a soul helps other men and women because of the knowledge of good and evil . . . Well, anyway, because of the knowledge of good . . . Threats don't enter into it. Not a bribe-y thing at all.

Maybe being a Slayer is like a lab course with field experiments in human behavior? Hey! Maybe I can get extra credit!

#

. . . So the night's a total sodding write-off, didn't even get a roll in the hay with Shelomith. Pockets as empty as all get-out, too. Maybe I can burglarize some Mom-and-Pop store, get me some pin money before the sun rises and I got to go to ground . . . Hope the Slayer has nightmares, busting up our cosy party. It's a shame and a pity. I was looking forward to a little orgy action.

Damn her! Treats us like trash.

There she'll be, sleeping the sleep of the just, while the likes of us writhe and grind our teeth. Don't even have teeth anymore, me. Got to bump my gums or something.

Oh yeah, her future's all shiny-bright, not a cloud on her sunny horizons. Friends, family, college and prospects--she's got it all. The center of her adoring little circle of Scooby morons. Going on and on about love and compassion and the rest of the proletariat brainwashing tripe. It's all crap. Indoctrination of the masses. You try dying, get buried and claw your way bloody-fingered out of the grave, you'll soon see through the illusion of good manners. I mean, there are only two kinds of people in the world. The dead . . . and the brain-dead.

C'mon, c'mon, gotta get my leg through the hole without falling over, dammit . . .

There.

Well. Forget burglary, I'm knackered. Let's go home, see what's on the telly . . . Wonder if Erica's going to tell P. J. about the baby?

#

. . . wonder if I could do my term paper on that Rasputin vampire cabal stuff I read in Giles' book last week? Explain how Stalin was really a Vagus demon, who passed for human with the help of stage makeup plus years of training in London's East End theaters. How his so-called death was really him reverting to his natural state, and how he kept running the U.S.S.R. for years afterward. And the truth about Anastasia. It could work. I even have a title: 'Anastasia the Vampire Slayer'--

Or I could do it on soap operas! Pump mom for information, write about ethics and the social contract on the afternoon soaps. That sounds like it wouldn't be hard. And face it, the soaps are all about infractions of the social contract: infidelity, illegitimate babies, crime, lies, underhanded doings . . . I could watch 'Passions' . . .

Wait a minute, I hate the soaps. Never watch them. I must be spending too much time with--

Hey, what's that?

#

. . . wonder if she's ever heard of Anastasia? The true story, that is. Now that'd make a nice little term paper, get her extra credit, all the blood and ooze anyone could ask. Funny how that just occurred to me.

Hey. What's that?

#

I feel all bizarre. I've got double vision, and I'm cold even though I shouldn't be. And why am I so hungry? I ate three pieces of pizza before Riley and I went to bed! This is stupid, and also dangerous. A girl can get killed this way.

A girl?

. . . A girl?

. . . A girl . . . !?

I staggered. Suddenly everything seemed wrong, my heart was pounding, my breath came in loud gasps. My skin was hot. My eyes blurred and the world was spinning. There was a pain in one of my elbows. Bloody hell, it was the strangest thing--put the frighteners right on me. What had gone wrong? Why would I be breathing? Didn't need to. Why was my heart beating? Hasn't done for a hundred years. I was a vampire--

. . . A vampire . . . ?!

. . . A vampire?

A vampire?

No! No no, I'm me, I'm not someone else, I'm not a vampire, I'm the Slayer. There's nothing more different than vampires and Slayers, nothing in the world. But for a moment I could have sworn that I was looking at the world through a vampire's eyes. "That man in the lighting-store--he put a spell on me!"

"Yes he did, dearie." And four women stepped out of the shadows, surrounding me. It was them--the things from the shop. Victoria's Nightmares.

At least this time, they were dressed. They had cheap finery practically dripping off them, all plastic love-beads and chunky sixties bracelets, not to mention an obscene yardage of red and black lace. Why, wrassle any one down and strip her, and you could open a lingerie francise on the spot. Also with the cosmetics they had gone way, way over the top. But I guess a guy would like them, I guess they were beautiful . . . whatever they were.

They were beautiful with wings, weird angels. Darkly lovely, like shadow images hanging behind the pancake makeup, the vivid red lipstick and hooker finery . . . old lush paintings half-obliterated, obscured by neon gunk. Enormous eyes. Soft yearning mouths. Bodies that went thirty-six nineteen thirty-six and figures that took no prisoners. And they moved--they moved as if gravity was just a vicious rumor. One of them drifted toward me, her feet trailing along the ground, and breathed, "You think you can insult me in front of my man and stroll away unscathed? You don't even know who you're meddling with! Do you? Do you? Poor ignorant Slayer."

"He turned me into a vampire--?" Oh no. He's turned me into a vampire! No no that's not it, my heart's still beating, I'm still the Slayer--

The harpies swayed closer. Their wings rustled, cut off the glow from the streetlights. "You shouldn't have sneered at us, little mortal," said one. Her eyes opened wide, glowing red and eerie. "We are women too. Like you, we love. We yearn, we weep. Men call to us, and we give them all they ask. Their desires are clear as crystal glass, but we . . . we are never more than shadows to them. Shadows on a wall, the creatures of a dream. No matter how well we love them, they always--"

"--wear out," said Harpy the Second. "They wear out from our love."

"--or break, they break so easily, and then they break our poor hearts--"

"--they always leave us in the end," concluded Harpy the First, and great brilliant tears welled up in her eyes, fell flashing like stars and ate sizzling into the tarmac around her sequined stiletto heels. "They wake, and religion saves them, and they turn from us to their silly mortal women who can't satisfy them half as well. In the end, we are always left alone."

"That's not true," said the Teddy Monster proudly. "My man treats me like a queen." She preened, fluffing out her feathers and primping at her hair. "Why, look at the spell he cast upon the Slayer. It's subtle, diabolical, hilarious. It operates upon you both. You, little Slayer." She pursed her lips, cast me a look of scorn. "Skinny, plain thing. You and sweet William, you will both pay the price."

"What did he do to me? What did he do?" Whichever way I turned, there they were, towering over me--it was like being in grade seven again. They were all around me now, very close. Almost time to beat them all up, in my book. And I was just groping for a weapon, when footsteps came thudding down the street.

Loud, fast footsteps. Round the corner, skidding to a halt at the far end of the alley, platinum blond, black coat--yep, guess who. Spike. He was panting. He yelled out, "Vivien, what the hell did he do to me?!"

"Why, don't you know, Spike?" purred the Teddy Monster. "Traitor Spike, the Slayer's friend. My man has made her able to read your mind. Took you by surprise, didn't it, Slayer? Like this!"

She plucked me right off my feet, spreading her wings and going straight up. Ten, twenty feet. Then I flipped myself over, landed a good one on her with both heels, broke free and fell. Behind me, she shrieked. I hit the ground rolling. Bounced up. And away I went.

This is what I love about fighting: I'm just so good at it. I've got strength. I've got speed. I've got agility and style, folks! I've got fists that find their mark no matter what, and tons of experience, and Giles makes me work out four times a week so as to hone that amazing strength, speed, agility and style. And it's just as well when I'm faced with quartets of giantesses. I mean, one good whack from one of those wings could have knocked my head right off. But they were slow, mucho slow--they were still reaching for me when I ducked real low, zipped between two of them and left them in my dust. And aha! there was my holy water. Three vials of it. Okay. Might work. Snap went the top on the first vial, and I splashed them good and proper. Die, evil mascara! Melt away to nothing! Begone!

Ouch--I think I broke an eardrum. Boy did they yell! Okay, holy water hurt, and I had two more vials. It was something to remember.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Spike hesitating at the other end of the alley. He fidgeted. He bit his lip, punched his palm in frustration. I could all but read his mind: it was classic if-the-Slayer-gets-whipped-I-want-to-a-ringside-seat versus the damn-I-love-a-good-fight thing. Same as me, but on the dark side of the Force, right? But he can't fight anyone but demons anymore, so the conclusion is always predictable. He rolled his eyes, shrugged. And came roaring in, fists swinging.

And this is what I love about being the Slayer: it makes me so good at fighting! Like I'm ninety pounds wringing wet of lethal lethality. I mean I'm never gonna be big, and I look just like Alice in Wonderland, and I'm so blonde that I'm, like, the Spirit of Blonde and I'll never be a rocket surgeon . . . but I'm good in a fight. I mean if I was the blonde hunter in the joke who followed the tracks and followed the tracks and eventually the train hit her, I could lick that train and make it beg for mercy. I like being the Slayer because it makes me good in a fight. I like being good in a fight because I like fighting. I like fighting, just 'cause I'm the Slayer. And round and round and round we go--

--go--?

--go!

But hell and damnation! was I ever pumped tonight! Like every time my fist scored, it was better than uncut Columbian. I grabbed the nearest succubus by the primary feathers, spun her around and planted one right on her kisser, then got my hands on Shelomith and whammed her with a Swedish kiss that should give her a concussion. It felt good. It always feels good, but this time it felt great. I mean, I like being me because of the fighting. I like fighting, because I'm good at it. I'm good at it because I'm me, and that's why I like being me.

And round and round and round we go--

--ohmigod what's happening to me--!?

--what the hell, was I just thinking Buffy's thoughts--?!

Those bloody bints were meddling with my mind too! Made me imagine I was the Slayer. Now that's not on. I was so shocked, I actually stopped fighting, and that was a big mistake. I'd been just about to punch out Jezeziel out, and naturally she took advantage. "Traitor!" she said. She set her feet, wound up, let fly, and--

Pow! Straight to the moon, Spike!

She knocked me smack into a wall, practically marmalized me. And I should have come back up and ripped the bitch's wings off--strong is sexy, but that was too much--but I didn't. Instead I sat there with my jaw dropped and imagined I could feel my heart beat. Feel living blood coursing through my veins. Feel myself breathing. All impossible, but that wasn't the worst of it.

I swear I could read her thoughts, pry into the mind of the Slayer herself. And she's just a teenage girl. Now, granted that puts her smack in the most delicious of all food groups, but shouldn't there be more? Ought have been blinding light, fiery swords, a glare of purity fit to scorch a poor vampire to dust. After all, she's the scourge of the night, innit? Terror of dark creatures everything. She should be righteous. And what did I find?

Well, fashion tips, for starters.

And . . . vanilla beddy-bye with her sickeningly square boyfriend . . . vapid maunderings about N'Sync and collector teddy bears . . . Five Ways to Drive Him Wild . . . the latest pop diet secrets . . . oh God, she does the personality quizzes in Teen Miss and takes the answers seriously. Now that's twisted. And she hates the soaps? What's wrong with her? That's not purity, it's inanity. She's an airhead!

She's as lame as the rest of her misfit gang. Her mind's stuffed full of magazine articles, her heart's a Hallmark card. Is this the arch-enemy of all things bad, the unbeatable foe? Foiler of all my plans? My personal nemesis? Not Joan of Arc at all. She's little Red Riding Hood skipping into the woods.

There I sat, like a pillock, stunned by the revelation of it. Out of the fight. Feeling a right willy. And her, meantimes? She'd got Shelomith down, on her knees with the Slayer's arm round her neck from behind and the Slayer's foot firmly planted on one wing. Shelomith's feathers were bent, crumpled. Buffy held a vial--holy water, no doubt about it, I could smell it from here--to Shelomith's cheek. "One false move, and Cher here gets her facelift melted right off." It was humiliating. I'd caved, and Goldilocks there was not only not still standing, but unfazed. Downright triumphant, in fact. "If you thought your little spells would slow me down," she said, "you're even dumber than you look." She was even laughing. "Spike's mind is toxic waste, okay. But I can take it."

Shelomith writhed, tried to squirm away from the vial of holy water. The other succubi closed in. "Little Slayer," Vivien breathed, "beware. My man does not cast 'little spells.'" She stretched like a cat, twisting her body and thrusting out one hip, lush as a French postcard; I drooled. Well, I'm not proud, and she's a looker. She smiled at me. "Long ago I enticed him into my cave, mesmerized the magician and made him my slave--for hundreds of years, I've held him enthralled. Whoever does me wrong, he makes them pay. Begging for mercy--"

"One move and I'll slosh her! I mean it!"

"--weeping bloody tears," finished Vivien. "And that includes you, darling Spike. Traitor Spike. Since you're such a great friend of hers."

"I am not!" I sat in the alleyway and bawled it. It was the lowest moment of my so-called unlife. "Her and me are not friends! I'm evil! I'm not a traitor!"

"All of you, back away," said the Slayer. "Once you're far enough off, I'll let her go. Then you all leave, right? Quit picking on me." She shook the vial. "Better believe I'm serious."

They believed her. They backed away, while Shelomith wept and the Slayer waited grimly. When they got to the end of the alley, Jezeziel spread her wings, beat them twice, rose slowly into the shadows; Vivien and Lilatu followed. Then Buffy released Shelomith. Shelomith bolted after her sisters, took to flight.

I looked up after them, and thought: They'll be back, or my name's not William the Bloody--

--William the Bloody . . . ??

--no, no, I'm Buffy--

--I'm Buffy, Buffy! Buffy. Not Spike. "Guess they don't like me," I said brightly. "Was it something I did?"

For a moment I thought Spike was going to go soft on me. Then he picked himself up, brushed down his coat. "Well, you were pretty abrupt. Touch of PMS I'd say." He sniffed conspicuously in my direction. "Yep. Hope you carry supplies, Buffy, this could get messy."

"Do you mind! I mean, what's with the gross." He just shrugged. Despite myself I asked, "Do vampire girls--"

He snickered. "Sure they do. That's why vampire boys are insatiable."

I hit him as hard as I could. "Not one more word," I ordered. "Follow me. We'll try to get out of here." I felt like the end of a long, hard day on high heels; I felt like I had shopped till I dropped. "What's with this spell, anyway? I can feel what you think, you can feel what I think?" Spike thought, nodded. "Well okay, I can handle it," I said firmly. Happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts-- "It's not so bad. Something like this happened to me in high school, I got contaminated with demon blood and-- Quit salivating!" Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. "Just quit thinking about blood. Quit it. Are you really this hungry all the--" Of course he was. He was a vampire. Change the subject. "I'll get Giles or Willow to take it off and everything will be hunky-dory. I-- Quit thinking about my jugular!"

"Can't help what I think, Slayer. You smell edible."

"Eek! I can smell myself smelling edible and it's freaking me out." And I could feel what he felt. And it was . . .

Hunger. Endless hunger. A hunger that no food could never fill, cravings no drugs could satisfy. There was cold in his bones, a deep and almost-unnoticed ache; his bones had ached for a hundred years and the chill would never go away. Dead man's bones. I could feel the blood in his veins, cool and still as freon. Vampire blood, barely circulating. Frozen bones and sluggish blood, undead flesh as combustible as rotting wood. Animated by a demon.

Then I started feeling what he felt when he thought of me.

Deep-down hatred. Blind loathing, wild rage. Seething funk. Oh no. No. He's the vampire, he's the killer in this equation, he's the one that makes people scream and run. Not me! And since he got chipped, we thought he was harmless. But when he looks at me--when he hears my voice, even--he wants to lunge and rip and rend-- God, he feels about me the way I feel about vampires. And it's instinctive, I can feel it. He's me all upside-downy. He's like the anti-Slayer--and being forced to look inside him is like being swallowed by the big bad wolf. "Wh-where do you suppose the harpies went? . . . What were they, anyway?"

"The girls? Oh, just succubi." He was now looking around, sniffing again. Never noticing that I was about to jump right out of my skin. "You know, love a man to death? Great stuff. They hate women, though, guess you brought out the demon in them. Probably went up to rooftop height and started looking for--"

Wham! And a piece of gutter weighing maybe fifty pounds came down out of the dark and almost got me.

I made a nosedive for the shelter of a dumpster. "For missiles??!" More pieces of gutter spanged off the pavement. Tiles and steel pipe, too. I could hear cursing from above. "Hey, stupid! Spike! Get over here, think they aren't good enough to hit you?"

"It's not me they're after--" Spike started.

A big piece of tile scored right on his head and he went down.

"Oww!! When they hit you, it hurts me!"

"Run away! Run away!"

We fled down the alley, arms over our heads. More stuff rained down. Thundering noises came from the rooftops, as if they were jumping up and down to break pieces of sheet-metal loose. Whatever direction we ran, there they were. "Can't go this way," Spike yelled, "can't go that--" And with every step I could feel his rage, his hunger, the cold in his bones. And God, I thought vamps were just dead bodies. Monsters to be hunted, things without souls. When I stake one, I'm not killing anything, just laying a corpse to rest. They're no more alive than clods of grave-earth; they're nothing but empty shells. Their demons wear them like flesh masks, like Hallowe'en costumes had worn us all one year. But he's not an empty shell. He's fire at the heart. All passion. Wildness. Like-- No!

He's a monster, he's a vampire, he's the enemy--

--She's a Slayer, she's not like me, she's the enemy--

But underneath the Goldilocks lifestyle lies a different kind of fairy tale. Something fiery, fierce and rotten full of--ugh--morality. She expects sweetness and light from everyone, turns up her little nose at the law of the jungle. As if she could make things better by behaving herself! It makes me sick. Forget her silly social contract talk, this is something that was old before the Old Ones took Themselves wherever They went, something that was ancient when the first Slayers hunted terrified vampires across the Sahara's plains. Something as primal as the Hellmouth itself. Just thinking about it hurts--it's fingernails down blackboards, Chinese water torture, being forced to dance in red-hot shoes. It's unbearable. 'Cause she's the enemy, but she loves the fighting. Just like me. She lives for it. Just like me. When she's in it, she bloody revels. Just like--

No!

Above, the succubi were screaming. Wings swirled, wind buffeted me in the face, filth and garbage came pelting down. They swooped, snatched at my hair, shrieked: "Traitor! Traitor!" I jumped and clawed at them, showed my fangs. "I'll bite you all, you bitches!" I was raving. But they were thirty feet up, easy, and there was no getting at them. Buffy gasped beside me. She still had holy water. "We have to get out of this!" When one of them fell from on high and struck her with a flailing wing, I felt the blow. She felt what I felt and I felt what she felt. We were one.

--we're not alike, we're not alike, we're not alike--oh God, I can't stand it--

--can't effing take it--

--like being eaten alive--

--like walking on knives with every step--

--it has to stop!!

I don't know which one of us was screaming at the succubi. "We'll get the spell raised--we'll get ourselves fixed--we'll stop--" But what were they catcalling, wailing on the wind? It was Vivien, falling about with laughter.

"You fools!" she said. "My man laid the spell. Have you forgotten who he is? Only he can break it."

And I turn to you, we come together in perfect accord, and as you leap, I catch you. Like two gymnasts we move. Your hands lift and steady me. I toss you on high, Slayer, like a dancing girl. You have the last vial of holy water gripped in your little fist, a crucifix on a chain wound through the fingers of your other hand. And you, Spike, fling me effortlessly into flight, fling me into Vivien's path. Down she comes tumbling, and we dowse her in holy water--we have her now--we bring her crashing to the ground, and you've got her wings pinned and I thrust the crucifix into her face. Is it you speaking, or I? "You're going to take us to your man, then. And he'll fix us."

"Not unless you ask him nicely!" the succubus hissed.

"Ask him?" I said. You said, "Don't worry. We plan to beg."

#

The magician waited in his place of business, seated at ease behind his desk, arms crossed, in a blaze of prisms and light. His eyes gleamed. Vivien stole like a favored pet to his side, sank down and laid her head in his lap. He smiled. "Slayer," he said softly, softly. "Little vampire. Have you learned your lesson?"

We breathed in ragged gasps. "Please . . . take it off."

He rose, raised one hand. All the mirrors flashed. He said, "Calamitas retexo. Calamitas resigno. Calamitas circummunio! Digiti crepantis signa!" He snapped his fingers. Then he said, "Get out. I don't want to see either of you again."

#

"So that guy, the magician . . ."

"Yeah?"

". . . is he who he seems to be?"

"Yeah. Think he is."

Wow. Wait till I tell Willow I've met Merlin.

And home we walk along the midnight street, side by side but with different destinations. I'll go back to the dorm, daylight and Riley and safety and all things good. And you, Spike? You'll skulk home to your crypt and your mysterious half-life, creature of shadows and blood. Scum to the bitter end. Always the enemy. Forget about the social contract; the difference goes way, way deeper. Yours is the fate of things without a soul.

You're a monster. You're not a man.

#

. . . I'm frying in sunshine here, clawing at the bars, screaming to be let out of your goody-goody world. Spontaneously combusting in Sunnydale. So stay away from me, Slayer! What am I to you? A bug pinned under glass, am I? Your mind's clear and bright as a crystal cave, all sparkling with rainbow colors. A man could get caught in there and never win free. Give me glass that's grimy and streaked and scratched and dim. Give me opaque glass anyday.

I'll never get an invite from the girls again, goodbye to our lovely chatty parties and little parlor games . . . another door sodding closed in my face. As long as I hang with your cotton-candy gang, that's my fate. But I'm evil, I am. I'm not one of you! Never will be.

It'll be a scorching hot day in Heaven, the day I want to have anything to do with you.

You disgust me.

#

. . . he disgusts me. And what's more, we've got nothing in common.

#

. . . I'm a monster. And proud of it.





















Funky Latin department: The following is a loose translation of these no-doubt ineptly composed Latin spells:



Animus puer cogitatio puelle composui

Magnificentia puelle stultissimo puer sensi

Aculeusi puer secta puelle acclarare

Puer et puelle alienari

Digiti crepantis signa!



Put together a boy's thoughts and a girl's mind . . .

Put together her no-doubt genius and his unrivaled idiocy . . .

Put together his sarcasm and her philosophy . . .

Drive boy and girl out of their minds!

--At the snapping of my fingers.



Calamitas retexo! Calamitas resigno! Calamitas circummunio! Digiti crepantis signa!



The disaster reverse! The barrier rebuild! The reversal return!

--At the snapping of my fingers!



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Posted February 18th, 2002 by Sylvia and Kevin