If wants and needs divide me.
Then I might as well be gone.
Unfocused, I stare into the distance at the beam of light that shimmers off the long, straight stretch of asphalt. Guilty is the last thing I should be feeling, but somehow I am. It's stupid. Whatever, I need to get a grip. It's not like wanting some 'me time' is huge reason to get all angsty.
A stiff breeze buffets the bike and I tuck in, lying against the tank. The wind noise dies down as I settle behind the fairing while the growl of the engine increases. There's a soothing pressure that comes from the mild vibration of the gas tank that presses into my tummy just under my ribs.
Thing is, I've managed to end up way off track. I was just gonna go for a quick ride to clear my head and here I am on the coast. 'Wigged out and homesick' always leads me here.
I reach down with my left hand and hook it around the frame. The warmth of the engine feels good on my chilly fingers.
The rub is that the Scottish coast feels nothing like home. I want it to, but it doesn't. There's the same sound of the ocean, the same salty breeze, but…I dunno—it's not right. There's the obvious lack of palm trees. That's a no-brainer. But it's not just that. There's something subtler. I'm not even sure I can put my finger on the wrong thing—or maybe it's several wrong things—anyway, it's just wrong. Could be that it's in another country, thousands of miles from where I belong…maybe? I'm not even sure that's right, though. Feeling like I belong anywhere is— Did I really belong in California? I was used to it, I grew up there, but did I belong there? I mull this over as I glance at the instrumentation.
Crap! Reflexively, I loosen my grip on the throttle and feather the front brakes. Without Will I'm just begging to get screwed with. More screwing with—yeah…need that and while I'm at it I'd like a little more responsibility. Can I get those with a side of fries and a Diet Coke, to go please?
What really sucks—the thing that leaves me completely baffled—pretty much everything I've wanted, I've gotten. I should be happy. I've got this great relationship. It's not what I asked for, it sure isn't what I expected, but it's still good—so good. I have a beautiful home. I'm making good money—like way better than I ever expected. I should be really happy. Then what the hell is my malfunction?
A twinge of pain from my lower back prompts me to grip the tank with my knees. I sit up; cracking my face shield and the cool air wakes me up.
I just feel so isolated. The only time I'm not miserable is when I'm with Will. I should just head back and be with her. We both have a few hours before anything major. I can get some quality snuggle time in. Yeah…snuggle time will make it all good.
If that's true, then why did I leave? I shrug. Best I got is that I'm a moron. I left our warm, comfy bed to think. But more time to think means more time to brood and that's always helpful.
Y'know, I think I just need a vacation. We joke about Disneyland. It's actually become a running joke. Trouble is, I haven't been to Disneyland since I was like eight or something. When was my last vacation? I think back and find I can't remember. As I go through the faces, all the bad, the friends that are gone, a distant driveway catches my eye.
I've been Slay-Gal for so long I think I've forgotten what fun is. Big surprise, what with all the inflicting. I've been riding one wave of disaster after another for almost ten years now. I may've just hit on something—like it's a total epiphany. All I do is destroy. No wonder I'm so much fun at parties. Starting to downshift, I apply the brakes and make my turn.
When I pull into the roadside parking lot, Bernadine's headlamp passed over another motorcycle. I coast up next to it and kill the engine. It's the prettiest thing I've seen in awhile that's not a redhead…or something made by Forzieri. I have to look. After removing my helmet, I drop the sidestand and hop off Bernie.
Maybe what I need is another bike? I giggle. Yeah…another bike will fix all that's wrong. I can't ride the one I have without wallowing.
I walk around the black and red MV Augusta. I think I saw something about this. I wrote it off 'cause I couldn't afford one. The last thing I was gonna do was call Giles and ask for eighty'ish thousand pounds for a motorcycle. We could've skipped the call, the laughter would've carried.
I peer down at the upper-triple and my inner label queen gets a happy. The gold oval plaque announces that I'm right, this is an MV Augusta F4-1000 Tamburini. I can read too. The sarcasm causes a faint smirk to tug at the corners of my mouth. Smiling's just too much work. If I remember the article, this is one of three-hundred of these things in the world.
Well, it was worth the look, but I need to jet. As I put my helmet on, movement behind me catches my attention. It's the wrong kind of movement. The tingle sends a shiver up my spine. Huh…it's been a while.
What the hell—for old time's sake.
Shine on forever,
Shine on benevolent sun.
After setting my helmet on Bernie's seat, I stride away from the bikes and turn to face the vamp. She slowly approaches me. I think we both get it, but I'm not positive. I get less positive when she wordlessly unzips her leather jacket, exposing her breasts.
Someone should clue her that red's not her color. Auburn hair and Crayola red leather…it's just not a good look. I guess it's because of the bike, but—
As she continues to close the distance, I get a good look at her eyes. Umm…'kay this is just creepy and weird. She's really pretty—pretty much whacked…not very modest, either. I'm not impressed by the show. In fact, it's wigging me out. She slowly reaches into her inside pocket and pulls out a stake, tossing it to me.
I catch it without breaking eye contact and she says, "If you would, it would save me some time."
Huh? Y'know, she's gotta be screwing with me. This is a total train wreck. I can't tear my eyes off her. Actually, that's a good, because I should be watching. She's holding her jacket open. Her hands are in plain view. Nothing about this should be freaking me out. I could take two steps faster than she could flinch. It'd be over before she gasped. Yet there's something about this that's making me uneasy and I can't put my finger on it.
I blink and she remarks, "If you aren't going to…would you at least sit with me? I could use the company."
The pieces snap into place. It might be forty minutes till dawn. She should be on her bike and headed for Irvine. I meet her gaze again and understand. It's not a new thing. It's actually a really, really old thing—a mix of fear and desperation—longing and loss. Angel that morning when the First was screwing with him—I was still in high school. Memories of that dawn drift past as the strange woman inches toward me.
Finally, I blink and ask the first thing that pops into my head, "What's your name?" I should know it if I'm gonna watch her die.
"Tamara," she replies, "But my friends called me Tam." Turning her back to me, she zips her jacket and strides away.
The moment she turns, I know she's not playing. As I grab Bernie's key and my helmet to follow her, she asks the same and I tell her.
Most vamps have heard my name—it's not like it's common. It takes them about two seconds to do the math and get scared. She seems clueless, or she doesn't care, either one's just fine by me.
"So what's your story, Tam?" I ask as I jog along next to her across the lawn. She's determined to be somewhere, I get that much. She's just walking really fast. Me, I'm jogging, go figure. She's only about a foot taller than I am.
She's also completely nuts—like suicidal nuts. Turning your back on a slayer with a stake? Suicidal vamps happen, but they're rare. There's always a story. Five minutes ago I was moody and bent on going home to sulk. Now I'm following a crazy vamp to the beach and I'm totally curious. Maybe I'm the one who's nuts?
She stops at the rocky break between the beach and the lawn, taking a seat. Her gaze fixes on a distant point down the coast before she answers, "I'd rather hear about you."
I sit on the grass a few meters away and scan her face. There's this strange sort of open, honest quality to both her expression and the tone of her voice. I don't think she's playing with me. It'd make me more comfortable if she were. Finally, after sizing her up, I ask the question I'm dying to ask, "You have no clue who I am, do you?" Call it a flaw, a weakness, or maybe even just plain old passé arrogance, but I just have to know.
She smiles. I'm a little surprised by how it warms her face. She brightens, looking totally human for an instant, then it fades and she replies, "Should I?"
I return the smile. It's actually genuine. This bugs me a little. It's been a while. I'm not with Will and I'm actually smiling—at a vampire no less. This is weird. I snark amusedly, "Well, strictly speaking, it's not required. But if you wanted to live it might be a good idea to firm up."
My amusement fades when she immediately responds, "I don't."
Shine down upon the broken,
Shine until the two become one.
She keeps staring down the beach. I wonder what that's about. I'll get to it. First things—
I giggle and admit, "I'm the slayer, Tam." She looks clueless so I continue parroting the party line, "Into each generation a slayer is born, a chosen one. One girl in all the world that has the strength and skill needed to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of badness…umm, er—" I smirk. "—darkness." That sounded too much like Giles. I had to break it up.
She snickers and I carry on with the spiel, "Thing is, I'm not the only one now. I'm just another face in the crowd, but I was the only one for awhile. Now I'm just the oldest one. The one the others look to for guidance."
She moves very carefully. I guess she's trying not to alarm me. I appreciate the sentiment, but it doesn't matter. Resting her elbow on her knee she cups her cheek in her palm and reflects, "That sounds lonely."
I absently play with the stake she gave me as I reply, "It is—I mean, I guess." She's right, it is lonely. I keep my expression neutral, despite the upset my vague admission causes.
She meets my gaze for a moment and says, "I hope there's someone special to help with the loneliness," returning her attention to the beach.
I get another useful flashback. This is totally setting off my— Gah! What was his name? I rack my brain trying to remember that stupid vamp's name. She gives me a concerned glance and it hits me. Holden, Holden Webster. Anyway, psych one-oh-one alert. Thing is, Holden was trying to kill me. I still don't get that from her. He looked like he wanted to screw with me. She just looks unbelievably sad—like she lost her whole world. Maybe that's all the story I need.
As she meets my eyes again, I look down and whisper, "Her name's Willow."
"Is Willow a slayer too?"
I stick the point of the stake into the lawn. Weird stake, it looks like someone put a baseball bat into a huge pencil sharpener, but whatever… Applying pressure to its end, I slowly press it into the dry ground as I answer, "No, Willow's a witch."
"A witch?" she asks, sounding amused or intrigued, maybe a little of both.
I don't bother to look up. Watching the stake gradually disappear, I affirm, "A witch. Y'know, Wicca, spells and stuff?"
"Oh, I understood. It's just that I always considered Wicca to be a religion."
When the stake's completely buried, I glance up and say, "It is. It's also more."
She stares at me intently.
Shine on forever,
Shine on benevolent sun.
Raising my hands, I reflect, "Tam, I really don't wanna wig you out, but you and me—" glaring at her "—we need to come to an understanding." I laugh and hastily add, "Y'know, I have no clue why I don't want you to freak, but I'm just gonna run with it. Usually, I wanna scare the crap out of things like you. This time…"
As I fall silent, leaving the thought to linger, I spring to my feet and move behind her. She jumps and I clamp my hands over her shoulders. Leaning down, I whisper into her ear, "Why don't you show me what you keep staring at?"
She points and I follow the gesture, peering down the beach. There's a black spot in the distance. Is that a dog?
As I puzzle over the black fury thing, she whispers, "He's a vampire. He took something from me, so I returned the favor."
After a few moments, I clamp my jaw closed. I see it now. That's a head. My mind just wouldn't wrap around the idea that a human head could be so removed from its body. Thing is, his head is obviously still attached. He's just buried. What's keeping him there is another mystery.
My throat and mouth are so parched it almost hurts. Swallowing thickly, I ask, "What did he take?" I don't have to ask. The math's pretty simple.
She responded with one painful word, "Everything."
I consider this. It's not hard for me to understand. I almost lost Will. It's not been that long. I can still feel the pain. The idea of doing that again or even coming close fills—it's the closest thing to terror I have. I don't care about much anymore. I can't afford to. I have to care about that one piece…and it makes me feel vulnerable. I put my heart out and—
Finally, I work up the courage to ask the other question, "What did you take from him?" Again the answer is obvious. We're both on deathwatch, waiting for the sun.
Shine down upon the severed,
Shine until the two become one.
Releasing her shoulders, I move around in front of her again and stoop down. With two fingertips, I grasp the stake and pull it smoothly out of the ground. I glance up and see that we have an understanding.
As I right myself, she starts to whisper, "His name is Kabadios. He's Mayan, or he was. The name means 'hand of God.' He told me a thousand years: that's how long he's been—" she cuts off when I turn my back and start down the shore.
I need to see. She's still a vampire and he could be human regardless what she says.
Matching my pace, she says, "He killed her, Buffy."
I don't need to hear anymore. All I need is to see. If he is as old as she says, it'll be obvious. When I don't say anything, she falls silent. I can feel the fear. She's afraid of me. I'm not sure I want that. In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't.
When I get close enough to make out his face, I stop cold. He's not human. That's all I needed.
Rounding on her, I nod and head back. Part of me wants to see the photo, but I don't need to. Not now.
She relaxes as we draw closer to where we were. When we reach the spot, I take my place at her feet and ask, "How?" I'm pretty sure she'll get it. If she doesn't, I can fill in.
Claiming her seat on the rock, she draws her legs up. She looks totally vulnerable. I wait patiently for her reply. Eventually, she murmurs, "I didn't know. This horrible thing happened and I had no idea how…" she trails off.
The weakness of her voice adds to the effect. She's a much larger person than I am. She's sitting higher than I am too. But I feel—the impression is that I'm dealing with a child. This 'woman' is broken—if I can even call her that. She's a shell.
"So, you went out looking and got vamped?" I offer, trying to make sense of the story.
"No," she replies firmly. I realize a little too late that I'm reacting. My expression—I recover—putting on the mask, but not before she begins to rasp, "Thirty hours ago I was human. I chose this. I had no other choice and nothing left to lose, or I thought there was nothing. In about twenty minutes I'll be gone, he'll be gone and the world will spin blithely on, no one the wiser."
"I'll know," I reply. As cold comforts go, it's the best I have. I'm twirling the stake in my hand. It's an absent gesture. I don't even realize I'm doing it until I look down. When I get that I am, I bury the stake in the ground. I don't need it.
The silence hangs thick between us and her attention turns to the shoreline again. I break it with a question, "What do you mean 'I thought there was nothing'?"
She meets my gaze and says, "Faith. It was the last thing I had and he robbed me of that too. He made me doubt."
I open my mouth to speak. I don't get it, but everything I ask just makes her that much worse. I get, "Umm," out and she cuts me off by asking, "Unsolicited advice from the dead?"
I furrow my brow and respond, "Sure," looking down to stifle a bitter chuckle. 'Sure' is the last thing I am.
I catch myself tugging at blades of grass this time. I guess my hands need to be busy. I don't bother checking the impulse. This one can't be misread.
As I pluck a blade of grass and run between my fingers, she whispers, "Never give her room to doubt, Buffy. Let her know exactly what you feel. I know it's hard—this world—it's so easy to lose focus, to get distracted, to forget what's important. Don't forget it."
Divided, I'll wither away,
Shine down upon the many.
I sit silently, playing with my blade of grass for several moments, considering her words. There are dozens of questions I could ask, but truth is, I really don't need to understand everything. This vampire screwed with her. I've been there.
Her advice is simple, honest and good. That's all I need. Finally, I whisper, "I promise." As advice from the dead goes, it's an all-time high.
This is also about the point in the conversation where I normally get clubbed over the head. She has me on the edge of tears. I'm pleasantly surprised when it doesn't come. My apprehensiveness fades.
She reaches into her coat. I only half-watch the gesture. What she withdraws is white and rectangular, an envelope. I focus on my blade of grass, turning it end-over-end. She opens the envelope, extracting pieces of paper and unfolding them.
I silently wait for her to finish. When she does, she hands me the envelope and says, "There's no one left."
Another thing for me to think about—another puzzle, I want to open the envelope, but I really don't need to. I unzip my jacket and the cool air feels good. Another realization, I'm a little warm. Whatever. I slip the envelope into my inside pocket and take off my jacket, setting it aside.
When I finish, she has her hand out. In her palm is a key. She says, "Take it. I don't have anyone else and at least I know you'll love it."
This is so totally not what I signed up for. I have trouble understanding what she means at first. Finally, it hits me; she's talking about the MV. Of course, she's—and she said there was no one else. Reluctantly, I take the key. This is so premeditated it's hard for me to imagine what it must be like for her.
My fidgety hands are now occupied by the key. The eastern sky is just starting to turn pink. It's beautiful.
I sense it all, the anger, confusion, pain and fear. The emotions pour off her in waves. She's the only soulless vamp I've ever liked—well, almost immediately. I know she's soulless. I can feel the struggle. Part of her sees me as food. It's no mystery. I got that when I first saw her. She also knows how stupid it would be to try, but I'm not sure that matters.
I'm really having trouble with the idea that she'd just throw it all away. I can't wrap my mind around it. I mean, I totally get the pain. I understand feeling alone probably as well as anyone. Though, that may just be arrogance again. Anyway, I know how it feels. She thinks she has no choice, but she does have a choice. This isn't 'world endy' stuff, it's just life.
That's probably insensitive. If it were Will—
I stare at the key. It's funny that even the key to this thing is pretty. I've never seen a pretty key, at least I don't remember—
"Are you sure there's no one?" I mumble. I feel horrible. There has to be someone.
"Marie's family disowned her when she followed me to England. My family—my father passed away years ago. We were alone. All we had was each other and a few friends."
I look up, making eye contact and ask, "What about your friends?"
She looks away, unable to meet my gaze and responds, "None of them ride." Trembling, she stares blankly toward the faint light in the eastern sky.
"Y'know you don't have to do this. Will, she could give you your soul back. You could be part of something. You could make a difference," I offer. Actually, I sound a little like I'm begging. It's pathetic. The worst part is I have no clue why.
Without hesitation, she responds, "No." A shaky sigh slips out and she adds, "Don't you see, Buffy? I died hours ago. This is merely a formality. I don't want to live. I don't want to face the questions. I can't face them. And I certainly can't—I don't want to be alone."
"Yeah…I get that," I whisper feebly. Actually, I don't just get it, I respect it.
I should've kept my mouth shut.
Light our way, benevolent sun.
Breathe in union.
I glance up and she's staring at me again.
With a weak smile, she says, "Tell me about Willow. When did you meet?"
I close my hand around the key to the MV and ask, "First, would you answer one question for me? Call it for peace of mind."
Faint wisps of smoke are drifting off her skin. Speaking through clenched jaws, she replies, "I'll try."
"What's keeping our friend—" I jerk my head, sharply gesturing over my right shoulder "—from digging out?"
She meets my gaze, giving me a hard glare and responds coolly, "He's a quadruple amputee."
"Oh," I gasp, completely bowled over by her bluntness. That would totally do it. Maybe I should rethink a few things? It hits me that the thing—the monster that tried to kill Will—I did the exact same thing. No remorse, no pity…and he was a man once too…no room to talk. I curb my feelings and again find myself sympathizing. When I look up, her face is wet and smudged with tears.
I clear my throat and give her an answer, "Will and I met in high school our sophomore year. The first time I saw her she was taking a drink of water in the hallway. I think I fell for her then. I always loved her. She was—" I sigh and picture her face. "She's always been my council, in part my conscience—though, the real one works pretty well—and one of my dearest friends. It took me a long time to get it."
I can smell it now. Not just the sun, but her. She only has a few more minutes, tops. I look down. I don't want to see.
"Everything," I answer honestly, then rethink my response and amend, "And nothing. Like I said, there was always love. Thing is, life for me…and for her when she was pulled into my little drama…it wasn't—it still isn't simple. Things like Kabadios—we've seen lots of them." I snicker. "We even met Dracula once. That was drama—high drama. He's all show."
She chuckles painfully, but doesn't say anything.
I need to keep talking. Instead, I hop to my feet. Slipping my jacket on, I zip it and offer her a hand. She gives me the weirdest look and takes it. After helping her to rise, I hug her. I dunno why, it just seems like the right thing. She hesitates, then settles into the hug and leans into me, turning her face away from my throat. She needed this…and somehow I did too. She's so warm. I remember how Spike's hand felt. This is how it's supposed to be.
Feeling the heat from her, the warmth of the sun—I breathe the smoke and my sinuses burn.
Shutting my eyes against the light, I whisper, "Will and I were apart for awhile, a year or so. It took that for me to get it. I missed her so much, but y'know how life can be. I was swept along. There were all these huge changes. When I finally saw her again, it was like a miracle. I felt so alone. With her there is was like magic, I felt complete. We—"
The heat grows intense, flashing and she's gone.
So, as one, survive
Another day and season.
Ashes rain down over me.
I can't even begin to remember how many times this has happened to me.
I hold my breath and turn toward the sun. The eastern sky is lit in hues of crimson, gold and mauve. It's beautiful.
"Good bye, Tam," I manage and turn to look down the beach.
The black dot is still there.
After sweeping up my helmet, I pocket the key and walk purposefully toward it.
He's so covered by the sand that it may take a little longer. He's also really old. The younger ones are always weaker.
I'm actually torn. Part of me wants to take off running and rip his head off for destroying her—for murdering them. The other part wants to take a leisurely stroll on the beach and just think.
I rein in the slayer and walk at a normal pace. It's probably a mistake. Thinking leads to brooding and brooding leads to badness. It's an already established fact.
Instead, I just wander dully toward my goal. I can't think. All I feel is miserable. I wipe my eyes and dry my hand on my jeans.
When I near my target, he catches fire. His lips rip open and bloody chunks spray from his mouth as he screams. I should be appalled, but what I actually feel is nothing until he crumbles. The sand around the hollow left by his absence caves in and the picture's swept into the hole. Crap! Well, that's gonna make this more fun, but I still have to see.
As I arrive at the spot, there's nothing left but a dip in the sand. I set my helmet on a rock and sit down. It takes a little digging to find the picture frame. The glass is broken, but the picture's intact.
I set eyes on this woman that meant the world to my friend and my stomach clenches. Her hair is short like mine was a long time ago in another country. It seems like a lifetime ago, but really it hasn't been that long. Four years? I think so.
Summer blonde hair and blue-gray eyes…the rest of her facial features are sorta similar to mine. It's not so much, but just enough that in a crowded room it might confuse someone who actually knew me.
If they didn't know me—
Silence, legion. Save your poison.
Silence, legion. Stay out of my way.
Was this vampire…? I dismiss it. It can't be.
Bullshit. I know it can be.
Everyone and everything wants me dead. It's total blast to live with.
And with the nagging…the feeling, like ice in the pit of my stomach, that something's totally wrong.
I leap to my feet and walk listlessly toward the parking lot. If the Scottish beach was little comfort before, it's no comfort now.
My hand loosens and tightens around the chin of my helmet. I realize what I'm doing when a faint cracking noise issues from the hard, acrylic shell. Great! I stop myself from throwing it.
I got her killed. This stupid vampire saw her, thought it was me and he killed her.
Shaking, I draw in a sharp breath and exhale slowly.
No, I'm overreacting. I don't know. I can't know. I can guess. Wild conjecture and speculation are always useful.
I slip the picture into my jacket and try to cool off. I can't ride like this.
That explains why Tam warmed up to me so quick. It explains a lot actually.
I need to get home.
The seething turns to simmering as I walk across the lawn. When I reach the bikes, I just feel your garden variety wretched. Woe is me—like that's a new song. There's nothing to do, nothing to fight. It's all over.
The reasons don't matter. The fact is that two decent people are dead. They were part of that pile of humanity I'm supposed to defend. How many people are there in the world now—like seven billion? I'll just get right on that 'defending' thing. But that's it—that's the brutal truth. I was handed an impossible job. Even with two-thousand of us, the battle's still a losing one. It just sucks.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the first key I come to. The MV it is. Sorry Bernie.
People die, it's a universal truth.
After placing the key in the ignition, I put on my helmet and back the MV out of the slot.
People die and it's not my fault.
I turn the key, hit the starter and the MV rumbles to life. Hopping on, I flip the sidestand up and pull out of the parking lot.
People die all the time and there's nothing I can do about it.
As I make my way home, I feel dead. Most of the ride is a total blur. There are two or three routes I could've taken. I pull into our driveway and find I can't remember which one I did take. Comforting.
Reaching into my pocket, I hit the garage door opener. Once inside, I take off my helmet and toss it into a corner. I need another one anyway. I actually want this in the house, so I shut the MV off and push it in with me, maneuvering it into Bernie's corner. After extracting the picture from my jacket, I place it on a table next to the bike.
There's no coffee, so Will must still be in bed. This drives her nuts, but I don't care. I begin to strip, casting my clothes off as I make my way to the loft. I don't even pay attention to where things land. I'll get them later.
When I reach the bed, it's just me. I slide in and curl up next to her. She blinks and meets my eyes. She knows instantly something's really wrong.
I whisper, "It's okay, Will, just hold me." She does and doesn't even complain that my hands are cold when I touch her.
Thing is, when I see her, I get it.
There are people—people we meet that have an affect on us. It doesn't matter how long we know them. It can be ten minutes or ten years. The time is insignificant. Tam showed me something. She left a mark. I need to honor her by making it mean something.
Settling into the curve of Willow's shoulder, I enjoy the warmth and the comfort. She's still soothing.
After several moments of quiet, blissful nothing, I murmur, "I love you."
That's all that really matters.