Summary: Kennedy and Willow deal with the fallout of Willow's doppelganger.
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7
Oscar was a vampire. This much was obvious. He craved blood, hated the cross, and was relatively certain that if he stepped foot in sunlight he'd go up like a roman candle. It wasn't such a burden, of course. There was the strength, and the speed, plus he could hear a heartbeat from nearly ten feet away. He wasn't sure if he had any of that remorseless killer vibe going on: he was pretty remorseless as a human.
Oscar was a made man. Not that that meant anything these days. These days, wiseguys were selling each other out the minute the feds even looked at them sideways. But he was something of a legend. He did a nickel in Folsom State for some minor trafficking gig, and even when the feds breathed down his neck, he never said a word. They figured he just didn't know anyone. The rest of the boys talked about him like he was Al freakin' Capone. Truth was, anyone he sold out had so much dirt on him that he'd never see the light of day if they talked. The irony didn't escape him.
Oscar killed people for a living. He would kill people for fun, but he found that wiseguys paid a pretty penny for a Polaroid of a dead enemy. And so, he got started. It was oddly easy work: most people thought they were invulnerable, and took very few precautions. Walk up, pop the guy a few times, then walk away. Easier work than flippin' burgers. Well, it was easy up until last week.
Oscar was amazingly unlucky. It was a freak accident, a freak of a freak accident. There was this guy, owed the big guys about fifty 'g's. Stupid sonuvabitch decided to try and run. Somehow he got all the way from New Jersey to L.A., managed to ditch Oscar half a dozen times. Oscar wasn't a big fan of chasin' guys all over creation, but this particular guy was starting to piss him off. He did catch up with him, found him hanging out in a graveyard, looked like he was waiting for a fence or someone to take the money off his hands. Oscar decided to wait around, see if he could I.D. the buyer. That was his second mistake. But this next part he just had to chalk up to God having a particularly crappy day and taking it out on him. The guy was meeting someone, but they weren't people. They looked like some kind of freaky bat-people, foreheads all bumpy and gnarled. They saw Oscar. They caught Oscar. They killed Oscar.
And so, Oscar was a vampire.
To make matters worse, the underworld, or undead world, or whatever, had a pecking order too. Oscar had killed a lot of Joes to get to the top of his pile. Even then, he was still a small fry in the big picture. But what could he complain about? He loved his job. There, he was an oddity, a valued tool. Here, he was just another bunch of fodder for whatever wise-ass with a set of horns showed up and decided to push him around. Oscar didn't like to be pushed around. But he was smart enough to know that the eight-foot tall Fyarl demon could unscrew his head and reduce him to a pile of smelly dust if he so much as shifted uncomfortably. He was at the bottom of the pecking order, and unless he ended up like an Angelus, or Spike, or Kakistos, (which required a lot of years and a whole bunch of dead guys), he was stuck waiting around for someone to slay him.
And the hits just kept on coming. Those in the know, like Dargoth the Unborn, were getting really nervous. They kept getting reports of something called Slayers popping up all over the place. Thing is, as far as he could gather, there was only supposed to be one Slayer. Or two. It got kind of confusing. But everywhere they went, vamps kept trickling in from all across the world, talking about would be snacks fighting off one, two, sometimes three vampires. The guys were getting scared; something big had gone down, and something bigger had just changed. So now all the big bads were getting nastier with their boys, just to keep the lot of them from heading for the hills.
So things have looked brighter for Oscar. But Oscar was a self-starter. He was the last guy to let a situation get him down. After all, what's the point of living…or not-living…if you can't overcome adversity? Part of him told himself that if he just kept his head down and killed a lot of people, he could work his way up the food chain in three or four decades. But he somehow thought that it was highly unlikely that he live anything like that time frame, what with all the slayers running around now. What Oscar needed was a get rich quick plan.
Oscar was not a long-term thinker. He wasn't exactly unintelligent, but when it came to the consequences of actions, certain things just escaped him. Thankfully, he was patient. He knew when to wait for a mark to leave himself open. Now he wasn't no Marine sittin' in a jungle hole for three weeks waiting for the target to cross his path patient, but still, he knew how to just take his time. He watched Kraggoth, this big, smelly orange-skinned demon who was running the crew now as he took the fifty thou' and hid it in his crypt. That was another thing he disliked about the vampire lifestyle: always with the freakin' Bela Lugosi crypt thing. Worst part was that Kraggoth never used the money for anything other than sending the boys out to buy burgers for him. The math was a little fuzzy, but at this rate, the money would be gone in three hundred years. So Oscar could afford to wait.
Or so he thought. Kraggoth wasn't the total moron he made out to be. Oscar wasn't sure why, but so many of these demon types had this stupid fixation on ending the world. They were always going on about 'bringing the flames of hell to earth', 'raining blood from the skies', 'making ten-thousand years of darkness', all that biblical stuff. There was this hard-core bunch of true believers amongst the boys, but most of them hung together out of fear. Anyhow, Kraggoth was gonna use the money to buy this doomsday weapon, as Oscar discovered during a conversation with Chuck, the only other vamp Oscar got along with:
Oscar: "What's Kraggy gonna do with all that freakin' cash?"
Chuck: "Buyin' a doomsday weapon."
Oscar found out the details in the next few days. Kraggy was getting this nasty toy from a bunch of Mexican demons that were really hard up for cash. Oscar didn't care how it worked, but he understood how these things went down. He also was noticing more than one of the crew disappearing after a night on the hunt. This made everyone really nervous, but that just made Kraggoth angry, and angry Kraggoth had a tendency to decapitate anyone who ventured too close. But Oscar was wise to the way the wind was blowin'. Big, loud syndicates like this were on the way out. It was time for some new blood, so to speak, someone who knew how to fly under the radar. So Oscar hatched himself a little plan. He would steal the money, get on a train, and leap-frog across the country back to Jersey. There, he'd use the cash to start up his own crew, and live the rest of eternity in comfort and secrecy. He'd kill guys now and again, but he never wanted to raise the flag like these jokers did.
Kraggoth guarded his loot like a dragon. Getting it while he was home was pretty much impossible. While he was away, he left his true believers to watch the crypt. Finding an opportunity to slip in would be very difficult. Thankfully, Oscar's freakishly bad luck saved the day.
A week passed until Kraggoth was supposed to meet these South American demons, El Diablos Verdes, they called themselves. These jokers must have read the book of bad guy clichés: a midnight meeting at the docks. If Kraggy's idiocy wasn't enough to make Oscar want to steal his money, this lame gangster routine was more than enough to push him over the edge. That's when he had his epiphany.
Oscar realized that he had no chance of getting the cash during the meeting. But if he could get Kraggy and the money separate when they were en route to the meeting, he'd have a chance to get away. He'd just have to make sure that Kraggoth wasn't alive enough to chase him.
That's when Oscar heard about the Slayer. One of them, anyway. Word on the street was that she was going after bad guys with a vengeance. Fast Eddie got his entire crew staked just the other night, and Jonas was the only survivor of Old Man Toreck's crew. The way he told it, this little sexy latino number just waded into the lot of them, and she wasn't afraid to cheat. Chucked a molotov cocktail, caught Borges and Tyler right away, then went to town with this big ass sword, loppin' heads off left and right. Freaky part was, one of the boys got the drop on her, just about took her block off with a two-by-four, when all of a sudden, he's thrown halfway across the park by some invisible blast. Jonas did the smart thing, and hit the sewers running. Through some miracle, he managed to get away. In fact, in the greater L.A. area, this chick took down just about any big vampire operation. Which worked out perfectly.
Oscar made sure to talk up his boss's plans wherever he went. Every bar, demon or not, he made sure to run his mouth about all the details that he shouldn't be spilling. After that, he made sure that he wasn't expected to go to the rendezvous. That part wasn't hard; it was only the true believers who got to tag along anyway. They were a force to be reckoned with, no doubt: ten hardened vamps and a big asshole of a demon leading them. They were gonna be a challenge to the Slayer no matter which way you cut it. He was just gonna tail Kraggy's boys, and wait for the slayer to turn them all into dust. Then he'd rush in, snatch the money, and it'd be goodbye L.A., hello New Jersey. Assuming everything went right.
And if it did go wrong, he'd just abort. Wait for another time. If the Slayer never showed, then he'd take the time to head for the hills. If the boys killed the Slayer, then bully for them. One down, like, ten-thousand to go. Again, with the running and hiding. If the Slayer spotted him, he'd just have to plead for his life, and if that failed, he had a little nine-millimeter surprise for her. So as far as he was concerned, the plan couldn't go wrong.
As he crept along the shadowed alleyways, making sure to stay several blocks behind Kraggoth and the true believers, Oscar began to believe in his plan more and more. He waited for the sounds of battle, keen ears listening for the hiss of a crossbow bolt, or the screech of a dying vampire. The crew got ever closer to the meeting place, passing the big, worn-down factories that had powered the city fifty years ago. Oscar counted their steps. The Slayer should have attacked by now. Then a horrible thought began to form: she was gonna take both parties out. Oscar leaned up against the wall of the factory that sat on the edge of the docks. He ground his teeth, and felt his demon face appear in frustration. There was still time to plan, he told himself, watching as the vampires moved down the dock, meeting the black cloaked men halfway.
Oscar heard a motorcycle rev to life above his head. That's when he knew that all of his plans were about to change dramatically.
Dream a Little Dream
The old men were watching as black dresses and orange cufflinks danced sideways through the promescium archways.
It was bright out, the sun was a giant disco ball, pretty blue and white lights twisting across the lovers entwined on the dance floor. They spun, spun and kissed, spun and kissed, and each rotation changed the music into something even more beautiful than the last melody. Kennedy dipped her head to the radiant white shoulder of her lover, moved her lips across its coolness, smelled the wonderful sawdust and orange peels. It was time to pay homage, to anoint with her lips, this endless being.
Willow lead her off the dance floor, through the pale green grass, into the restaurant, where the lizard maitre'd took their tuxedos in his tiny human-like hands, folded them neatly, and with a deft click of his long, sticky tongue, marched them over to the table, already arrayed with snazzy shrimp and hors d'ouerves painted the color of snow at midnight.
They took their seats, teak wood carved with love by electric machines in an Alaskan refinery. Kennedy took one of the shrimp, laughed at it's flailing and popped the wee creature into her mouth, savored the ash flavor and smiled at the woman she loved. She almost reached over to drop a turncoat covered snack into the other girl's smiling maw, but realized what poor table manners she must have, and asked Willow if she brought her feeding fork.
Willow smiled wide, her tiny little fang poking it's head out to say hello, and she reached into the wooden purse-box to pull out the overlong feeding spoon she kept for just such occasions. It was from the old country, her mother had told her, when the great kings and queens needed the best in cutlery to reach their starving heads. She stabbed the snazzy, sassy shrimp, maneuvering at her best to steer the beast into Kennedy's lips that were the color of blood.
Kennedy saw the love in her sparkling green eyes, and she knew it was time, time for all the things that slink and suture in the bedroom to come out and play the rough way, to dance and be danced with, and she knew that this time would be different, this girl was different, this one was the one, and she had to chain her down with the finest linoleum.
She pranced over to her, motioned for the harmonizing eclectic midgets to play their song, listened to them ring their thousand crystal bells in autumn hymnals, and dropped to one knee in front of her angel. With the twirling Tinkerbell's doing their solo dance number on the Neptune stage, she let the words that had been born in her heart weeks ago come tumbling out.
"Willow, you are everything I've ever looked for in another person. You are smart, beautiful, a great kisser, and always surprising. I have never in my life though that someone could make my heart stop beating when she looks at me, or that my whole world would stop turning when she touches me. I need to be around you every minute of every day, and when we're apart, all I can think about is you. You make me strive to be more than I am, and you make me wish I could be everything you want me to be. You are my Goddess, and I swear that I will never stop worshipping you; I will never stop loving you. I swear I will always protect your heart. All I ask is that you let me be there for you, from now until the world stops spinning. Will you marry me?"
Willow's eyes began to glisten, tiny diamonds falling around her feet. A tuning fork wiped his eyes on his silvered sleeve, while the old men clapped in unison. She reached her delicate hands down to cover Kennedy's, and smiled through her tears.
"Kennedy," she said, "You make me feel like I thought I'd never feel again. You've helped me put my pain aside once and for all, and because of you, I can finally forgive myself. I could wake up next to you for the rest of my life."
Kennedy cried now, too, and she shuddered as the tinkling words descended the Jacob's ladder of Willow's tongue.
"But I don't love you."
Kennedy rose to her feet, the fairies turned to beggars, the old men twisted their mouths into steel toothed grins.
"Half the time, I can't even stand to be around you."
Her heart stopped beating, the lizard's tail fell off rotten, and someone stole the stars from the sky.
"You are just a good lay."
Willow tilted her head back and laughed, cackled, screeched at the top of her lungs. The noise was so loud, the midgets shattered with their crystal balls and bells, the archways crumbled, and Kennedy just wanted it to stop, wanted the hurting to stop, and she knew how to stop it.
She wrapped her powerful hands around the smooth neck of Willow, squeezed, squeezed 'till the bones snapped and the laughing stopped. And then she saw what she had done, and she laughed, and wailed, and pulled her hair out.
And woke up.
Kennedy jerked out of bed. Sweat made the sheet cling to her body, and it felt like a hand trying to hold her down. She swung her legs off of her side, peeling the sheet off like dead skin. Her heart was pounding, and she could feel the tears streaming down her face. God, what the hell was that? Her hands shook as she held them to her head, wiping the salty trails off.
Everything felt heavy. Kennedy tried to breathe, tried to calm down, but she was beginning to verge on hyperventilation. She pounded her fists into her thighs, hard, the dull thump and meaty sounds forcing her to focus. She had to get up, to get out, anywhere but here. Something shifted beside her, something warm and soft and Willow.
Of course it was Willow. She was fine. Nothing happened to her. She reached out to touch her, just to make sure she was real. Her hand hovered mere inches from Willow's forehead. It's simple. Just touch her. You do it all the time. Her hand didn't move. Kennedy felt a wave of anxiety wash over her again. Her hand trembled. It was too much; there was so much fear, so much that it stuck in the back of her throat.
Willow shifted, feeling the lack of her girlfriend at her back. She twisted over, arms reaching out, but finding only a damp, sweat-stained mattress. Her eyes popped open. The world was blurry for the few seconds before she managed to wipe her eyes free of the obscuring sleep.
Kennedy was sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the wall. Her shoulders were slumped, her normally lustrous hair hanging in knots around her head. Willow reached out, lightly touching the woman's back. She almost pulled her hand away when she felt the tension, even her skin seeming to tighten at such a gentle contact. But Willow knew her girlfriend well enough by now to know that something was really wrong.
"Kennedy?" Willow whispered, slowly bringing her hand to rest on the girl's arm. "What's the matter? Did you have a bad dream?"
Kennedy sighed, twisting around to face the source of that soothing touch. Willow saw the bags under her eyes, and the slow, sad smile she wore.
"Yeah," she said after a second, "I had a bad dream."
"It's over now," Willow sidled up beside Kennedy, holding her waist tightly, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Kennedy found herself relaxing at the touch of the tiny Wiccan at her side, and marveled for the thousandth time at the effect Willow had on her. The thumping of her heart slowed, her breathing became steady, even the residual soreness from the burn on her chest faded away. She leaned over to kiss her, to let her know how much she appreciated this. Something inside Kennedy faltered, seized up, a giant's fist crushing her stomach, and she found her forehead resting against Willow's shoulder, and not her lips on Willow's lips. She closed her eyes, frustrated.
"We were in this restaurant," she began after an eternity. "At least, I think it was a restaurant. And there was this lizard…"
Willow cringed. "It took our coats," Kennedy explained as it that made perfect sense. "And some midgets, and a dancing fairy, and shrimp on a long fork. It was weird. And then we were dancing, and I was…" Kennedy stopped, terrified of what she had almost said. True, it was just a dream, but what if Willow took it the wrong way? What if she took it the right way? Either option was absolutely terrifying right now.
"Well," Willow squeezed Kennedy; feeling her clam up, "I can see how that would be horrible. I mean, I sure wouldn't want a lizard watching me eat. But then what happened? Kenn, it's okay if you don't want to tell me."
Well that's a damn lie, Kennedy thought sardonically. "Then…" she struggled with the next few words, each one had to be bodily forced out: "then you died."
Willow turned Kennedy to face her, looking deeply into those dark brown eyes that have seemed so distant this past week. She knew that Kennedy was still haunted by her taste of the dark side. But she also knew that she didn't need to face this alone. After all, if it hadn't been for Giles's help in England… well, those were old memories better left undrudged up. She smiled at the winsome girl in front of her.
"I'm right here. I'm alive. So are you."
Kennedy nodded slowly.
"Kennedy," Willow said as she began to understand something, "You didn't kill me. That wasn't me, okay? I know you'd never hurt me. Not unless I really deserved it."
Kennedy couldn't help but smile. She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively: "Or if you asked me to." Willow shook her head, poking Kennedy in the arm with a slender finger.
"You never get tired of the naughty-talk, do you?"
"I never get tired of seeing you smile."
Willow leaned in to kiss Kennedy. Their lips met, Willow tenderly moving their lips together, a spark of desire being fanned by the action. She moved to deepen the kiss, but Kennedy pulled away slowly. She smiled sheepishly.
"We need some sleep," she whispered, "and if you keep that up, we won't be getting any."
Willow nodded, rendered dumbstruck. Never had Kennedy turned down the opportunity for smoochies. But, alas, she was right. Willow rolled over to her side of the bed.
"We do have a busy day tomorrow," she said as Kennedy scootched alongside her, "Giles's flight will be here at ten. And Kennedy? He's bringing Andrew."
Kennedy groaned, pulled the covers over her head, and desperately tried to get the required rest to give her the strength to keep from punching the overeager boy.
The woman found herself stiffening as her name was yelled from nearly halfway across the terminal. Through the crowd, a slender, effeminate young man walked towards her, arms extended Frankenstein-like, huge grin plastered across his face.
"If he hugs me, I'm putting him into traction," Kennedy leaned over to Willow, voicing both their opinions.
Andrew nearly skipped the last few feet, stopping suddenly in front of the pair. He was wearing a gray long-sleeved shirt with the name of an English pub tastefully emblazoned on the front. He clasped his hands in front of him, barely containing their incessant fidgeting as he almost bowed to the two women standing before him.
"Miss Rosenberg, Miss… um, Kennedy, anyway. Mr. Giles will be along shortly."
"Andrew?" Willow asked, eyebrows raised, "you're not British!"
Andrew folded his arms across his chest, tilting backwards defensively. "I have assimilated the noble…and ancient… culture, and I am now a citizen of…the world!" He punctuated the last remark with a raised finger and authoritative nod.
Kennedy suddenly found the urge to inflict damage on Andrew nearly overwhelming. She had to remind herself that in an airport, violence was generally frowned upon. "So you watched a lot of TV?"
He nodded slowly. "Everything feels like Masterpiece Theatre. Even the sitcoms."
Willow peered over his shoulder, looking for Giles to come to the rescue. Andrew was difficult to hate, but easy to dislike. His disquieting obsession over Warren (she ground her teeth) never endeared him to her. Willow thanked the stars above that he decided to go to England with Giles and start training to be a Watcher. The job was oddly suited towards him. That, and she was fairly certain that Kenn would have beaten him to death by now.
"So," she chimed in, noticing her girlfriends' fists clench, "How has the Watcher thing been?"
"Oh, you know," Andrew rolled his head around dramatically, "There's the studying, and then the…studying, Oh! And I got a copy of this old fifteenth century text, the um, the Murferneburg Reports. Very interesting reading. Very…ah, boring. And British."
Willow raised her hand: "Waitasec—there really is a Murferne-thingy report? Huh." She scratched her head in amusement. That was possibly the lamest sex excuse she'd ever used. And there were some doozies.
"Boring and British. You must be talking about me."
Giles dropped his heavy suitcase beside Andrew, eying him disdainfully. "Do you want to help me carry these next time?" He turned towards Willow, enveloping her in a warm, fatherly hug. She buried her face in his black longboat, squeezing him tightly. After a minute, Giles looked over to Kennedy with a warm, if somewhat uncomfortable, smile.
"Good morning, Kennedy. How have you been?"
She smiled, pointing towards Willow. "Much better once my girlfriend detaches herself."
Willow stepped back, blushing slightly. She looked up to the older man, grinning broadly. "Hi Giles."
Kennedy lifted the suitcase to her shoulder, wrapping her other arm around Willow. She actually liked Giles. Given, she never had time to really get to know him, but Willow trusted him implicitly, and that was enough for her. The three of them, Willow, Giles, and Kennedy, walked side by side, while Andrew flitted about behind them, occasionally skittering around to the front of them.
"So, Kennedy," Andrew ventured cautiously, "Is that your first name or last name?"
"Yes it is," the black-haired girl nodded decisively. Andrew looked pleadingly at Willow.
"I have been sworn to secrecy," she said with a raised right hand.
"Just one name, huh? Like Prince. Cool."
Kennedy turned around and glared: "If you ever compare me to Prince again, I will hurt you."
Andrew raised his hands and flinched back, scampering back to the rear again. Giles pushed to door open as they walked into the parking garage. Luckily, Giles's suitcase fit snugly into the trunk of Willow's car.
Andrew leapt forward, screaming, "I call shotgun!" as he scrambled to the passenger side door. Kennedy felt her eye twitch as she slammed the trunk closed. She stormed over to Andrew, leaning towards him threateningly.
"Are you sure you want shotgun?"
He nodded meekly. "I called it."
"He did call it, Kenn," Willow explained, glancing over to Giles. She couldn't let poor Giles have to sit one more second next to the ebullient Andrew. The man had had a harrowing enough experience training the boy.
"I do believe that's the protocol with these things," Giles said after clearing his throat. Kennedy stomped her foot, raising a fist in a mock punch, loving the little jump Andrew did as he squeezed into the passenger's seat.
Kennedy slid into the back seat, shooting Giles a self-satisfied smirk. Giles just shook his head, muffling a chuckle with his sleeve. He met her eyes, sadly nodding.
"How are you holding up?" His voice was warm and soothing, and caught Kennedy off guard. Willow glanced back into the rearview mirror, and Kennedy suddenly felt as if every eye in the car was turned to her.
"Doin' fine," she shrugged, "How've you been?"
Willow's gaze fell to the road; Kennedy pretended she didn't hear the disappointed sigh. She hit Giles with her best oblivious smile. Giles simply smiled back, but she saw something in his eyes, this moment of recognition. He cleared his throat.
"Well, work has been, ahem, difficult. I've managed to locate most of the surviving Watchers. Trying to convince them to work with us is entirely another matter."
Willow craned her head over to look at the back seat for a second, making sure her hands were at the regulation ten and two. "So no one really wants to deal with a bunch of super powered pubescent girls, huh? I'll tell ya, I'm a little disappointed with the Watchers. I thought they lived for that opportunity."
"Yes, well, it's more of an issue of cross-purposes. Everyone has an agenda, Willow, and I'm afraid that it's going to be a bit of a task to get everyone on the same page."
"Yeah. We're like the X-Men, and everyone wants to be Professor X."
"Yes, thank you Andrew," Giles absently scratched his chin, "That's the problem. Too many chefs ruining the stew. Everybody knows the One True Way."
Willow pulled into the hotel parking garage. Everyone disembarked, Kennedy silently grabbing the suitcase out of the trunk, briskly walking in front of the group ten paces. Willow glanced over to Giles, silently begging him for help. Giles patted the young woman on the back, mouthing 'we'll talk'. Willow nodded worry washing out her features. Andrew continued to prattle on behind them, oblivious to the tension in the air.
"What we Watchers really need is a figurehead. Like when Aragorn lead the charge at Helm's Deep. Really, it was the Lothlorian Archers and the Rohirim that won the battle. But Strider got all the credit. I really think that Peter Jackson was cheated out of the Oscars. I mean, the cave troll was kickin' it old school, and Sean Bean should have walked away with that puppy for his death scene. I love a good death scene. Like in the Godfather, when Marlon Brando collapses in the vineyard—classic. And what was with Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now? Because—"
"Andrew!" Willow yelled, "Could we please have some quiet time?"
Andrew hung his head, sulking behind the two old friends. Kennedy had already opened the door to the hotel, making a beeline for the elevators.
"I hate to say it," Giles admitted, "but beneath that rather…informative foray into pop culture, Andrew does have a point. The Council needs someone to unite under. Travers was a git, but he did manage to make everyone hate him equally. Half the time, that's all anyone ever talked about."
Willow's mind danced around furiously: "I don't suppose you could fill the git roll? That's not what I mean. I mean, that is what I mean, but not that you're a git, which I'm not really sure I know what a git is, but it sounds rude, and you, Giles, are not one. A git."
Giles held the elevator open for Andrew. "No. Believe it or not, I'm something of a pariah in the remaining Watcher community. My record is less then spectacular. I have gotten Buffy killed twice. That's two more than most Watchers ever accomplish. What they need, is, is someone who can remind them of their duty. Someone with some moral authority."
Willow dropped her face. "They need Buffy. That's what you're saying, right? 'Cause we told her that she was allowed to relax now, and now we're gonna be all like: 'guess what, time to go back to work!' Giles, I just don't think that's fair to her. Not after all she's been through."
Giles raised his hands defensively as the elevator doors dinged open on the fifth floor. "We have to keep our options open, Willow. Things are going to get very complicated very soon. We need to protect those girls out there, from, from Lord knows how many forces that see this as a great opportunity."
"Actually," Kennedy spoke up as they walked across tightly woven carpets towards the suite at the end of the hallway, "The word I've been getting is saying that the bag guys are running around like chickens with their heads cut off."
"For now," Giles pointed out. "In a month, in a year, the nether-realms will have adjusted to everything that's been happening. But out of curiosity, how are things in L.A.?"
Kennedy shrugged: "Kinda tame. After fighting off the ultimate evil and its army of super vampires, the standard street vamp just doesn't impress me that much."
Willow opened the suite's hardwood door, shooting a meaningful look over to Giles. He turned over to Andrew, who was picking at a loose piece of wallpaper in the hallway. "Andrew, go help Willow put our things in our room." The boy let out a little whine, grumbled, and stalked over to the suitcase, pulling loudly through the door. Kennedy began to follow him, halting when she felt a hand on her elbow. She stared at the hand for a second, raising a warning eyebrow at Giles. Giles rolled his eyes, removing the offending hand.
"Whatchu want?" Kennedy said, arms already folded defensively.
"Kennedy," Giles began, mirroring her posture, his voice cold, "I understand you've been patrolling every night this past week."
"Well, I, I was wondering… what have you learned about a group called El Diablos Verdes?"
Kennedy shrugged: "Not much. I know they're in town tonight, some kind of deal going down with the local vamps. I was planning on breaking it up tonight. It's taken care of."
"Yes, well, I've got it on good authority that the… Green Devils are in possession of something called the Orignok Configuration."
Kennedy tapped her foot impatiently. "Shouldn't you be telling Willow this? She's the expert on these things."
Giles instinctively reached for his glasses, falling into the soothing cleaning rhythm. "I must admit to an ulterior motive. I understand you've been through quite an ordeal lately."
The young woman's mouth twisted unconsciously into a scowl. So they were talking about her behind her back, were they? "Yeah," she spat, "big fight. Really hard. I'm dealing."
Giles blinked slowly. "Willow is very worried about you." Kennedy ground her teeth in irritation. She glanced back and forth, anger and frustration flowing out of her in thick burgundy waves. She looked at the door, burnt holes into it with her helplessness. She felt the older man rest his hands on her shoulders, gazing into her eyes. There was nothing gentle or kind about his grip or his look. This was an ultimatum, a challenge.
"Kennedy, Willow cares about you a great deal. If you need help, there is no one more worthy in the world to help you."
The slayer met his gaze, deep brown eyes full of sadness, all bravado expelled. "I can't," was all she could say. Giles nodded.
"I understand," and he did not lie. He knew Kennedy's watcher, knew how she trained her wards, and knew that the young woman was a warrior born, and not disposed to introspection. This saddened him. It seemed as if every Slayer ended up cut off from their loved ones, a self-imposed exile. Kennedy was not emotionally prepared for her encounter with Willow's evil self. Giles then decided to ponder the subject no more; there was pressing business to attend to. "Come," he said, gesturing at the door, "We should brief the others on what we've learned."
The group sat around the large, circular table strewn with numerous books and papers. Giles was thumbing through a large tome. Andrew sat next to him, his notepad covered in his childlike scrawl, superhero icons scribbled into the borders. Willow leaned against her Kennedy, trying to let the slayer have as much contact as possible, trying to reinforce the impression that she was not alone. The slayer rested one arm around the witch's waist, the other hand idly tracing the contours of her favorite long sword's pommel.
"So who, or what, are The Diablos Verdes?" Willow asked, firmly touching Kennedy's arm.
"Well, the Green Devils are fairly new to the game, " Giles began his exposition, "All reports of them date back only to the mid-eighties."
"They did a lot of extortion, kidnapping, and other rites of evil," Andrew interjected, nodding proudly to himself. Giles stopped and almost said something, but decided that after three weeks of dealing with the almost Watcher, there was no reason to start a tiff.
"That doesn't sound like your standard demon-y activities," Willow queried.
" The word (on the street) is that that was their strength," Andrew cut Giles off before he could even begin speaking, leaving him open mouthed and blinking. The boy didn't miss a beat, loving the attention given to him. "They liked to style themselves after the cartels of the eighties. Except, instead of drugs, they sold black magick charms. This one time, in Mexico city, they took this guy who ripped them off, and somehow managed to turn him inside-out." He smiled at Willow. "Hey, sort of like y—" Andrew cringed, looking away from the now scowling redhead. Kennedy nodded over towards him.
"You might want to shut up. Well, unless you really want to test your pain threshold." She ended the sentence with a thin-lipped smile. Willow patted her arm.
"Thank you, sweetie," she said with a little too much warmth. "So why are they here?"
Giles raised his hands in exasperation. "Why am I even here? Between Andrew the, the … boy encyclopedia, and Kennedy's leg work, I could have just stayed in England." With a conceding wave, he looked over to the young slayer.
"Well," she stiffened, "I was hitting up all the usual places, stopped by Caritas, kept hearing the same thing. Big score, lots of money, tonight, midnight, the docks. Someone read the big book of bag guy clichés."
Willow raised her hand dramatically: "Ah-Ha!" She lowered it down slowly, shrinking under the perplexed and slightly amused looks. "It's just, y'know, I just got it. These Green Devil-y guys come into town with some evil goodies, and they want to unload 'em. So the local yokels all get their money, set up this little meeting. Pow! Instant big bad gathering. Question is: what are they selling."
"The Orignok Configuration!" Andrew and Giles spoke simultaneously. Andrew wisely raised his hands and ceded the floor to his elder.
"Ahem," Giles cleared his throat pointedly at Andrew. "The Orignok Configuration was discovered sometime in the eighteen – sixties by an American scientist excavating the Anasazi compound. No one's sure what it does, but it passed hands for the next hundred and twenty years, gathering with it quite a reputation for mass destruction."
Willow sighed. "And once again, little old me ends up in an end-of-the-world scenario."
"Oh no," Andrew corrected, "It may just wipe out all life in the city. I don't think it would kill the whole world."
"And me without my party hat," Giles dryly quipped.
Kennedy lifted her long sword, twisting it in languid circles. "It sure is too bad there isn't someone who can stop those evil punks." The two-handed blade thunked loudly on the floor and she planted its tip into the wood. Her eyes brightened, and an evil grin lit up her dark features.
Willow scanned the ugly brown brick building, something built in an age when art deco was 'in' the first time. Big orange pipes ran along the outside, postmodern Ionic columns holding up a temple to industry, rust brown in the spots where water collected after a heavy rain. The windows were boarded up, the plywood so old and weathered that it was gray beneath all the graffiti, tags with a nearly occult feel, all pitchforks and indecipherable gang slang.
If there was ever an element that Willow felt completely out of place in, it was the urban wastelands that crouched in the hidden places of the city. She was a suburban Jewish girl, raised by nice Jewish parents and sent to nice upper middle class schools. Throughout high school, she saw maybe three black people in her life. Her mother was a dyed in the wool liberal, raised her to be understanding and non-judgmental, and she liked to think of herself as such; it seemed ridiculous for a gay woman to be judgmental about anything. But the reality of poverty never really hit her until just that moment.
Willow had never been around real destitute, spirit-crushing poverty. She had seen the filthy dwellings of vampires, seen their habit of throwing whatever trash they had on the floor, but she never imagined that any human would live in such conditions. Until now, as she stepped gingerly over the sleeping old man (at least he looked old: dirty blue jumper and wild, unkempt beard) did she see to what depths a human being had fallen. A twinge of disgust shot through her heart: how any person would let themselves get that bad made her pause. But that feeling passed, and was replaced by something that had been making itself apparent more and more, ever since the scythe.
Her soul reached out to this man, this human warped and discarded. She felt then his pain, felt the anguish and self hatred he hid with drugs and liquor, felt the shame at his situation, those shreds of dignity he held onto. She felt the anger at the world he clutched to his heart like a blanket, his impotent rage at those who avoided his fate, rage that would one day spill out into violence. She knew that this man was the lowest of the low, but he was still a human being. Even at his worst, he still held in him the possibility for acts of endless compassion. Willow knew all this in an instant, and felt then not an absence of hatred, nor a lack of disgust, nor a totally altruistic compassion. All these feelings were rolled up into one: understanding. Understanding of the multitude of paths and possibilities that this man, this broken refuse of a man, had taken or denied. As she passed him, the man looked at her with eyes the color of wet cement. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. And it was that simple.
Her thoughts bent then to her Kennedy, her troubled slayer. The woman (for she could not think of her as a girl any longer; she had left her innocence behind in that factory) was scouting ahead, trying to find a spot for the ambush. Kennedy seemed at ease as she moved from shadow to shadow, clinging to the walls and watching the windows and doorways. Despite her skulking, she maintained a surprisingly low profile, moving into and out of the street, looking like nothing more than a pedestrian meandering through town. She had packed her weapons belt with more passion than Willow had seen in a week. She wanted to believe that this was good for her, that Kennedy was doing this to fight the good fight, and thereby redeem herself, but she knew the psychology of loss too well. When Kennedy lovingly kissed the tip of her crossbow bolt, she looked nothing so much like Faith. And that thought terrified her.
She was not honestly afraid in the physical sense of Kennedy going down that path. The slayer was terrified of Willow, she could see it. Despite her protestations otherwise, something about the magick frightened Kennedy. Something about it made her shoulders tense whenever Willow cast. Honestly, Willow wasn't sure if she was afraid for herself or for Willow, and in most situations, it didn't matter. Perhaps the terrified badge was too vague. Kennedy wasn't terrified of Willow, Willow was certain that the woman truly did care on a deep and meaningful level. It would be more accurate to say that she was afraid of the magick itself, the same fear a person would have for someone walking around with a loaded rifle. Kennedy was a control freak; that was the core of it.
The lithe Slayer signaled for the rest of the group to move to where she was with a slight wave of her hand. Willow watched with rapt attention as her lover rotated her shoulders, working out the kinks and causing the leather to creak in protest. That was another facet of their relationship Willow had to consider. He girlfriend was absolutely gorgeous. Willow always knew that there was something feral in her. But it was never released until Kennedy came along. It's not to say she wasn't active at other times in her life; it's just that she had never felt such a raw, animal attraction to someone else before. When she was honest with herself, which happened more and more often the older she got, she had to admit that while she loved Oz in a 'first love' sense, she was never that attracted to him. She chuckled at her naiveté, chalking up yet another thing to Willow's Big Board of Lesbo. She briefly wondered what he was doing, and considered emailing him soon. They hadn't talked in nearly a year and some change, not since Tara died. She had called him from England then, when he was passing through New York. He was still the same old Oz, a little older and a little sadder. But he was comforting, like an old shoe that you know doesn't fit you but you keep around anyway. Well that was horrible, she thought. I just compared Oz to a musty old shoe. Bad me.
And then there was she and Tara's love life. It was great. She never had to dwell on it any more than that. Sure, there was that initial period of fumbling and embarrassment, but by the time they moved in together, every act of lovemaking was a consummation of their deep spiritual affection for each other. Not that there weren't times when it was just about getting off, she thought with a wicked grin. It's just that it was primarily a means of expressing their love. It was always beautiful and magical and sensual. But this was different, her and Kennedy were different.
Kennedy was a creature of passions, of strong desires. Those she considered a friend would be defended to the death. Goddess help the person who became her enemy. That passion was reflected in everything she did. The woman simply could not do anything without exuding sexuality. Willow knew she flirted to get a reaction out of her girlfriend. She found it uncomfortable at times, but it was those times when Kennedy was just being unconsciously alluring that Willow found the most appealing. She had found times in the past weeks when the two would go to the grocery store to stock up, and Kennedy would reach over to run her fingers along an orange, or smell a flower, and Willow would have to force herself to not rush over to her and kiss her with all her strength. Such things were simply not acceptable in public. Kennedy would call it "curbing the PDA's." Public displays of affection. Yet another thing Willow found herself insulated from in Sunnydale.
Back when she and Tara were together, and officially out to everyone (she'd never forget the look on Joyce's face when Tara said 'we're g-g-g-gay' in that adorable little stutter she had), the two never felt especially constrained by anyone around them. They were openly loving; not that they made out in public (often), but they never felt threatened. She was so much in love that she never realized that she had built a safety bubble around herself. See, Sunnydale was a very small town; pretty much everyone knew who Buffy was. They never said it out loud, but they all knew that she was capable of opening a serious can of whup-ass. And so, Willow fell under her protection by proxy of being her best friend. And now… well, L.A. was fairly liberal, but she still felt people's eyes on her and Kennedy at odd times. It sure was a good thing that she was havin' this newfangled enlightenment shtick, otherwise she might be tempted to lightning bolt a few of the more nasty bigots.
Willow glanced back to Giles and Andrew. They had agreed to come along on one condition: when the fighting broke out, they were exclusively on reserve status. Andrew was especially energetic about his inability in combat: he paraded a list of ailments that should have rendered him unable to do anything other than lay in bed and piss himself from time to time. The more time she spent with the boy, the more she warmed to him. Okay, warmed was a strong word, but she was slightly less frigid with him. Giles was more than capable of handling himself in a fight, many times more so than Willow, but he was still getting on in the age department. That, plus years of repeated blows to the head, would make one think that he would be a bit recalcitrant to get into the thick of things. Not so. When the bloodshed started, Giles would throw himself into the fray with gusto; there was still a bit of Ripper left in him. As for herself, Willow had absolutely no illusions of her ability: she was strictly there for long-range support. Preferably moral support, but she had to acknowledge her raw power. And in all honesty, she was learning that in a pinch, there were very few beings that could stand up to a mystical assault. After her run in with Gnarl, she started thinking about dealing with demons that were immune to magick. It was simple really: the demon might not be hurt by the spell, but the tree limbs that she would conjure would hurt it. It was just a thought, and Willow honestly hoped she'd never have to find out first hand if her theory worked.
Kennedy had just darted around the corner of the old factory that rested on the very edge of the docks. In fact, the pier that extended out from the factory was designed to allow for fast loading and unloading of some forgotten freight. The dock extended almost eighty feet from the big double doors of the dilapidated factory. Kennedy walked back around towards the trio who found themselves a service doorway to lurk near.
"Dammit," she muttered as she got within earshot, "There's only one way to get out to the meeting spot, and it's forty feet from the nearest hidey hole."
"Could you swim underneath the docks?" Giles asked, seemingly far too engrossed with the tactical aspects of the upcoming assault. Willow was focusing on the mind numbing terror part.
Kennedy shook her head. "Water's about thirty feet down. And you have lost you mind if you think I'm getting these duds wet. I ditched my bike a few blocks back. I might use it to clear the distance fast."
"But they'd still see you coming," Andrew noted. "If only you could fly. Then Slayers would really kick ass."
Kennedy looked over to her lover. "Will? Could you do that?"
The redhead twisted her mouth to one side in thought. "Hm. It's really risky at that distance. Telekinesis requires years to master like that, and I can't do that sort of thing, well, not yet at least."
Kennedy absently clicked her tongue stud against her teeth, wheels turning. She looked straight up, up the factory's dirty brown and orange wall. She then glanced over to the dock butting against the factory. Some quick, rough calculations were made. She looked over at Willow again, a mischievous glint in her dark eyes.
"Could you get me and my bike up on the roof?"
Willow nodded slowly, not liking where this was going. "S-sure. I've lifted heavier stuff, and I'll have more control from here, but what the hell are you trying to do? Are you doing what I think you think you're doing? Because I think that's nuts!"
Giles looked back and forth between the two women. "What are you thinking, Kennedy?"
The slayer pointed up to the roof: "Well, I need to get into it fast, and without them seeing me. So Will here's gonna put me and my bike up on the roof. I figure I can get up to thirty-five or forty, make the jump and land right in the middle of their little soiree."
"Cool," Andrew grinned.
"Not cool!" Willow stepped in front of Kennedy, eyes hard, "Very, very dangerous! What if you don't make it, or what if they see you coming, or what if the dock is too slippery and you sliding off the end! And more!"
"Willow's right," Giles nodded, "You'll be cut off, cut off from our, our support, from our…"
"I'll deal," Kennedy grumbled, her ire starting to rise. "I'm going to get my bike. It's getting up on that roof if I have to drag it up there. Willow? You don't want to help? Fine." She growled out the last word, turning on her heel and storming away.
Willow stared after her, breath hissing through her nostrils. "Giles?" she asked without moving, "I'm going to kill her."
"Willow," Giles gently offered, "Perhaps we should give Kennedy all the assistance we can. She seems to be acting out of,,, desperation?"
"I know!" Willow's voice raised an octave, "Giles, I know what she's going through, but she's just so 'ooh, look at me, the big bad Slayer. I don't need anyone's help.' It's like sleeping with Buffy."
Giles and Andrew both gave Willow raised eyebrows. Willow returned the pair an exasperated look. "You know what I mean. You're right. We'll give her the assist, I'll try to keep her alive."
That Old Knieval Kick
Kennedy pulled on the brown leather driving gloves, their softness covering the jagged white scar on the back of her right hand, the scar she got from Willow's little fang as her fist collided with her face. No, she didn't just think that. It wasn't Willow's face she had hit: it was the doppelgangers.
She pulled the motorcycle helmet over her head, buckled the chinstrap and lifted the visor. She had been such a bitch to Willow. She just kept pushing her farther and farther away, kept biting her head off for no good reason. If Giles had just kept his stupid mouth shut, she'd probably be over it by now.
But he hadn't. He flat out said that Willow wasn't in love with her. He'd said that she cared about her. Well, whoopedee doo, Kennedy thought, I care about a lot of things. Good music, movies, puppies, all sorts of things. None of those are special. None of those are Willow. She didn't *care* about Willow. Care was a word reserved for roommates and old pets. She loved Willow, loved her with all her heart, loved her in a way she thought herself incapable of. She loved her so much that the thought of hurting her made her head swim, made the world topsy-turvy and a little less sane.
And now she was sure of it. Willow *cared* for her. She didn't love her. Not in the way she was loved. Kennedy's guts twisted and clenched. Her heart pounded at the revelation. She thought back to her dreams, the same one she'd been having the past week. It was so obvious now. Of course Willow didn't love her, Willow didn't love anybody, not even herself. Anger flashed red through Kennedy's mind. She gripped the throttle of the motocross style bike, grinding her teeth in abject rage. This was the truth of it: at that instant, she had never been more hurt by anything in her life. Stupid, stupid Willow. Stupid Giles. Stupid world. If this was the kind of place she had to live, a place where the people you loved didn't love you in return, where everyone tried to help you but didn't know why, Kennedy wasn't sure she wanted to live in that place.
"Kennedy?" The slayer cringed at Willow's words as they telepathically slipped into her thoughts, "I see someone."
Kennedy sighed. Could Willow be a little more vague? This was only her life on the line right now. "Number and disposition?" She thought, wondering how much irritation got through.
"Six…no, make that seven vamps. There's the leader. He's the big guy with the cute little horns." Willow thought for a second, puzzling out exactly how Kennedy meant 'disposition'. She then remembered all the funny little things Riley used to say: 'sweep and clear', 'neutralize the objective', 'reach the extraction point', all that silly military jargon. "Um, it looks like three of 'em have big sticks, and the rest are surrounding the big guy."
The Slayer nodded to herself. It didn't matter if they were armed or not. Not one of them was walking off that dock tonight. She glanced around, making sure that the rooftops were free of sentries. She didn't really expect any: most vampires were pretty elementary about security. But she still checked, knowing that her old Watcher would have fried her ass if she caught Kennedy slacking like that.
The rooftops clear, she awaited word from Willow. Falling into the pre-combat routine took some of the edge off of her anger. She really hoped Willow and the others were smart enough to keep their heads down. They found a really good place to hide inside the factory, a few feet from the door. Kennedy had pried loose a few boards, making the windows into serviceable arrow-slits. The three all had crossbows. She made sure the draw weight was low: only about fifty pounds. It'd kill the range, but at least then they'd be able to reload fast.
"Kennedy," Willow thought, "They're about forty feet down the docks. Hold on a sec… yeah. Okay, the Green Devils just pulled up in a boat. They're walking down the dock to meet the vamps. Kennedy, they're all together now. Whatever you're doing, now's the time."
The cycle grunted to life, engine sputtering for a few seconds, black smoke bellowing out of the tailpipe as Kennedy viciously twisted the throttle. The rear tire slipped left and right, found purchase on the aluminum roof, and propelled the motorcycle with ferocious speed and a high-pitched whine. The slayer's body dropped low, foot working the clutch rapidly, the bike letting out a series of high-octave shrieks as it careened towards the edge of the factory.
The length of the docks crested the slope of the roof as Kennedy careened closer and closer to the prepice. She had only enough time to register the large group of monsters below her, heads twisting around in curiosity. In mere moments, she felt the rush of air from beneath as gravity began its irrevocable tyranny. The powerful young woman pulled her feet up on top of the seat, twisting her body hard to the right. Physics took over, the force of her movements laying the motorcycle out horizontal to the ground. The large, orange demon turned, reptilian features twisted into something that could possibly be recognized by a dedicated herpetologist as confusion.
The bike's arc sent it straight towards the behemoth, Kennedy perched atop the seat. With a tremendous kick, she sent the rear end scything out from under her, hands still gripping the handlebars, burning with exertion, as they became the pivot point of a lethal projectile.
The demon Kraggoth's head crushed nearly flat with the impact, black blood spraying his former lackeys as his body cart wheeled dramatically, bouncing off the wooden platform and into the dark ocean below. Kennedy used the momentum of the kick to throw the motorbike on a tangent away from her, one of the vampires (an unfortunately skinny fellow in a ratty jean jacket) catching the heavy missile as it sailed through the air. He folded in half, wrapped around the fuselage and carried over the edge of the dock with a howl of protest. Kennedy landed as best she could, laying her body out like a major league baseball player sliding into home.
She slid past the three black robed figures, one of them gingerly clutching something small and box-like. The dock was slick with moisture, her boots thrumming as she skipped over the boards that were laid perpendicular to her path. Her elbow slammed painfully into a plank that had warped slightly more than it's brothers: the nerves in her arm went numb from that joint down. Kennedy realized that her slide was sending her ever closer towards the thirty-foot drop into the water, and resolved to do something about it.
With a jerk, she brought her knees up to her chest, twisted her torso around and began to roll. Her arms pumped out, acting as an impromptu ramp, propelling her body into a spin. Kennedy kicked her legs out wide, dropping her center of gravity, her spin changing into a twirl as she righted herself in mid-air. With a heavy clop, her boots landed safely and securely on the wooden dock, nearly ten whole feet from the edge. Kennedy looked at the group recovering from their scramble away from the airborne-slayer that just landed in their midst. Landed in their midst, and slid right past them, Kennedy thought with a grumble. Worse still, the shock of the attack was quickly wearing off. The thugs were too far away to engage in hand to hand, the trio of cloaked monsters was advancing, and Willow was whispering in her head.
"Kennedy? Kenn, are you okay?"
"Yes!" she hissed. Willow was breaking her focus. Well, that's not fair, her focus had been broken all day. This was such a monumentally stupid plan. In hindsight, of course. But there was no time to worry about that now. Right now, the tall, dark and robe-y ones were slowly parting the way as the remaining seven vampires advanced on her. Their hesitant walking transformed into a swagger with each word of encouragement they growled. The swagger quickly transformed into a mass charge, the bloodlust rising in time with their frenzied howls. Kennedy thanked her lucky stars that they were stupid enough to try and bum rush her. It dawned on her, almost simultaneously, that her overconfidence was becoming a problem.
Leather clad hands reached around to the twin holsters strapped to her back. With a yank and the loud click of crossbows extending their collapsible crosspieces, Kennedy exploded into action. She moved low and fast, cutting across the mass of gnashing teeth at an oblique angle, the group crushing themselves as they attempted to follow her. The crossbows vibrated as twinned bolts buried themselves in the black hearts of the nearest two vampires, their fellows lunging through the swirling dust of their expired compatriots.
Kennedy spun, dropping the spent crossbows and grabbing the ebony wood handle that was snugly taped to the small of her back. She whipped the handle out, a silver ribbon of thin spring steel trailing behind it. The ribbon fluttered in the streetlight, drawing a thick red line across the throat of the vampire with the black skull and crossbones bandanna tied around his elbow. The creature went down, clutching it's red bubbling throat and snarling with bloody teeth.
There were vamps on either side of her now, pressing and clawing at her. One of the more enterprising members of the thrashing mob raised a Louisville Slugger, savagely hurling the massive end towards the slayer's skull. Kennedy pushed into the mass, the scent of blood and fury swirling around her. Her fist shot out, hitting the baseball bat wielder's wrist with devastating force. The pivot point of the bat changed dramatically as his arm twisted at an impossible angle, slamming into the dock below them. Simultaneously, the razor thin edge of the Wushu sword sliced open the hamstring of one of the vampires she had rushed past.
Kennedy somehow lost track of one of the two standing vampires, wanting to disable them as quickly as possible, and go for the kill at a more convenient time. As she scanned her surroundings, she saw the three sellers hurrying towards a large brown bag that laid forgotten in the scuffle. Just as one of them reached down to grab it, a small, balding yet heavy-set man dashed towards the three. He was dressed in nondescript khaki pants and a blue dress shirt, large tinted sunglasses obscuring his eyes, making him look like a seventies porn star.
"Willow!" she thought, "Stop the-"
Her teeth clacked together, hot copper flowing into her mouth as her vision flashed white. She stumbled forward, hopefully away from the perpetrator, but her legs refused to move fast enough, tripping over each other. Something else hit her back, her lower back, pitching her forward and sending spasms of pain through her abdomen. Kennedy gasped, dropping on to her side as the lead pipe swung down, narrowly missing her knee joint and thumping off of her calf.
Kennedy blinked the haze from her vision away, pulling herself in a fetal ball, whimpering: a caricature of the victim. The vampire with the broken wrist grinned as he picked his discarded weapon up, hoisting it over his shoulder as he ambled towards the helpless woman. The vampire with the lead pipe handed it over to his skinny friend, kicking Kennedy in the ribs for good measure. Kennedy's leathers took most of the sting out, but she grunted loudly. Not for the first time tonight, she thanked her lucky stars that these were stupid fledglings and not any one with a lick of sense. Still, her ribs may be cracked and the world had yet to stop sloshing around, so it would be on the side of better to end this as fast as possible. Plus, Willow was nearly in a full-fledged panic attack mode. Any longer and she'd be tossing vamps all the way to China.
A heavy boot snapped out at skinny's knee, making it pop out of socket and collapsing the rail thin vamp like a deck of cards. The lead pipe spun out of his hands, arcing into the night sky. Kennedy popped up, her right leg burning as the muscles flexed around the deep bruise. With a single deft motion, she snatched the twirling pipe out of the air and with a twist of her hips, sent it whistling into bat boy's face. The twice broken vampire dropped to his knees, spitting out a mouthful of sharpened teeth.
The lead pipe described a figure eight, whooshing through the air as it gained speed. Kennedy spun around, striking the remaining vampire in the side of the neck, snapping it and sending the vampire rag dolling to the ground. She surveyed her handiwork, cringing as she her back bent in a way that offended it. All five vampires were disabled. She pulled the stake out of her boot sheathe, testing the point with her thumb. A guttural shout caught her attention.
"Hey!" the thick little man in the big sunglasses was gripping the brown leather bag with both hands, leaning backwards and pulling with all his might. The other end of the bag was held by one of the robed figures, a single ham sized fleshy fist gripping the satchel. One of the other robed figures shoved a foot long ornately carved wooden box into the swarthy little person's face, occasionally glancing over to the third robed demon, who for it's part watched the sad collection of defeated vampires with crossed arms.
Kennedy absently kicked and staked the hamstrung vampire, moving over to pick up her sword on the way to stake the vampire who currently lay on the ground gurgling angrily. She warily watched the scene as it unfolded, sending Willow her 'I'm okay' message.
"Give me the freakin' money, paco!" the little man screamed in a thick New Jersey Italian accent.
The demon with the box pressed it ever closer to his face. "Take the box!" it yelled in a baritone Mexican accent, "Never will it be said that El Diablos Verdes break their word!"
"I don't want no freakin' doomsday device, I just want the money!"
"You can't have the money! Take the Orignok Configuration! Your enemies will tremble in terror! It's a steal!"
"If you like it so much, take it yourself!"
The big demon shook the box, something rattling inside it with each gesture. "It. Will. Make. You. A. God!"
The little man yanked harder on the handle, each word matching a tug. "I'd. Rather. Be. Rich!"
With the last word, the strap broke, sending the man sprawling on his back. The demon he was wrestling with took the opportunity to clutch the satchel to his thick chest. The monster with the box tossed it onto the man's chest, covering his face (or what Kennedy assumed was his face; it was hard to tell, what with the ghost of Christmas future hood on and all) with his arms, like a man cringing from an explosion. All three demons froze, watching the box with rapt attention.
"Will?" Kennedy thought as she idly staked the last vampire, batting aside it's feeble struggles. "Where the hell did that guy come from?"
"I don't know," Willow telepathically replied, "he must have been hiding in the dumpster or something. Are you okay?"
Kennedy rolled her eyes for the ninth time: "Yes. I'm peachy. What's going on here?"
Willow shrugged: "A big 'not sure' on that one, too. Whatever's in that box is sending off major mojo waves, though. I'd stay clear if I were you."
Kennedy turned her attention back to the group. The man on the ground slowly looked down at the Orignok Configuration on his chest. The three demons twitched, then, in unison, turned towards the end of the dock, and took off running. Running straight at Kennedy.
"Willow?" she called out nervously, "Now would be a good time to shoot these guys!"
Three low-pitched twangs came from the factory windows. Crossbow bolts zipped towards their targets, one meant for each of the Diablos. Kennedy shook her head, amazingly unsurprised when the bolts skipped off of the creatures' backs. She braced herself for another fight, her stomach going queasy at the thought of dealing with three very tough demons at once. The Green Devils barreled down on her, picking up tremendous speed for their size. They lowered their heads, broke into a sprint…
…And parted around the slayer like water around a divider. Kennedy turned just in time to see them leap off of the edge of the dock, landing in their boat with a crash.
"Hey!" Kennedy yelled after them. She turned around a full three-sixty degrees, finishing her rotation just in time to see the little man leap to his feet, running towards the street, heavy box wrapped in a protective grip.
"Hey hey!" She shouted after him. "Willow, we got a runner!"
The fat little man suddenly found his legs pumping in mid air, roadrunner style, not finding purchase. He glanced around, desperately trying to understand his predicament. When he saw the slight redhead pointing at him, brow furrowed in concentration, he sighed in resignation.
"This day just can't suck any more," he muttered to no one in particular.
Dances With Wiseguys
"I'm gonna ask you this once," Kennedy pointed the stake at the man now hovering helplessly a few feet above the ground. "Who are you and what are you doing her."
The little man sniffed, running his hands along the edge of the wooden box he clung to. "Oscar. An' I'm just passin' through."
The slayer walked a slow circle around him, lightly tapping the stake against his flanks. "You're really not convincing me not to stake you."
Oscar craned his neck around, trying to follow the woman's movements. "Whoa now. You don't know I'm no vampire."
Kennedy chuckled to herself, looking over to Willow. The witch shook her head in sympathy. "Oscar—I can call you Oscar, right?" She didn't wait for a reply. "Oscar, I'm a Slayer. I know you're a vampire. And the only reason you're not a pile of dust right now is that I need some information."
Oscar shrugged, eying the leather clad woman up and down. "What's to say you won't kill me when I tell you what you want to know?"
"Well," Kennedy nodded her head solemnly, "I am going to kill you Oscar. You're just gonna have to deal with that. Question is," she pressed the stake hard against his stomach, a thin trickle of blood dripping down the end, "how long until you're blowin' in the wind."
Giles leaned over to Willow. "She really is quite good," he whispered into her ear.
"Oh yeah," she murmured back, "I just love hearing her make with the sadistic torture."
Oscar grunted as the stake bit deeper into his abdomen. He grit his teeth and smiled. "You wanna see what I got, girly? You ain't got the stones to go all the way."
The stake pushed further into his gut, soft skin yielding to the needle-sharp point with only a moment's resistance. Something heated up behind Kennedy's ears, made the back of her throat burn like bad indigestion. The world around her began to burn, collapsing into a small red point, suspended from the tip of the stake like a drop of blood. She smiled widely, idly wondering what the smell would be like when she punctured his abdominal wall. Sometime far away, her Watcher described the results of a piercing stomach wound. First is the stabbing pain as the implement ruptured the muscles, then as it wound deeper, the stomach cavity would be punctured, spilling stomach acid into the upper intestine. The pain would be unbearable, and it could take hours, or even days to die. If the weapon didn't hit the stomach, the half digested objects in the intestines would release their bounty of bacteria, causing sepsis, a severe infection that would require massive surgery to correct. The lesson being, don't get stabbed in the gut. But Kennedy wasn't getting stabbed. She was doing the stabbing. And this wasn't some person: this was some thing, some soulless monster. He…IT was growling in pain, staring hard into her eyes. Kennedy saw her own reflection in his yellowed irises; saw the blood that ran out of her mouth, dried into a harlequin's mask. Its face trembled as she twisted the stake a little deeper, cold, sticky liquid flowing over her hand. The guttural moan finally broke into a howl, black blood bubbling up from Oscar's throat.
Kennedy felt a tug on the tapered wooden shaft she had custom carved. Oscar was being pulled away from her, his hands clutching at the seeping hole in his stomach. The vampire levitated in the air, above her head, out of her reach. She turned to Willow, not hearing the snarl in her chest as she did. Willow met her gaze, staring hard at the slayer. Kennedy moved a step closer to her, saw the wave of fear cross her fine features. That fear seemed to add fuel to the fire burning her, consuming her. She felt her fists quiver in anticipation. The scent of brackish seawater filled her nostrils, tainted by the ashes of vampires kept too long for this world. Something large moved beside her, but she could not decipher its form. She savored the fear there, felt it's power, knew her place in the world as the hunter, the top predator, The Slayer. Willow's gaze softened then, her countenance smoothed over the fear with compassion and concern. It broke her stride, confused her. She took another tentative step forward, unsure as to her own intentions, something within her battling to take control. She felt her body twist to the side, an iron grasp holding her arm.
Giles moved in front of Kennedy, his glasses off and his face stern. She jerked her head around to look into his eyes, whole body twitching with mixed signals, brain unable to tell her what to do. That's when Giles smacked her.
She slowly brought her hand up to her face, blinking, trying to make sense of what just happened. Kennedy dropped her brown eyes to the ground, hand leaving a bloody line that extended from her hairline to her jaw, crossing her eye, completing the jester's mask on one side. The blood on her hand was sticky, something about its peculiar tactileness made bile rise in the woman's throat. Kennedy looked around her like an amnesiac trying to get her bearings.
Andrew was farthest away, standing stock still, a pale scarecrow that wouldn't scare away a crow with epilepsy. His eyes were sad and knowing, a deep shade of blue Kennedy had never noticed before. There was a certain wisdom in him, a perspective off-kilter just enough to make it original, but not enough to make it nonsensical.
Willow simply stared at her, her face unreadable. Sweat beaded on her brow from holding the writhing Oscar in the air, but Kennedy felt those perfect green eyes searching her, demanding answers she didn't possess. Or maybe she did, but now was not the time.
Giles moved into her vision again, bringing his face next to hers. His eyes nailed Kennedy to the spot, making his death grip on her arm obsolete. His nostrils flared in barely contained rage. For a moment, she was confused. Why was he angry? But then she realized how she had looked at Willow. Her perfect Willow, her goddess, how could she even act like that? Wave after wave of stomach turning guilt washed over her. She almost stumbled, but Giles held on tight.
"You are out of line!" he hissed loudly, right next to her ear. Kennedy held up her hands, trying to ward off the words, ward off the memories. She swallowed, and it felt like she swallowed a baseball.
"I'm… I'm good," she croaked.
"You'd better bloody well hope so," Giles seethed, releasing her arm and stepping back.
Kenney felt the eyes of everyone in the group on her. She suddenly was very much aware of the blood on her hands, her face, and began to wipe it away, rubbing her shirt vigorously. A loud cough from above and behind her made her jump.
"'Scuse me?" Oscar spat a wad of blood on the dock. "I hate to break up little Miss psycho-bitch's intervention here, but I'd really like something for this pain."
Kennedy turned on her heel, scowling at the wounded monster. This was just too unseemly, letting the prey see your dirty laundry aired like that. It was time to get back to work.
"You're not off the hook yet, buddy," she said, her voice less self-assured than she had hoped.
Oscar looked over to the red head. "Speaking of hooks—you wanna let me down now, sweetie?"
Giles reloaded the crossbow. Andrew got the message, struggling valiantly with the manly fifty-pound drawstring before the cocking mechanism snatched it. They both looked at Willow. She hadn't taken her eyes off of Kennedy. The witch tilted her head to the side.
"I can hold him up here all night, guys."
"Hey babe," Oscar shoved his fist into his wound, keeping his innards in place, "Ain't exactly like I'm runnin' any marathons here. Plus, this box is getting' heavy."
"You got him covered?" Kennedy asked without looking back. She could feel her girlfriend staring at her.
Giles nodded: "Yes. Willow, if you'd be so kind?"
Oscar slowly lowered to the slippery dock. His legs buckled momentarily underneath him, forcing him to draw on vampiric reserves to keep standing. He managed a snide smile as he shook off his vampire face.
"Thanks, babe," he nodded over to Willow, who remained nonplussed. Kennedy growled, advancing on the little man.
"She's not your babe, asshole!"
"What?" Oscar protested, his free hand holding the box in front of him like a shield. "You datin' her or something?"
Kennedy glanced out the corner of her eye to the witch. Oscar was well versed in body language. In his line of work, or that is, his ex-line of work, knowing what the other guy was thinking could save your butt in a tight spot.
"Oh, sweet Jesus," he groaned, "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a queer in this town, can you?" As soon as he finished the sentence, he realized that he may have overstepped his bounds. His first clue was the stake whistling towards his heart. Oddly, he didn't really care that he was about to die. He had never really cared, but for some reason, as a vampire his sense of self-preservation was completely lacking at this moment.
An instant before the stake hit, a loud rapid fire chittering came from the box. Willow's senses swam with a pulsing magick. She shook her head, cleared it.
Kennedy's hand hovered next to Oscar's hairy chest, every steel corded muscle in her arm vibrating with effort. She pushed, grinding her teeth and snarling her frustration. With a savage exhalation, she threw the stake behind her, dark eyes darker in the reflected ocean light.
"Well," Oscar muttered, "That was new."
"Kennedy," Willow said in the tone of voice usually reserved for errant children, "step away from him."
Kennedy swayed in front of the hairy little man, back and forth, her eyes cobra hoods, her fists fangs ready to strike.
"Kennedy," Giles interjected, almost pleading, but voice still firm, filled with authority, "do as she says."
Oscar was pleased with himself. He bobbed his head happily, lazily rolling the box along his flank. His thick, bearded face grinned wide.
"You listen to your friends, babe," he reached around behind him, producing a slender pistol and pointing it at the darkly sleek woman before him. Kennedy smiled, tilting her head back and forth, predatory gaze locked on.
"Can you live through a freakin' bullet in the dome, babe?"
"I don't know, Oscar," she answered, voice razor smooth, "Do you think you can hit me?"
Oscar spat at the ground between the slayer's feet. With a wicked chuckle, he pulled the hammer back, agonizingly slow, spring creaking from the tension.
"Kennedy," Willow's voice was tinged with blue-shirt panic, "Kennedy, please, just let him walk away."
The wavering in her voice, the desperation in her eyes made Kennedy break her dance with the cold steel barrel, broke her morbid reverie. This was Willow, Willow who needed her, who sometimes looked like she could barely make it through the day. Willow who was stronger than she ever let on. The Willow Kennedy fell in love with, the Willow that Kennedy had said she would kill in that moment of power, but lied to. This Willow was not the person who she was with now. She wasn't the Red Witch, the goddess that walked on earth, whose whims sent the tides crashing home early. This was the scared, mourning woman that needed someone to help her, needed someone to love her. She was the woman Kennedy couldn't refuse. The slayer numbly turned to face the woman she loved. The woman she couldn't hurt. And then she heard the crack.
Someone punched her in the back, sent her toppling forward, sent the air from her lungs. Willow screamed, thrust her open palm out. Oscar the undead monster rocketed out over the rooftops, disappearing behind a rickety looking tenement. Giles rushed over to Kennedy, by her side even before she fell completely. Andrew looked back and forth, from Giles to Willow, back and forth. Willow was with Kennedy in a split second, pale face gone paler and legs gone weak. Kennedy somehow managed to turn her head to face the woman.
"I…" her voice came in shallow gasps. Willow wrapped her arms around herself, trying to keep all the pieces from flying off. She kneeled down to touch the slayer's face. Kennedy struggled with a wan smile.
"Kenn?" Willow's slender hand shook as she caressed the fallen woman's dark locks. "Kenn, don't move. We'll get you to a hospital."
Willow's demeanor broke then; she turned to Giles, screaming with a voice made of broken glass: "Do something!"
Kennedy weakly raised a hand: "Will? Stop… yelling. Really…annoying." She placed her hands on the gray-brown wood. With a grunt of effort, she began to push herself up to her knees. Willow stepped away, eyes locked on this implacable force of nature the world called Kennedy. Kennedy pulled herself up to a sitting position, little hiccups betraying the amount of pain she was in.
'Pain is just weakness leaving your body,' her old Watcher used to say. She always mentally added: 'And infirmity taking its place.' In all honesty, the attitude helped as she peeled off the leather jacket, flinching as she flexed her back. She reached around her side, the Velcro fasteners on the Kevlar vest tearing apart. She let the protective garment fall without pretense. The tiny bullet sat mushroom squashed in the pillowy folds of polymer fibers. Kennedy's stained fingers picked it out, peering at it as if to decipher some mystery.
"I am going to kill the hell out of that guy."
Willow walked over to her, wrapping an arm around her waist to help her stand. Willow was the only person on Earth that she let help her like that. She loved that feeling, of not having to put up her usual defenses, not having to make herself as hard and cold as the world around her. She softened around her Willow. The rough edges and callousness were smoothed over.
Kennedy then remembered, remember how just moments ago she was nearly threatening Willow, she was torturing a helpless creature. She remembered the dreams from the past week. How could she doubt that this woman beside her loved her? Willow was so worried about her. You don't worry like that over someone you don't love, do you? But still…
Still, Kennedy remembered the fear she evoked from Willow. Willow was right to fear her. She was dangerous. Kennedy felt the bloodlust just beneath her skin, she felt how good and calming it was just to give in to it, to just let go and fall into the primal rhythm. It wasn't about right and wrong, or about predator and prey, or even about survival. It was about destruction. Absolute. The end state of things.
That's why she pushed Willow's arm off of her.
"I need to go get that little wiener," she said in a whisper. Willow stopped, her heart clutching in on itself.
"Please don't do this," she touched the younger woman's arm, "please don't shut me out."
The request was simple. It was what Kennedy had been doing, it was the walls and barriers she kept throwing up. Giles walked over to Andrew, pointing him towards the alleyways they had entered from. He nodded his support to Willow, but knew that this conversation was a long time coming.
Kennedy wrapped her arms around herself. She looked up at the night sky, the pain and fear and rage welling up in her voice. "I have to."
"Why?" Willow's voice cracked, "Why, Kennedy?"
"I don't know," it was a false admission, but her throat was constricting. Something started to blur her vision, something wet and salty that ran down her strong features.
"Yes, you do," Willow pushed herself closer, her slight hands resting on Kennedy's tensed shoulders.
"Willow, please, I can't talk about it."
The witch's red locks waved as she shook her head. "I don't accept that. You have to tell me, baby. You have to. It's eating you up inside. I can't take watching you do this to yourself."
Kennedy sniffed, her grip on herself tightening. "Willow?"
"Yes?" Willow nodded hopefully. This was so not what she was good at. Normally, she was the one in tears and there was always someone else to hold her, to tell her it was all right. She wasn't any good at this, any good at all, but she just couldn't let this woman collapse in on herself. Not like that.
Deep brown eyes met sparkling green ones. She breathed deeply, exhaling her words in time with her breath. "I love you."
Willow stared straight ahead, unable to blink. This was not the discussion she had been expecting. "Um, that's good. How is that not good?"
"No," Kennedy insisted, "I love you. I love you so much it makes my heart hurt."
Willow clutched a hand to her chest. "I make you hurt?"
Kennedy shook her head vigorously, almost grinning. "No. But I might hurt you." Willow moved to disagree, but Kennedy waved her away.
"Listen to me. This is me. I wish I could be something different. I wish I could be gentle, or sweet, or kind, but I'm not. I'm just not wired that way."
"You are," Willow asserted, "Kenn, I know it's hard to see right now, but I trust you. We can get through this."
Kennedy closed her eyes, hoping the tears would disappear and that the pain in her stomach would stop. She shook her head, silky black locks falling around her shoulders. Her breath tumbled out of her in rockslides.
"Yeah. We could get through this. I could let you get close enough. But I don't trust myself. Not with you. I love you too much to hurt you like that."
"Then why are you afraid?" Willow's feet seemed to dangle above the ground; she had to check that she wasn't spiraling into space. She felt it all happening again. The movements were imbedded in her mind after so many similar events. Tara packing her things, Oz grabbing his coat on the way out the door.
Kennedy saw the loss of pressure in Willow's green eyes, the distant remembrance. Damn her, she thought, why does she have to make this so hard.
"Willow," she touched the pale woman's soft cheek, "I need you. But you don't need me. Not anymore. And I can't have you around when I'm in the thick of it, because I lose myself. You saw it. I almost…"
Kennedy turned around, grabbing her leather jacket from the ground. Her head was bowed, her shoulders slack.
"I've gotta go get that guy," she muttered, "I'll see you back at the hotel." Without waiting for a response, she marched away, cut down an alleyway, around a corner, and disappeared.
Willow felt white-hot anger rise in her chest. That stupid little girl thought she understood how this was going to happen. All she was going to do was get herself killed. Willow wouldn't let that happen. She jogged back over to her car. Giles leaned against the hood, running a concerned hand along his chin.
"Giles," she burst out, a little louder than she thought she should have. She adjusted her voice with a cough, then tried again.
"Giles, we need all the information on the Orignok Configuration you've got."
"Is Kennedy?" he let the question hang in the air.
"We're gonna help her," Willow nodded, "whether she likes it or not."
The strangest things go through your mind when you are thirty feet in the air. Oscar firstly wished that he had shot that psychopath in the back of the head when he had the chance. It was so obvious she was wearing a vest, but for some reason, when he pulled the trigger, he just instinctively aimed at her heart. He wasn't sure that was a mistake. The red chick got pretty pissed when her lesbo girlfriend got hit. Oscar decided at that point (which was also the highest point of his airborne travel) that he would steer clear of the slayer and her little buddies.
Wind rushed through his thick black hair as he twisted around, wind whipping his face. A red brick building stepped from out of the shadows. Oscar bowed up, intent on intimidating the building into submission. The building disagreed. It quickly became apparent that buildings, indeed, most of your large inanimate objects in general, are not swayed by intimidation. Mostly, they're swayed by big, massive objects traveling close to terminal velocity. Which is what Oscar was at the moment.
Oscar bounced. He expected to slam through the brick wall, dust and debris getting thrown about, but it just didn't turn out that way. No, he bounced, face hitting the red stones, body twisting into a slinky on methamphetemines. As he oscillated, the pavement came rushing up to give him a sloppy, wet kiss. The lacquered box bounced down beside him, a diminutive squeak protesting its tumble.
Oscar had to admit that he was surprised that he was still conscious enough to appreciate the oddity of the chirping box. Indeed, he should be spending the next six weeks regenerating his brains, which should have been painting the wall above him. What was odder, he didn't feel a single broken bone. Even his nasty gut wound wasn't hurting all that much anymore. With a pathetic 'meep', he rolled over onto his back, sitting up to look at his surroundings.
The round, yellow lensed glasses on his meaty head fell off, both halves crumbled and cracked. He was on an empty street, a copy of The Watchtower plastered to the blacktop at his feet. The Orignok Configuration continued to utter a string of twitters and chirps, an angry tirade. A quick succession of scratching sounds came from inside the box. Making it wobble slightly in the street. With slow, deliberate motions, he lifted the wooden vessel, shaking it slightly like a Christmas present. The chitterings became more ferocious, louder and almost a rebuke. A soft, warm hum traveled up the wise guy's arms, nestled under his eyelids, and vibrated his mind. An understanding entered his thoughts: the slayer was coming. She was close.
Oscar hopped up, equilibrium off for a few seconds, either from the trip or that weird Vulcan-Mind Meld his new favorite box did. He began to trot away from the docks, moving into the city proper. Before long, the desolate streets gave way to the occasional parked car. He wobbled dangerously as his girth made greater and greater waves with each step. There was no way a fat wounded vampire with a big box was going to outrun a young and fit Slayer. Ever the opportunist, Oscar walked over to the Pinto parked on the side of the street. With a sharp elbow, the glass turned into green-tinted cubes and disintegrated inwards. He reached into the door, flipping the lock and snatching the handle, snarling as it refused to open. With a vampiric simulation of a sigh, he again reached in, unlocked the door, and slid himself into the driver's seat. The plastic sheathe around the steering wheel cracked off, wires exposed. With a few crude twists and a tiny spark, the car sputtered to life. Oscar glanced down, looking to put it into drive. Of course, he groaned, it would have to be a stick. Oscar desperately tried to remember how to work the clutch, the squashed looking vehicle stuttering and spitting as it lurched down the road.
Once he hit forty-five, the driving became a bit easier. The deep mahogany box sat next to him, his hand alternating between the stick shift and keeping the vocal cube upright through the sharp corners. He needed to get out of the city, he thought. The more he pondered it, the more he realized that shooting that girl was possibly biting off more than he could chew. Oscar really wasn't one to get in over his head like that. But something about that little freak just made him want to hurt her. It sort of reminded him about that hooker he capped in D.C. back in December. He was just supposed to rough her up, scare her out testifying to the pigs. But she just shot him this 'I ain't impressed' look, and no matter how hard he hit her, she just wouldn't whimper the right way. So he got bored and put a nine milli through her throat. This slayer was like that. She just thought she was so much tougher than him. Maybe she was tougher than a fist, but he had a few little lead friends who were a hell of a lot more resilient than she was.
He shook his head, locking away the bloodlust. He might be able to cap her if she didn't see it coming, maybe if she did, but if her little dyke patrol was with her, there was no way he was gonna walk away from that fight. So bloodlust or not, he really had to think of himself first. He needed to get back to the East Coast. Things were just too crazy over here. What he needed, he decided, was a vacation. Just some time to get his head together. But before he could go hang someplace really nice, like North Jersey, he had to get that money.
Even though there wasn't much chance of that happening. Those morons would be halfway to Cancun by now. Hell, that speedboat of theirs could be out in the middle of the Pacific…by..no. No, it couldn't. The boat would need to refuel, and even then, they probably weren't going to boat the whole way to Mexico. That would be nuts. And then there was their stupid robes. Not exactly low profile; although seeing how the late great Kraggoth handled himself, El Diablos Verdes were most likely the demonic equivalent of The Saint. So all he had to do was check out the marinas, see if anyone has seen anything. It would be some legwork, but what the hell, it'd keep him moving and he had all night anyway.
The tires screeched as Oscar pulled a u-turn, heading back out toward the coast. All he needed to do was hit all the marinas within a few miles of the spot, maybe even put out a request to the Coast Guard. See if they could keep an eye out for the 'drug runners' he just saw. On the other hand, it would be a real bitch if the Coast Guard took the cash.
The city lights zipped past, engine whining in protest before he shifted gears with a grating crunch. A tiny pair of green lights caught his attention ahead on the road. Within a heartbeat, the headlights struck the source of the lights dead on. Oscar barely had time to chuckle when the brown-furred, bushy-tailed squirrel stood on it's hind legs, front paws daintily tucked into it's fuzzy chest blinked in shock at the oncoming car.
Oscar found time to yelp when the tiny mammal leapt into the air, directly at Oscar, and crunched against the windshield with a pathetic 'firp'. Oscar slammed on the brakes, rear end fish-tailing out to the side. The squirrel somehow remained attached to the car, face pressed flat to the glass like a Looney Tunes character, complete with tongue jutting out. Oscar fumbled with the console controls, eyes wide and stuck to the ex-squirrel.
The windshield wipers finally activated, pushing the corpse around the smooth glass with high-pitched squeaks. Oscar shook his head in abject amazement.
"I have gotta get out of California," he deadpanned.
Oscar pushed the door open and walked around to the front of the car. With thumb and forefinger, he gingerly plucked the semi-flattened squirrel carcass off the window, and tossed it behind him with a shiver. Oscar paused for a second as he opened the windowless driver's side door. His vampiric senses kicked into overdrive. Something was moving behind him. He reached for his gun, panicking slightly when he realized that he must have lost it mid-flight somewhere. Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned around.
A dozen pair of tiny, yellow-green eyes stared out at him from the side of the road. They were lined up on the curb, all of them on their hind legs, all at attention. Oscar pulled the door open, never taking his very perplexed gaze off of the platoon of squirrels watching him with rapt attention. He didn't wait to see what happened; the tires spit white smoke as Oscar learned very fast how to work a clutch correctly.
Or, well, almost correctly. The Pinto gagged and hopped, but eventually gained speed, the dozen beady eyes following as it disappeared into the darkness. Oscar didn't check the rear view. He just pressed his mass into the seat, wide eyes staring straight ahead.
"I hate this city, I hate this city," he repeated over and over, a mantra to weirdness. The box next to him did a little jump in its seat, a muffled 'veep' of delight causing Oscar's head to jerk to face it.
He rubbed his eyes, took a deep, completely pointless breath, and screamed at the top of his dead lungs. The scream wasn't one of fear, or terror, but frustration at the past few weeks. Just when it seemed life couldn't get any weirder, just when you thought: 'hey, vampire, okay, I can deal,' life shows up at your doorstep with suicidal squirrels. This was just too much to deal with. The holler ended in a strangled warble.
Oscar heard the high-pitched yell muffled through wooden panels, mimicking his own shriek. Oscar blinked twice at the box, then screamed again. He screamed all the way to the first marina he saw, some part of his brain telling him to stop yelling, otherwise the people there might call the police.
He pulled the Pinto into the parking lot, practically leaping out of the car as it rolled to a stop. He skittered back, pointing at the Orignok Configuration sternly. With an authoritative nod of his head that ignored the plaintitive 'coo', he began walking towards the main office. Maybe someone in there would remember a bunch of robed goons refueling.
A flurry of activity caught Oscar's already strained attention. He focused his superhuman hearing on the wooden shack. What he heard almost made him dance for joy. The man was going on about a boat wreck. The description of the speedboat matched El Diablos' boat exactly. Apparently, it had floated up on shore about four miles south of here. Oscar grinned: his luck was turning around. There were no reports of bodies, so that meant the Green Devils were still in town somewhere. That's when he heard the next thing the man in the boathouse said over the phone, the thing that made him sit on the wet dock and slap his head in his hands.
"Hey, check this out: the kids who found it, yeah, the boat? Well, they said the hull was covered with dead squirrels. Yes, I did just say that! Hell if I know how they got there, Rory. Maybe they were swimming out to sea and the boat went through 'em. I dunno. Do squirrels swim?"
Oscar just let out a chuckle of sick desperation: "I have got to get out of this city."
The ride back to the hotel was grave silent. Well, the non-vampiric kind of grave, anyway. Willow half-expected Giles to try to be comforting, or Andrew to say something woefully inappropriate, but Giles just nodded, and Andrew just smiled that funny squinty smile of his, and they were off.
The silence was broken the instant they were in the hotel elevator. There was barely even enough time to cringe at the Manilow music pumped in when Andrew found the silence nearly unbearable. As soon as the brushed steel doors closed and chimed, he raised his hand tentatively.
"Um, Willow? Exactly how are we gonna, say, help Kennedy?"
Giles was kind enough to field the question from the beleaguered witch. He self-consciously adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses. "Well, Andrew. We will do what generations of Watchers have done before us. We will research this, this threat, and then we'll…relay the, the information to the Slayer."
Andrew nodded in understanding, digesting the statement. He looked at the carpeted floor, shifted his feet, then raised his hand again.
Willow turned to him, the stress evident by the way she tightened her lips and clenched her jaw. "Yes, Andrew?" she replied with the calmest voice she could manage.
"Two things. Firstly, exactly which slayer are we relaying the low-down to?"
Giles rolled his head backwards, imploring the ceiling for some release. "Don't make me smack you, Andrew."
Willow shot Giles a rebuking glance. Andrew hopped back to press himself against the elevator wall, eyes wide and an appeasing smile plastered across his youthful features. He waggled his head rapidly, discounting the question with a wave of his hand.
"Right, of course, okay… so, second question. How do we find Kennedy when we get the stuff on the thing?"
Giles turned to look at the boy, making him cringe a little bit more, hands up ready to swat ineffectually at any incoming strike. Giles furrowed his brow, biting the arm of his glasses in thought.
"Andrew has a point."
"I'll find her, don't worry about that," Willow assured.
The elevator doors opened with another 'ding'. The trio walked down the hallway, up to the hotel door. Willow pulled out the credit card sized key, sliding it into the slot. The red light turned green, and willow hoisted the heavy door open. The room was just as much a mess as they had left it. Books littered the round table next to the window, some of them opened and all of them old: Giles's portable library, a variety pack of the most applicable occult tomes. Willow's laptop sat charging its batteries, an occasional melodic tone breaking the hum of the air conditioner. Kennedy's side of the bed was the biggest mess. The slayer had left every single weapon she owned sitting on the comforter in a chaotic jumble. Long swords crossed battleaxes intersecting with crossbows colliding with what to all appearances was an ice pick with identity issues.
Willow checked herself as she nearly collapsed into the nearest chair, pushing the High Energy Particle Physics textbook off onto the floor. She glanced down to it, debated organizing it with raised eyebrows, and decided on floppage instead. Giles went to the mini bar, grabbed a diminutive bottle of Scotch, and read the label with an approving nod.
"Do you…?" he inquired, gesturing to the bottle already in hand.
"Be my guest," she replied with a flourish of her hand. She scootched her chair across the hardwood floor to sit in front of her computer, flipping open the screen, then adjusting it's angle for best visibility. Almost instantly, her features brightened into a wide grin almost instantly.
"Xander-mail!" she cooed as her fingers drifted across the keyboard.
"Oh?" Giles smiled as well. Xander had been gone for the past for weeks, finding his family in Arizona and telling them about Anya's death. When his dad had made some drunken comment disparaging her, Xander had almost punched his own father. Instead, he simply smiled at him, telling him that she wouldn't have liked him anyway. "What does it say?"
Willow read quickly, making a mental note to reread the message when she had time, to savor each of her best friend's misspellings and clumsy phrasings. Giles and Andrew awaited her with a quiet happiness. He had lost so much in the final fight. Not only had he lost the woman he loved, but also his entire career vanished into a hole. She didn't know what to expect from him; for several days he walked around in a daze, joking and laughing like normal old Xander, but Buffy and she knew he was stretched taffy thin. On the fourth day, he got in his rental car, left a note, and took off. The note left an email address and a simple message: 'Went out West. Need to get my head together. Love you both. –Xander.'
Willow giggled. "He says he finally got to see the Grand Canyon, and that it's much larger in person. Grand, even." She scanned down the brief message a little further. "And he brought Anya along…" Willow's mouth made a little 'o' in shock, her thoughts dancing through several resurrection scenarios, ranging from possibilities of ex-demon loopholes, to horrible zombie-making spell botches. Her expression softened as she read his explanation.
"Oh. Oh, guys, he had her headstone carved. He has it in the passenger's seat, and is driving cross-country, showing her all the neat things in America. He says his next stop is Las Vegas, and that she's gonna learn the other side of capitalism. And he misspelled capitalism."
Giles smiled warmly, pulling his glasses off. "Well," he began, choked up, "Isn't that something."
Andrew twittered nervously. "She would have hated Vegas."
Willow nodded in agreement. "Yup. All that money down the tubes. She'd have had half of the casinos kicking her out on sight after the first hour." She saved the message, along with the other ten that she had gotten from him. This was by far the best one. His other letters had been at times brief, sometimes despairing, and often poignant. But this was the first time that Willow had sensed a change in her oldest friend's grieving. He began to see his whole situation in a very Xander-like light. Xander's humor had kept him sane and safe through years of painful events. It was his humor that saved her up on the bluffs, it was the humor that made her recognize him as a person, as a Xander person. But for weeks, his humor was limited to strained chuckles and sarcastic remarks about his family. Actually, that was what his humor was normally, but then his heart wasn't in it. And now he seemed to have such a gentle acceptance of Anya's death. Her tombstone tour was his last great way of showing the world and himself just how much he loved her, in a imminently Alexander LaVelle Harrisian way.
She never got to do that with Tara. Her great overture to her death was trying to destroy the world. Not so good with the grieving, Willow was. After that, she just absorbed the pain, never channeled it into anything other than self-loathing, never did anything like Xander. But that was why he was Xander, the heart of the Scoobies. He just got these things. Willow, rubbed a rudimentary tear from her eye, a trebly laugh on her lips. She missed them all.
But it was research time. She cracked her knuckles, whimpered pathetically, then began her online searches. Giles and Andrew sat in front of the pile of books, each diving into the reading with gusto. There was too little time to do this. Willow tapped her foot rapidly as the Demons, Demons, Demons website loaded.
"Stupid slow cable modem…" she grumbled. Giles glanced up for a moment, then back down to his reading. He leaned over the leather journal he was reading, peering at some particularly interesting passage. He set the book down, then without preamble, snatched the book Andrew was reading from in front of him.
"Willow?" he muttered through the arm f his glasses, "did you get a good look at the Orignok box?"
Willow scrunched her forehead together. "Yeah. I think so. Why?"
"It was found in the United States. The assumption was that it was Native American in origin. But—"
"The box didn't exactly look Anasazi."
"Exactly. It looked more…"
"Celtic. Or, pre-Celtic. I didn't see any latches or anything. But I did see some iron work."
Andrew pulled out a notepad, drawing a clumsy pattern of knot work with a red felt pen. He held up the yellow legal pad, chewing on the end of the pen. "Was it something like this?" he asked. Willow and Giles both nodded slowly. Andrew spat out the pen. Spraying raspberries all over the books as red ink spread across his lips. Willow couldn't help but laugh. Somehow, Andrew always found the best ways to make an as out of himself. Giles just rolled his eyes, far to exhausted to put up a fight about the books. Well, he'd put up a fight later.
"That's not—pffffft!" the boy sputtered. "Those aren't Celtic designs. They're Pictish. My guess is third, maybe fourth century. Pre Arthurian."
"How'd you learn so much about medieval history?" Willow asked, genuinely interested. She had steered away from the Medieval History courses in college. Tended to get overrun with demonologists trying to summon Beelzebub.
Andrew grinned proudly, straightening his back and folding his hands on the table. "I was chieftain in my local Renaissance Faire troupe three years running. I was Cotswold ap Gwenholvyn, and I won the throne through acts of bravery. This one time, at the Ren Faire.." he caught the wry look Willow gave him. "You'd rather I just go research, right?" Willow nodded with a mild smile.
Giles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Willow, I've changed my mind. If you want to kill him, go right ahead." The redhead sighed.
"You're a couple-o-years late." She turned her attention to the fluorescent screen. Her brain began to work furiously, dancing from one thread of thought to another. If it was a box, perhaps it was a container for something. The iron was woven around it like a net, so maybe the laws of sympathetic magick were in full effect, and the intention was to bind some entity there. She typed in a new search, hopping on her members-only Witch's Web ring and taking the link to their early European spells section. With another window, she navigated the message threads in the Materials section of Johnny Bolshevik's Chaos Bindings site. The Euro-spells was her first hit: cold iron wrought in similar patterns served as a powerful base for containing massive amounts of magickal energies. Johnny B's site popped up an add for affordable curses, which she banished with a deft click. After the mini-window vanished, she read the information on the page, sticking her tongue through her teeth in excitement.
"Got something!" she announced, "Okay, first I thought it was your standard demon holding box, you know, open, release demons, more fun than a barrel of monkeys—"
"Like Hellraiser," Andrew concluded with a shiver.
"Sort of," Willow conceded, "But that's not it. I can sense binding spells three miles off. This box isn't there for a binding: it's a maintenance matrix!"
Giles nodded slowly, realization dawning: "Yes, but what is it maintaining?"
"Well," Andrew spoke up, "If it's not a binding spell, then whatever is in there is like, really in there. Physically. It must be so tiny."
"Dual Bingos!" Willow chirped, "So it's maintaining a spell of some kind, right? Well, according to these guys on this site, the runes or whatever are for a transmutation spell. Neato-keen thing about transmutation spells is that eventually they always revert to form."
Andrew grinned: "So if you want something to stay shape-shifted, you need someway the keep it that way."
"Exactly. So something went all shifty, and somehow some old Druidish types chucked it in the box, whammo blammo, creepy care package. Transmutations don't require that much to maintain, so it's almost permanent."
Giles began thumbing through a thick, yellow-paged book. "I'm looking up demons or monsters indigenous to the Picts in Europe. I think that whatever's in that box has somehow managed to exert its influence on the people around it."
Andrew grabbed a near-lying tome, mimicking Giles's posture. "I'll help."
Willow affirmed both their choices with a nod, peering back into the internet. She skipped around to a few other more reputable websites, intent on unraveling this latest mystery as fast as she could. Kennedy was walking into a crazy situation, which really wasn't much of a problem. That was the life they both had chosen. But she was going in alone, and that was just going to get her hurt or killed or worse. She realized something she had to do then.
"Giles?" she said, "Could I have a chat with you?"
"Of course," the older man stood up, following Willow into the bathroom. As an afterthought, he waved back to Andrew. "Just, yell…or, knock if you find anything." The boy nodded gravely, like a man taking on a great task. Willow closed the door behind them.
"W-what's the matter?" Giles cocked his head.
"Do you think that that thing was … influencing Kennedy? That it was making her act… how she was acting?" Willow waited for the answer, leaning against the sink like it was the only thing holding her up.
The elder Watcher sighed. "Who knows? It may have, could have had some influence, but…"
"But you doubt it." Willow dropped her words with bombing-run precision. "I don't know, Giles. I don't know what to do with her. I've given her space, she keeps making with the spaceyness needing, but it's not helping. She pushes me farther and farther away, and I don't want her to."
"Well," Giles's voice soothed like tattered velvet, "she's a very strong-willed girl. I think, more than anything, she's afraid of hurting you. You must remember, she is a very young woman who has been thrust into a life filled with death, and violence, and pain. Battle… has an affect on you, Willow. It changes you."
"Hey, professional amateur monster hunter right here," Willow reminded with a curled lip, "Believe it or not, Giles, I trust Kennedy. She's the devotiony honorable one. I know she won't let herself hurt me. And you shouldn't have slapped her."
The accusation caught Giles off guard. He reeled for a split second, then dropped his head. "I'm sorry. I was worried. About both of you, actually. I've seen people like that before, and I –"
"HEY GUYS!" Andrew yelled, "I THINK I FOUND IT!"
"I guess my instructions stretched his ten-second sodding attention span," Giles muttered under his breath.
Willow opened the bathroom door, stepping behind Andrew, peering over his shoulder. Giles was shortly behind, taking up post at Andrew's other shoulder. Andrew pointed to the page he was on.
"I bumped into this in the oral history of the Picts according the Father Arnauld of Westerbury. He says that there was a demon that haunted the region for nearly three centuries. Some sorcerers got together and caught him, or so they think, because he disappeared after that."
Giles rested his hand on his chin. "What makes this one any more likely than any of the others?"
"That, dear Watcher, is the thing of it. He was a shape shifter. He could take the form of any animal." He handed the book back to Giles. "See? There's a picture of him."
Giles nodded thoughtfully, then handed the book to Willow. She squinted at the etching, fighting the smile that threatened to wipe her thoughtful visage away.
"He's adorable," she finally broke. "I mean, in a horrible, demon-y way."
"We should tell Kennedy," Giles suggested.
"With you on that one," Willow replied.
"I reference my previous 'how' statement," Andrew pointed out.
Willow shrugged, an exaggerated gesture that had her shoulders raise too high and drop like stones. "Locator spell? I'm sure there's something around here that's been in enough contact for me to do one. I'll set up, you guys keep reading, see if there is a way to destroy this thing. Lets hope she hasn't done anything stupid in the time being, okay?"
Kennedy walked away from Willow, and it occurred to her that she was *walking away* from Willow. Her brisk walk took her out of those green eyes line of fire, putting her around a corner, into the street. She blinked away tears, rubbed her nose with the sleeve of her slightly perforated jacket, and took off running.
She ran to the spot Oscar fell, but more importantly, away from Willow. Kennedy imagined just taking off right now, leaving and never coming back, Kung-Fu-ing the earth, righting wrongs as a wandering ronin. And one day she'd bump into Willow, who would fall to her knees and beg Kennedy to stay. The slayer pumped her legs harder.
But that was stupid; she'd never leave Willow, not like that. The thought of Willow crying in bed over her vanished lover made Kennedy's chest constrict. Her instincts took over and she wanted to run back to Willow, run back to those milk-white arms, make her pain stop. There was a job to do now, and she pushed a little harder, hopping over a curb and skidding around a corner.
This was where the chubby little guy must have hit. She smiled. Willow sure could hit like a wrecking ball when she was motivated. There was a paintball splat of dust on the wall, almost twenty feet above her. No blood, though, so that means that whatever helped him avoid dust-ville cushioned his fall. She paced the area, looking for some clue. Which way did he head off to?
Kennedy's head stopped its scanning, something small and dark popping out of the grays of the cement street. She walked over to it, kneeling down beside it. With a long, slender finger, she touched it, verifying something with her. The pistol was a plasticy metal; it's mass evident even without actually picking it up. Kennedy knew next to nothing about guns, couldn't begin to guess at the make or model. She picked it up, felt its weight, noticed that its grip was molded for someone with larger hands than hers, and tucked it in the waistband of her pants. She stood up again, not sure why she had decided to take the gun. Perhaps she was concerned with public safety. Or she was tempted by it's undeniable power. Kennedy didn't know her own motivations; every action provoked more questions from herself than the cause for action.
"If I was a soon to be dead Soprano reject," she mused, clicking her stud, "where would I run to?" She wished Willow was here. Willow would have come up with twenty possibilities in the time it took her to come up with none. On the other hand, she'd have to research each and every single option, so the end result would end up being the same: blank looks.
"Think, Kennedy," she prodded herself. "He said something about money. So he wants the money. And those robed dorks took off with the money. In a boat. C'mon, where do boats go…" She snapped her fingers, eyes lighting up.
"In the water!"
Kennedy took off in a sprint again, bee lining for the coast. Or, what she assumed was the coast. She knew she couldn't catch El Diablos Verdes; after all, they were in a speedboat. But Oscar was on foot, as far as she knew. If she could catch up with him, she could get that silly box thing, kill him, and get home to Willow.
Of course, Kennedy was completely at a loss when it came to Willow. Honestly, Willow had always left her at a loss. Her problems, her emotions, everything about her was just so off and strange that Kennedy never got a chance to use her tried and true coping methods. She always ended up just following her gut with Willow. Maybe that was why she was at her best around her, the girl disarmed Kennedy's defenses. Well, she had up until recently.
Kennedy took the upcoming left, heading in the direction the boat had headed. She made like Jesse Owens, her stride strong and wide, hair whipping behind her. The street ahead was empty. No Oscar, no bad guys of any kind. This was getting tiresome. Kennedy slowed down, calmly shifting into a walk. A warm summer breeze off the Pacific wafted into her nostrils. This was a good time to think.
Unfortunately, thinking was not one of Kennedy's stronger points. She really operated mostly on her instincts, which honestly had served her very well. She was a 'seize the day' kind of girl. If it weren't for her tendency to just jump in feet first, she would have never had the nerve to get Willow on that date. Or, almost date. And that odd little redhead was the best thing to happen to her since…well, ever.
So what was her problem? Why did being close to her girlfriend, kissing her, scare her so much? She used to love the fire that the shy woman used to stoke with a glance. She would dance in her own fuming desire, bask in the passion hidden within the witch, know that there was a side to her Willow that almost nobody knew about. Her friends could only guess at the ferocity of their meek little hacker: Kennedy knew it intimately. And that connected her to Willow these last weeks.
She loved Willow. It wasn't just about sex. She loved the way Willow could stumble over the simplest phrases, and turn equations into sing song nursery rhymes. She loved how the woman moved when she bounced out of bed, loved the way she would roll her eyes and pretend to be shocked by her brashness. Kennedy loved the unknowns in her. She loved the guarded looks, the times when Willow would giggle at nothing at all. Willow turned Kennedy into an inside cat. Kennedy once had plenty of girlfriends. Some of them she wouldn't even call girlfriends their trysts were so brief. They were good lays. Kennedy choked on her own thoughts. Those were the words of Willow's evil self.
She kicked a stray pebble as she turned a corner. She wasn't sure where she was going. Going didn't seem all that important right at the moment. She was being introspective. She was thinking about Willow, which had become one of her favorite pastimes. She watched her feet, trying to shake the black-lipped monster from her mind. Had it started then? Doubts must have been there, if all it took was a few phrases to unhinge her so. That didn't help at all. If that rage had been there the whole time, the rage that, when she thought about it, always had hung around the edges of her emotional landscape, then she was always a danger. She was no better than a demon if she was that out of control. So she had to stay away from Willow.
But the more she stayed away, the angrier she was getting. Little things were grating on her like they hadn't before. She was blowing up at stupid small irritants. And Willow was always on the periphery, seeing what a class-A bitch Kennedy was being to everyone. No wonder she didn't love her. With that thought, the morose slayer looked back up to the street, and stopped on a dime.
Three large, heavily cloaked figures pushed themselves into a doorway at the end of the street. Kennedy slipped into a shadow, kneeling down behind a newspaper machine, stealing looks from around the backside. The trio, (El Diablos Verdes, without a doubt) pulled the iron barred door open, entering one by one. The last one perused the street before entering. Kennedy didn't bother holding her breath, even though that was the natural reaction. If he saw her, he saw her and there was nothing she could do about it at this juncture.
He apparently didn't see her, turned around, and shut the door behind him. Kennedy waited to the count of twenty, just to see if he'd pop his head out again, then ran down the street, sidling up to the wall next to the door. The building was one of those narrow apartments, one on top of the other. The Green Devils left a big puddle of water where they had been standing. She tentatively jiggled the doorknob: locked. If it was locked, then they had a key. Kennedy inhaled sharply as a dank yellow glow came from the window above her. Her slayer enhanced senses strained to hear what the trio was saying. Of course, they were speaking some demonic tongue. Or maybe it was Spanish, she really couldn't tell one way or the other. But the voices were a little shook up, even that was obvious through their lilting yet guttural tones. She needed a better look.
These are the times when it pays to plan ahead, Kennedy mused as she pulled herself up the brick wall hand over hand. Slayer strength let her cling to the rough face spider style, limbs splayed out, hands searching for the next grip. Minutes ticked by, and not for the first time was Kennedy impressed by the potency of her slayer body. With a silent grunt, she latched herself onto the wall next to the window. Slowly, she leaned her head closer and closer to the edge, letting go with her closest hand, dangling like a monkey from the wall.
The interior of the room was lit by a shade less lamb on a nightstand in the corner. Three beds lined the opposite wall, all facing out. The black-cloaked monsters were gathered around on the center bed, leaning over the brown satchel, occasionally wringing out the saturated hems of their cloaks onto the floor. One of the demons did the oddest thing then: he reached into his voluminous cloak, and produced a very dead, very squished, squirrel. Kennedy almost lost her grip.
The group known as El Diablos Verdes were in intense discussion over the squirrel. One of them pointed at the corpse, pointed at the bag, then pointed out the window. Kennedy dropped back, cringing. She waited several long seconds, listening for one of them to walk over to the window and open it. They didn't seem to be talking about her: it must have been telling its cohorts to forget the squirrel (whatever their fetish with the squirrel was, she had no idea) get the money, and get gone. Still, he might have given attention to the window. It would be better to wait here. Actually, some vestigial cowardly part of her brain said, it would be better to go home, get the calvary, and bring them here.
So of course she ignored the internal warning. The discussion inside was heating up. Kennedy had no idea that demonic cartels had this much infighting. Whatever happened must have shaken them up bad. If they weren't such horrible creatures, Kennedy seriously considered just letting them go. But they were the bad guys, and if the wiener with legs called Andrew was right, these were exceptionally bad bad guys. Can't just let them walk away.
Curiosity got the better of her. Kennedy leaned back over to the window. The two demons were still in hot debate, pointing at each other with thick, greenish fingers. The slayers brain popped a fuse: there were only two on the bed.
A massive arm shattered the window, grabbing Kennedy by the throat. She brought her hands up to shield her face as shards of glass sliced by her. Before she knew it, she was being yanked into the room by the third black clad figure. His strength was tremendous; she was tossed into the corner with a flick of his wrist. The two creatures on the bed stood up slowly, almost fearfully. The third demon glowered above Kennedy's prostrate form.
"So," it bellowed, "The slayer chica wants to feel the fury of El Diablos Verdes, eh?"
"Excuse me?" Kennedy raised an eyebrow. The injury in her back from earlier that night burned angrily. She had to get out of there, but at the moment was cornered.
The closest demon grabbed the edges of its hood, dramatically pulling the cloak off. The first thing Kennedy noticed were the tights. Bright yellow and white spandex tights covered the creature's trunk like legs. White boots hugged its massive feet, laced with yellow laces to match the tights. Its upper body was bare, and aside from the green tint to its skin, resembled a massively muscled human. It crossed its striated arms over its thick chest. Kennedy brought her eyes up to its face. A mask, the same white and yellow pattern as its tights (she fought a snicker… a demon in tights!) covered the upper half of its face. Thick lips broke into a needle-toothed grin.
"You have gotta be kidding me…" Kennedy muttered in disbelief.
The demon growled again, leaning forward, flexing it's pectoral muscles in rapid-fire one-two succession. "You will feel the almighty power of the Iron Typhoon, little girl! I will break you in half with my Belgothian Hammer, and you will beg for mercy as the Black Cross chokes the life out of you!"
Kennedy shook her head. "This has got to be a dream. A very stupid dream." The demon began to reach for her, both arms cocked out to the side: an incoming bear hug. Kennedy reacted. She brought her legs underneath her, propelling herself forward and to the left of the huge creature's grasp. She tucked into a roll, thinking compact thoughts as the arms whooshed by overhead. The wall hit her feet, thumping loudly. There was no room to maneuver in here.
The beast turned around, clapping its hands as if brushing off sawdust. It's grin turned into a scowl as it leapt forward in one hopping step. It's fist pulled back in an exaggerated punch. The slayer slipped inside the wide arc, raining hook punches into the thing's floating ribs. She may as well have been hitting a steel plate: the thing's muscles were inhumanly dense. She danced aside as it swiped back at her, getting her bearings in the room.
The other two had moved to opposite corners, hands on their hips and seeming to enjoy the show. Kennedy ducked a ferocious open hand slap by the demon, it's fingers getting tangled in her hair. With a twist, she unleashed a devastating kick to its knee, her own foot nearly breaking as she connected. The giant staggered, hands shooting out for balance. Her resolve renewed, Kennedy pressed the attack, pumping her leg again to kick the beast in the side of the neck.
It was faster than expected, snatching her foot out of the air. It stepped in close, free hand grabbing her belt. With an effortless heft, it slammed her against the ceiling, plaster raining down around her eyes. Before she could react, it pivoted again, this time flinging her against a wall. She felt the wind rush out of her with a sharp pain as one of her ribs broke. The lamp fell on the floor, casting crazy carnival shadows everywhere. Kennedy slid to the ground, strength momentarily drained by the impact. She glanced up just in time to see the demon lunge to her left, actually moving away from her.
The creature's bound carried it to the wall, where it changed momentum with a mighty push, twisting its body in mid air. Kennedy rolled out of the way as a pair of boots slammed holes in the floor where her stomach had been only a half second earlier.
The slayer took the opportunity to spring to her feet, knives stabbing into her side every time she breathed. The demon stepped calmly out of the hole in the floor, cracking its knuckles.
"You have nothing to show me, puta!"
Kennedy looked around. She knew a losing fight when she saw one. She needed breathing room, and possibly a tank to take this guy down. And then there was the issue of his two friends. They seemed content to observe for now, but what if they got antsy? Kennedy came up with a plan.
She leapt into the air, turning her body in a full circle as her leg picked up momentum. Every ounce of energy she had, she concentrated on her kick. The flying spin kick slammed into the chest of the demon with a heavy thud, sending the beast staggering back several steps. As it stumbled, she reached over to the bed, grabbing the satchel filled with money.
Before Kennedy could move any farther, the beast sprung towards her, a stomping kick sending her into the wall behind her. Kennedy raised her arm to block the hammer blow the monster sent next, but its force was so that it dropped the slayer to the floor. A powerful hand grabbed her black hair, guiding her face into its knee. Kennedy's world went temporarily black, the sole thought in her mind focused on not dropping the bag. The Diablo tossed her dazed body against the wall again, letting her slump against it.
The monster raised its hands in the air, pumping its fists in victory. It took a step back, looking to its brothers for some kind of affirmation. When the two nodded, it nodded enthusiastically in return. It crossed its arms in front of its chest, then shot them out to his sides like a man in the middle of a swan dive. It's feet shifted, preparing to send the creature into an elaborate flip.
A cluster of red tulips appeared on the demon's massive chest, accompanied by a series of loud pops. The monster clutched his wounds, then toppled over. It's brothers looked around in shock as Kennedy launched herself towards the jagged-toothed exit. One of the beasts reached out for her, grasping only air as she sailed head first out the second story window.
Kennedy tried her best to land with a roll, but the shock of falling on her broken ribs made her crumple into a heap instead. She pushed herself up, hearing the commotion in the building as two sets of feet clambered down the stairs. She almost got to her feet, but the world spun in the wrong direction, and the pavement suddenly became magnetically attracted to her.
Bright lights assaulted her eyes, and burnt tire rubber pricked her nostrils. Kennedy crawled around to the passenger's side of the object she assumed was a car, opening the door and crawling in. Her vision was still blurry, but it quickly seemed odd that Willow would be coming to her rescue in a beat up Pinto.
"Well, well, well," Oscar said with a smirk, "Looky what I found here."
Kennedy pointed the pistol at him, deciding on the middle figure. She grabbed the satchel even tighter.
"Since when do slayers use guns?" Oscar laughed at her, "And empty ones at that. Now give me my freakin' money, and I'll let you walk, or, crawl away, okay?"
This time it was Kennedy's time to chuckle. "You think you can take it away from me," she smiled, or tried to smile, realizing that half her face felt puffy, "before they get here?" She pointed at the door. A second later, the iron barred portal swung open with a clang, two robed figures striding out.
Oscar glowered, the reality of the situation apparent: "Damn it. Get in." Kennedy complied, leaning back against the seat, one eye on the undead gangster as he peeled out, leaving the pair of demons in the dust.
"Those guys aren't gonna give up, you know," he mocked. "You better have someplace safe to get to. It'd be a damn shame if my money got hurt while they were rippin' your pretty head off."
Kennedy shrugged: "Not as much as if I just threw this money out the window. Give them plenty of time to catch up with the cheezmo who tried to steal it in the first place."
Oscar shook his bearded head. "You'd toss fifty large out a window?"
"To screw with you? In a second."
"Jesus. You must be nuts. Or rich."
"I'm both, assface, so lets not test me."
"Why don't I just kill you now?" Oscar looked over to the battered slayer. Kennedy didn't bat an eyelash.
"You could try," she shrugged. "But I'm thinking, you vampire, me vampire slayer: I'd say the odds're in my favor."
"You couldn't kill me last time," he sneered, thumbing back to his box.
Kennedy looked him in the eye. "True. But lets just say the White Sox win the World Series, and you actually do manage to kill me. Let me tell you, my girlfriend, the one who sent you on your flight? Well, she'll invent new ways to torture you for the next ten years if you so much as think about killing me."
Oscar saw the truth of it in her eyes. He remembered then his original plan: avoid the Slayer. Well, he thought, that was pretty much a bust. But still, she didn't seem to care too much about the money. And honestly, while he was pissed about the whole, stabbed in the gut thing, he could wait for his revenge. For now, it would behoove him to play along.
"Alright," he nodded, "You got somewhere to hide?"
Kennedy pondered for a minute, shifting to take the weight off her ribs. "Yeah. I want you to head to a club I know. It's called Caritas."
That Sociopath Ragtime
"So…you dig chicks, huh?"
Those were the first words the undead goomba had said in the last five minutes. Kennedy had finally found a position where it only hurt when the car hit a bump (which was often) or took a turn, and Oscar had finally stopped eyeing the money like he was getting it anytime soon. Kennedy was hoping for a nice, quiet, uneventful road trip with her sworn and mortal enemy, which of course meant that the idiot would have to say something.
Kennedy sighed, shifted slightly to get a better view of the vampire's weasel like profile, and nodded plainly.
"And here I thought we didn't have anything in common."
Oscar huffed an almost laugh: "I don't exactly look at honeys like I used to."
Kennedy nonchalantly picked at her fingernails, trying to cover for the agony that swished through her side. "Lemme guess: walking snack pack?"
"Nah," he chuckled, "I respect the ladies for their minds, now."
"Right," Kennedy nodded in disbelief, "Next thing you'll tell me you only drink from bad people."
Oscar shrugged. "Like I care from bad."
"Spoken like a true psychopath," the slayer muttered.
"And you got anywhere to talk," Oscar turned to look at the young woman, pointing indignantly. "You're the crazy bitch who was all Hannibal-the-freakin'-Cannibal just a few hours ago."
"Why don't you drop it, Guido?"
"Or what?" the mobster laughed, "You gonna whimper at me? Or you gonna drop the fifty g's? Oh, no, I'll have to stop the car and pick 'em up. Wouldn't be that hard."
"Or," Kennedy pursed her lips together in rage, "they find pieces of you in all fifty states. Even parts of Canada."
"Oh, right," he pretended to nod thoughtfully, "psycho-bitch got's herself a little dyke playmate." He turned to Kennedy, pulling his arms close to him and mimicking a childish warble: "Teacher, the slayer said her girlfriend's gonna beat me up! Jesus, grow up."
Kennedy craned her neck to the side, gazing at him through hooded eyes. "You might wanna be thinkin' about shuttin' your mouth."
Oscar raised his hands, patting the steering wheel calmingly. A self-satisfied smirk warped his already unpleasant features.
"Seriously though," he said, "what's with you and girls?"
"Man, just shut up!"
"No, I'm askin' is all."
The slayer rubbed her eyes, leaning back in the seat. "There's nothing with me. I like girls."
"You ever, y'know," Oscar waved his hand in the air, searching for a word. "Y'know…boned a guy?"
Kennedy recoiled in disgust. "No! Have you?" she retorted.
"What do I look like, a fag?" he leaned closer to her, whispering conspiratorially, "I don't look like a fag, right? 'Cause uh, I don't want no queers hittin' on me."
"Only if they're blind," she stated, looking out the window, "and have no sense of smell."
Oscar slammed his palm into the dashboard, making Kennedy jerk her head around to face him. He shook his head, demonic visage slowly subsiding. He held his hand in the air, as if calling a courtroom to attention.
"Don't change the subject," he growled.
Kennedy crossed her arms over her chest, partly as a show of apathy, partly to defend her wounded ribs should the angry vampire decide to lash out. She tempered her response, realizing that while she may be able to get out of the car intact, her chances of killing this idiot later would be greatly improved if she played along for now. She just had to get into Caritas, and hopefully everything would work out from there.
"Ask away," she said with a bored shrug.
"So if you ain't ever screwed a guy," he reasoned in his own twisted sense, "how do you know what you're missin'?"
"I get by." This time it was her turn to smirk.
"Please, like I ain't never seen two chicks doin' it. I got a pretty good idea of what goes on."
"Well, there you go. You know all there is to know."
"So you're sayin' you ain't never, not once, been with a guy."
"Am I stuttering? No. Not once, not never, not a one."
"So how do you know you're really a dyke?" He asked in earnest. Kennedy clenched her jaw, looking at him out the corner of her eye. He blinked, exaggerating a sympathetic nod. "I'm sorry, I have offended. How do you know you're *queer*?"
The dark haired woman rolled her eyes to the stars. "Don't you have a bridge to be living under?"
"So what, are you sayin' I'm a troll? Oh, that hurts."
Kennedy pointed ahead. "That's it." Oscar pulled the puttering car around to the back parking lot, grinding gears as he downshifted into first, the car seizing and coughing into a vacant parking spot. Kennedy whimpered in the back of her throat as she was thrown violently into the seat by the final lurch. She clutched her ribs (ribs that were already healing, albeit not fast enough for her liking) and glared at Oscar.
"Where the hell'd you learn how to drive?"
Oscar just grinned his crooked-toothed leering grin, reached into the back seat, and grabbed the box. The ironbound wooden box 'meeped' in excitement. Kennedy did a double take, staring at the box, then at the vampire. She pointed at it with a raised eyebrow.
"Does it do that often?"
"Yup," he replied as if that explained everything. Kennedy shrugged, mentally tallied it up on the list of things that have sucked the past week, secured the bag full of money, and carefully, very carefully, stepped out of the car.
The pair began walking towards the entrance, a set of stairs that seemed to lead directly into the side of the building. A group of horned demons (Shargas, Kennedy remembered. Generally tribal, limited aggression, can be killed in all the standard ways) hushed themselves as they saw the slayer walk by. One of the larger ones hissed some vehemence her way, back spikes bristling in anger. She shot it her best 'I am a badass and don't play with me' look, locking eyes with it until it turned away with a spit and a rustle of bone quills.
Oscar motioned for her to take the lead. She glanced around nervously, gulped, and quick-stepped down the stairs, intent on spending as little time with that bastard behind her as possible. She knocked on the big metal door. The peephole slid open, a large yellow pair of reptilian eyes perused her. The creature looked over to the squat vampire, then back to Kennedy.
"He's with me, Steve," she said begrudgingly.
Steve the bouncer nodded, his bifurcated tongue tasting the air. The latch on the other side clicked, and the heavy steel barrier swung open. Steve nodded his Komodo dragon head at Kennedy as she walked in, gesturing towards the wildly lit bar to the left.
"Hey there, Slayer Girl," he rumbled, "where's Red?"
Kennedy shrugged, yelling over the music as she walked away: "She didn't feel like coming out tonight!"
Oscar followed a few steps behind, scanning the room like a tourist. Every manner of demon, wizard, and ne-er do well littered the round tables that surrounded the stage. An elderly demon couple gossiped back and forth, trading tales of their day. Three very drunk Japanese three-eyed oni were slumped over their table, chanting some sort of drinking song as they knocked back shots of some black liquid.
Kennedy glanced over to the stage, searching the crowd for some sign of Lorne. She had begun frequenting Caritas as soon as she and Willow had gotten that hotel room here in L.A. It was a good spot to learn the more brainy aspects of the trade: hunting down leads, making connections, that sort of thing. However, while Caritas was a great spot to gather information, have a drink or three, and take a load off, it was also a karaoke bar. A truth which was making itself painfully apparent as a three-headed yellow giant attempted to harmonize its three voices to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
"What the hell is that?" Oscar asked.
"Hundarri demon," Kennedy answered, the information Willow had drilled into her head popping out of it's own volition. "Native to Central Africa. It must be on vacation. You have to remove the main brain stalk in it's upper back if you want to kill it."
"Thank you Encyclopedia Britannica."
Kennedy shrugged, taking a seat at the bar. Cecil, the newest bartender (they went through one a week, on average) smiled and leaned over the counter.
"What'll it be, cutie?"
Kennedy wrapped her wrist around the bag, making damn sure it wasn't going anywhere, and returned the smile. Cecil was a nice-looking guy, that sort of clean-cut look that only the very fashionable gay men can get accenting his chiseled features. She thumped the countertop with her index finger.
"Two shots of Cuervo Gold, please."
Cecil raised a plucked eyebrow: "You got I.D., honey?"
Her dark eyes twinkled as she laughed. Cecil started laughing as well, his melodic tones mixing with Kennedy's playful chuckle. Oscar started laughing as well, a man terrified of not getting the joke. As soon as he started, the guffaws died down. Kennedy gaped at the bartender, blinking as she realized it.
"You're actually carding me, aren't you?"
Cecile nodded. Kennedy reached into her back pocket, pulling out the billfold tucked away there. She flipped past the Massachusetts state drivers license, past the three main credit cards and her two emergency credit cards, and pulled the plastic rectangle out of the final slot, handing it to the bartender.
He stared at it, and then looked up at her. After another brief inspection, he handed the card back to her, lips pressed together. Kennedy's face fell…busted.
"Sweetie, if you're five-eight then I'm Tupac Shakur."
"I'm the Slayer," she offered hopefully, "does that count for something?"
He shook his head sadly, pointing at the sign hanging behind the bar reading: WE CARD HUMANS. Oscar trembled with laughter beside her, covering his mouth to hide his smile. He motioned for the bartender. Cecil turned to the vampire, leaving a very irritated Kennedy to her own devices.
"What can I get you?" he asked.
"What you got?" Oscar replied. The barkeep pondered for a minute, then turned to the collection of bottles, mixing and pouring with professional efficiency. He flung the concoction into the microwave, tapped his foot and smiled until it beeped. Kennedy picked at a loose piece of wood, grumbling as the Hundarri belted out the final moments of its "Ieeeyumyum o-way" into the microphone. Lorne was quick to step on stage, snatching the mic away from the huge beast lost in the moment.
"Thank you, Oogloth, Mogloth, and Tegloth," he crooned into the mic. "Our next performer is a regular here, would you please welcome, Chalweth 'Iron Lungs' Murphy!"
The green skinned host hopped off the stage, handing the mic to the diminutive hairy rodent-like creature with a friendly pat on the back. Kennedy waved at him, smiling as he waved back and started towards the bar, his iridescent blue suit shimmering.
Barkeep handed the drink to Oscar with a proud smile. Oscar looked suspiciously down at the crimson drink before him. The heady scent of blood reached his nostrils though, and with renewed confidence he quaffed deep from the warm glass. He drained half of it in two big gulps, forehead going bat-like as the inner demon was satiated and aroused all at once. He gasped his satisfaction, grinning at Cecil.
"Damn! I mean, damn that's, y'know, real smooth. What is it?"
"I call it the Bloody Bloody Mary," he stated proudly, "It's two parts Schmirnov Blue Label, two parts AB-negative, one part tomato juice, pop it in the microwave until body temperature, and serve."
"I'll remember that," Oscar grinned.
Lorne slipped next to Kennedy, everything about him glitzy and outlandish. From his lime-green skin to his crimson horns, from his prominent nose to designer shoes, Kennedy was stuck that a single creature could so encompass the lifestyle of the lounge singer. His world must be totally creative, she mused.
"Well, hey there, danishcakes," the flamboyant man chirped. "What brings you here?" Before she could answer, he looked over to Oscar, eyebrows raising in disapproval. "And look, you brought Ron Jeremy's evil twin! It's never a party without an evil twin."
"Don't get me started," Kennedy warned.
"So do you want something to drink? Cecil, get the lady something to drink!" The barkeep pointed helplessly to the sign, only to get waved away. "Oh, that doesn't apply to Slayers. Now kiddo," he turned again to Kennedy, "what's your poison?"
Kennedy stuck her tongue out at Cecil, then tapped the bartop again. "I already ordered."
"So where's the honey-bunny?" Lorne asked, turning to watch the stage and leaning against the bar. The two shots of tequila bought the slayer a searching glance. "Bad day at the office?"
Kennedy shook her head, moving away from Oscar and to the other side of the host. She sighed, the pain in her ribs subsiding by the minute. With no fanfare, she knocked back the first shot, wiping her mouth on her sleeve.
"Well, let's see… I've been shot, stabbed, clubbed, kicked, knocked through a wall, thrown through a window (by a freakin' pro-wrestler at that), nearly run over, and on top of that, I've had my lifestyle analyzed by Count Corleone over there. So, yeah, I think it's safe to say my day has pretty much sucked." She finished her rant by gulping the second shot of Cuervo.
Lorne looked at her expectantly. Kennedy slammed the shot glass back on the bar, pointing to it and motioning for Cecil to fill it up. The green-skinned demon held his hand over the glass. Kennedy coughed a little laugh out, settling back on her elbows to give Lorne a challenging stare.
"Just, ease up on the ta-kill-ya, okay cupcake?" he requested. "Now, what's really bothering you?" Kennedy blinked, not really sure what she was hearing. Didn't she just tell him the problem? "Okay, there's all that," he smiled, "but that's pretty much par for the course, am I right? I'm telling you, your aura is looking pretty nasty right now."
"I don't know," she sighed, "I'm just… I left things kind of stressed between me and Willow."
Lorne bobbed his head in contemplation. "You know, if you want anything other than your standard barroom advice, you're gonna have to give me something to work with."
"Oh, hell." The slayer wasn't especially afraid of public embarrassment, but she was well aware of her inability to carry a tune in a paper sack. On the other hand, she just had two shots. "Okay, I'll sign up."
Lorne leaned over to her, whispering into her ear. "Hey, your pet project, the one downing AB-negative like it's polyester ties? That box he's got is giving me the major willies."
"I've decide after today," Kennedy announced, "that I am against all boxes."
Somehow, through act of god or sheer determination, Kennedy forced herself to belt out something that in some culture would be considered music. Perhaps a deaf culture. Kennedy honestly didn't care all that much, she just read the lyrics and howled as best she could, daring anyone in the audience to so much as twitch the wrong way: pacification by threat of slayage. Lorne sat at one of the back tables, absently stirring his sea breeze with a neon orange straw. Kennedy finished the final bars, bowed to the crowd (who clapped in an unsteady, faltering rhythm) handed the microphone to two demons too afraid to get close enough to her to take it, and strode off the stage, wasting no time getting back to share the Table with Lorne.
"Well?" she asked as she pulled her seat up, face pleasantly humming with the alcohol.
"Eesh?" Kennedy squeaked, "What is 'eesh'?"
"Listen, my little fruit fly," Lorne laid his hands down flat on the table. "You've got a lot going on in there. You've kind of hit a karmic roadblock, and to press the metaphor, it might turn into a detour."
"The sense," Kennedy's eyes widened, "as in, not making any of."
"You're a rarity, kiddo. Most folks have their destinies laid out for them: it's just a matter of following their heart."
"So what, I have no destiny? I'm some kind of blank slate?"
"No. But you see, you need to give your destiny over to someone else."
"I'm not the following type."
"Well I'm not saying join the army, but you were built to serve a bigger purpose than yourself."
Kennedy's squished her numb brow in thought: "What do you mean?"
Lorne sighed, struggling to explain as best he could. "Most good people, all they have to do is do what makes them happy, and the world ends up a better place. Well, you've always felt kind of empty, am I right?"
Kennedy nodded. It was true. Ever since she was a kid, her life was driven by her passions, but there never was any meaning behind what she did. She got into fights, slept around, drank, partied, trained, and generally just acted like a typical spoiled teenager rebelling against her parents. But while her friends seemed perfectly happy to do these things, then go get a life, Kennedy always felt like she was waiting for something. She knew how to take charge, to get things done, but when it came to the larger purposes, she was lost. She was a spark, a flame, powerful and demanding, but wild and uncontrolled. That was until…
"You're problem, oh Slayer sugar wafer," Lorne continued, "is that you've lost your way. You've got to find your direction."
Kennedy blinked, absorbing it all. Willow was her way. She'd said it flat out, the night before The First got taken down. She was the one who focused Kennedy's energy. When she was around, it wasn't that her own desires were subsided exactly, but her priorities changed. Willow made her want to act in the ways her Watcher taught her about, made her want to live with honor, loyalty, and bravery. As long as she was with her, she was sure that everything was going to turn out just fine. When she kissed her in the backyard, she just knew that everything would be fine. Willow didn't complete her, didn't fill a hole, didn't make the world make sense. She complemented her.
"I know," Kennedy started, her heart floating in her stomach, "I know that Willow is my way… but… I don't think she wants me to be…like that."
Lorne arched an orange eyebrow. "And you know this how?"
She thought for a second, realized that her source wasn't the most reputable. "Point," she conceded with a shrug.
"Let me tell you a little something about your Willow: She's an amputee, emphasis on the multiple. Sweetbuns, there's only so much of your heart you can have cut away before you start hoarding all to yourself."
"So what do I do?"
Lorne threw his hands in the air, sleeves casting the reddish light into tiny stars. "Well, you've got me there. But I'd suggest doing what feels right."
Kennedy looked over at Oscar, the diminutive vampire, swaying in his barstool, belligerently conversing with the Orignok configuration.
"I've got to get in touch with Willow."
Send Feedback to AuthorBack to ObliqueReference's Stories...