“Little lady, ever been down to SoCal?”
Shego’s eyes (which were fixated on Aines’ diary) floated upward to see a nearly toothless man staring at her from seat in front. “None of your business.”
“Hey, hey,” calmed the man, “Makin’ small talk, that’s all. Been lookin’ round this bus for the past four hours n’ I’ve gotz say you’ve gotz the saddest face. Somethin’ wrong?”
Shego bared her teeth and snarled, “None of your goddamn business.”
“Ok, ok, I see how it is. Wanna make small talk, that’s all. I’m five by five, ain’t no banger or snitch.”
“Five by five?”
“You know, you know, ‘five by five,’ like ‘it’s cool’ or ‘I’m all good’ or ‘the coast is clear.’”
“How about you turn around before I knock the last teeth out of your mouth?”
The man frowned but complied, giving a dissatisfied “Harrumph” as he turned away.
Peace reclaimed, Shego closed the diary and snuggled into the uncomfortable seat. How did her life become this complicated? She left Go City with a satchel of money and her eyes rounder than the globe. She left Boston with nothing but two stakes, the clothes on her back, Aines’ diary, and twenty seven dollars. Kakistos and his henchmen destroyed everything else.
And they were still hot on her trail.
She could’ve accepted defeat and returned to Go City. Mom and Dad would have a fit, but in the end, she’d be home and safe. Her parents were--if nothing else--loving, and she saw that now, appreciated it more since she’d run away. If Kakistos wouldn’t give up, she could’ve used her powers to burn these vampires to cinders, maybe even get her brothers to help if there were too many.
She wouldn’t have to hop from city to city, carefully rationing every dollar and seducing her way onto the next pervert-filled bus toward Sunnydale. She wouldn’t have to steal in order to eat, to get new clothes, to have enough money to pay for a room at a roach motel. She wouldn’t have to look over her shoulder every second, waiting for something to jump out of the shadows. She wouldn’t have to live the false drama she made for herself.
But she couldn’t go home and leave this all behind, not yet. Aines’ diary made sure of that.
Odd enough, the diary wasn’t a depressing, dreadful testament to the ridge ways of the Council. Rather the opposite: it was the story about this generation’s Slayers. She wrote about a Slayer named Buffy, this incredible champion who kept the Hellmouth (a.k.a. Sunnydale)--the nexus of evil’s power--in check by herself. She wrote about how Buffy’s heart stopped one brief moment, and in the time it took for her friends to revive her with CPR, another Slayer was called.
Kendra. She went to Sunnydale and died in mere weeks. Buffy still continued strong to this day.
However, the majority of the book wasn’t about the Council or Kendra or Buffy or even Aines herself. It was about Faith. It was about a runaway girl who wanted to be a warrior. It was about how this happy-go-lucky Watcher found the new Slayer and trained her as best she could. It was about the pinnacle of a Watcher’s existence, the equivalent of winning the lottery, the once in a lifetime chance to instruct the new Chosen, to make her better than those who came before her.
It was about Aines and her growing pride in Faith. It was about how the Watcher came to care for this violent and often confused girl. It was about their growing bond. It was about Aines’ near-maternal instincts for Faith, how she couldn’t maintain her Watcher’s detachedness, how she found it difficult to send her charge on dangerous tasks.
Then, blank pages.
Shego suppressed the dirty feeling creeping under her skin. She’d lied to Aines, given the woman an illusion of honor and happiness. That illusion got Kakistos’ attention and… and…
Aines’ screams sounded just as loud now as they did three weeks ago.
She couldn’t walk away from this undead world because she owed Aines. Seeing this through was an insignificant sorry after the unchangeable disaster, but at least it was something. Her conscience wouldn’t shut up, invading her dreams and prodding her on like a merciless slave driver, like Aines herself when they trained.
Stupid hero business. Stupid conscience. Would be so much easier if she said screw it all and became a villain. No responsibilities, no motivations other than her own, no expectations--must’ve been fun to be bad.
Maybe that’s why the world never lacked villains: being bad was easier than being good.
“Last stop, Sunnydale!”
Finally. Outside, a large sign displaying “Welcome to Sunnydale” zoomed by Shego’s vision. The sign made her arrival real, real enough for her to slump her shoulders in exhaustion and let out the sigh that had been building up for ages. Sunnydale, the Hellmouth, the home of one Buffy Anne Summers, the best (and only) form of backup she had against Kakistos and his overwhelming forces.
Backup. Shego tried to scoff at the idea but couldn’t bring herself to do it: Kakistos was too ruthless, too deadly, too much. Whatever the case, in the end, she came here to clean her conscience, to swallow her pride for Aines and her memory. After that…
After that, Faith, heroines, and saving the world could go to hell.
“Little lady, you ever been to Sunn-”
All my life I never lacked anything. I never had to truly survive on my own. In those three weeks, I found out what it was like to be cold, scared, hungry, hunted, weak, and alone. Didn’t like it much. Promised myself something like that would never happen to me again, and well, you two know I keep my promises.
You could’ve called your brothers.
Unlike you, I still had my pride. And if you drop a piece of food on those leather seats…
The Ronster is a master of eating in the backseat! Chill!
… I’d say some sexual innuendo right now if I knew it wouldn’t be wasted on you.
What do- Oh. Ooooooh! Shego, that’s so perverted!
Don’t worry, Kimmie, I only eat the ones I love.
What? I still don’t get it.
Don't go changing on us, Stoppable.
She’d been in this town for two days and she already wanted out. Nothing about Sunnydale appealed to her, not the nasty demons, not the nonexistent nightlife, not the constant sense of foreboding, and certainly not the backwater town mentality. Thought this was California, the cutting edge of the American lifestyle--why did it feel like country bumpkin Creston, Iowa? Why did witches and demons run around here like Salem? Why did the motels have to be so dirty and shady? Why did every other person look like an inbred hick?
Where the hell was Buffy?
Find Buffy. Find Kakistos. Kill Kakistos. Feel better. Simple equation yet it became so very hard to solve because the world conspired against her.
Shego dug into her pocket and counted the last of her money: twelve dollars and seventeen cents. Enough for two or three meals but not enough to keep her holed up at her unbearable motel for another night. Her clothes, having been washed at the laundry mat once she got into town, didn’t have time to build up that strange but now-too-familiar funk. It’d be coming soon enough.
Twelve dollars and seventeen cents for food, shelter, and personal hygiene? Not even the cheapest of the cheap could pull that off.
As the glum note deflated the reminder of Shego’s optimism, soft beats sounded off in the distance. Beats, like club beats or loud music or something not completely lifeless, perked up her ears. Sunnydale had a club? Clubs meant sweaty people, free flowing alcohol, greasy food, and importantly, wallets to pick.
Rounding a corner, she happened upon a non-descript street but at the end of it, a blazing, neon sign proclaiming “The Bronze” caught her eye. Yes, that’s where the loud music emanated from but no lines and no bouncers gave her pause. What self-respecting club didn’t have bouncers? With all the vampires and other underworld things in town, you’d think a few beefy meatheads standing guard would be a prerequisite.
Still, a club was a club.
Suddenly, the timid girl who hated this place and didn’t know what to do with herself disappeared. Replacing her was another creature, one born from necessity and nurtured by every moment Aines had let her loose in Boston’s underbelly.
She exuded confidence.
Danger radiated from her.
She was every boys’ (and not a few girls’) living dream.
With a swagger in her step and her hips swinging side to side, she hit the Bronze like no one before and certainly no one since. Though the music didn’t stop to hail her entrance, everything with a pulse--and some without--laid their gazes on her, on this magnetic newcomer. She had those wild eyes and a go-all-night body which promised to be hard to tame and equally hard to catch. She didn’t move through the crowd as much as she cut through it, reminiscent of a hungry shark. The pale skin and leather clothes shielded her true age making it beholden to the mind’s eye. The half-pout, half-smile melted stoic faces and begged for crimes to be committed on its behalf. When she began swaying to the beat, an impromptu crowd swirled around her, caught up like loose debris at the mercy of a twister.
One face blurred into the next. The dance floor darkened, illuminated by throbbing, multicolored lights. A man’s body, a woman’s arms, Shego moved about them teasingly and they fell for her, fought for her.
She let out a feral smile and watched for her first target.
In another time, guilt might’ve overtaken her for exploiting these people. If she wasn’t hungry, stressed out, haunted, and frustrated, she might’ve been less immoral. Fact of the matter was, she didn’t feel an ounce of guilt for reaching around this shaggy guy’s back and yanking his money clip out of his pocket.
Why treat the perverts and freaks like anything but easy marks? Perverts and freaks, all of them, made her wonder why she ever risked her life for these people. Made her wonder why Aines died so these useless folk could live, so that they could continue on being easy marks. These easy marks didn’t deserve her tears, her blood, her sweat, or her pity.
A teenie bopper girl who couldn’t have been more than thirteen caught Shego’s eye. Flat chested but already dressing like a slut--mommy would be so proud. Mommy wouldn’t be so proud if someone took that big roll of bills sticking out of the tramp’s waistband. Only idiots and strippers danced with money gushing out of their pants, and in Shego’s opinion, both could go to hell.
Literally, the real one, the one where all the demons and vampires and crazy gods in Aines’ books came from.
Just as she was to swoop in and claim her cash, a typical frat boy--American Eagle shirt and matching cargos in tow--cut her off, wedged himself between her and the bite-sized teen. Brave man that one, not to mention oblivious and stupid, but Shego respected bravery. Not quite wanting to start a scene yet, she moved on to greener pastures.
She never forgave or forgot. He’d get his soon.
Around the dance floor she traversed, pilfering whenever the opportunity presented itself. By the time she lifted her eighth wallet, the constant moving and tight leather clothes bathed her in a light sheen of sweat. Moving on to the bar, she ordered a ice water from the harried bartender. The glass didn’t even get a chance to plunk down before her dried lips were on it, relishing in the cooling drink.
“You were amazing out there.”
Slowly, Shego turned around. From the voice alone, she pictured to see a tall, corn-fed, farm raised boy sporting brownish blonde hair. He sounded like one of those ineffable and painfully annoying do-gooders, his back straight like a ramrod and his eyes twinkling in the “big city” lights. The way he said what he said told of a cocky confidence and self-believed importance.
Funny how things like this always met right up with expectations.
Shego put her glass down and preened at him. “Like what you see?”
From the way he grinned back stupidly and stuttered, the country boy didn’t have a line ready. Seemed like he was more ready to be shot down than acknowledged. So much for the confidence and self-importance.
“Here’s a tip, beefstick,” drawled Shego, circling past him, “Don’t try the jungle gym if you can’t handle the sandbox.”
She slapped his butt hard, gave a giggle, and disappeared back into the swarming crowds. Between the pitiable pick-up attempt, his sore behind, and his even more wounded ego, the guy rubbed his tender spot and frowned angrily at himself. His tongue caught and he couldn’t talk, but less say anything suave or meaningful. Stupid! He was always like this around attractive women, awkward and mute.
“Oh! That was cold, Riley! She smoked ya like a salmon!”
Riley looked to his two friends--Forrest and Graham--who stood nearby and heard the entire exchange. “Least I tried, Forrest. Neither of you dipshits were even thinking about going up to her.”
“Hey,” said Graham, holding his hands up as if to back off, “I told the two of you, she’s jailbait. I don’t touch that stuff. Might get court-martialed for doing girls like her.”
Forrest snorted. “Man, jailbait don’t got titties like that.”
“Can’t a guy have some sympathy from his wingmen?”
“Here’s the lowdown,” smiled Forrest, “You buy us a round and we’ll play wingmen for real, get you nice n’ hooked up with that hot piece o’ ass!”
“I’m telling you: j-a-i-l-b-a-i-t.”
“Don’t listen to him, Riley, I’ve got your back.”
Behind Forrest’s prompting, the love-starved college student fumbled into his back pocket for his wallet and… and…
“Umm, guys, you see my wallet anywhere?”
Aren’t you hungry?
Little bit, but I’m driving.
Can’t you use your other-
Killer Bebe, remember? Messed up my hand and I can’t use it for a while.
I never got a chance to ask you about that.
I’ll be fine, Kimmie.
Didn’t the doctors say you have ne-
Finish that sentence and I’ll pull your lip over your face.
Hehe, I’ll just, um, eat my tasty, tasty naco.
Ron, what happened to her?
She might be your best friend, Stoppable, but is telling her really worth trying to get the taste of your own head out of your mouth?
Didn’t I tell you to stop threatening Ron?
Sure Princess, just like I told you to stop interrupting me.
So not the drama…
Tonight was a good night. The haul? About two hundred dollars, a bunch of driver’s licenses, a gift card to Starbucks, and a whole load of student IDs. Why in the world would people want to go to UC Sunnydale? It was the proverbial UC doormat, dead last in every academic category. Before she’d run off, Shego was in the midst of college applications and-
God damn it, not again. She’d been thinking about home too much. Her resolve to live this grand adventure chipped away, worn down by fear and less than appealing conditions. Home sounded so good: a fluffy bed, a hot meal, cable television, her friends, and the familiarity of it all. Home became more and more, like a sweet, enticing oasis in this desert of peril. Even if she had to put up with Hego’s stupid antics, even if she was going to be grounded for the rest of her life, at this point, home was heaven.
“Help! Please! Someone help!”
The declaration came from an alley across the street. Against her better judgment, Shego slinked over to the disturbance and peered in. Typical scene, actually: guy with his hands on a struggling girl’s shoulders. Two things made the scene atypical: the guy’s face (vamped out) and the girl (the previously mentioned teenie bopper girl at the club). On closer inspection, the guy even looked like the frat boy who cut her off, you know, the one wearing American Eagle gear and thinking he was all that.
Shego pulled a stake out of her jacket and walked into the alley. “Can’t score in your own age bracket, huh?”
The vampire looked up and threw his current prey back. “I’m always willing to upgrade.”
He expected the leather wearing newcomer to scream, run, or banter another round. What he got was the heel of her shoe smashing into his temple and sending his head into one of the dirty, grimy alley’s walls. A fist bludgeoned his gut, right at his solar plexus. Before the pain even registered in full, an arm captured his neck in a headlock and twisted. Crack went a few vertebrae. As he dropped to the ground, a singular, piercing sensation in his chest made him gasp, and poof, he was no more.
Tucking away her stake, Shego turned her attention to the sobbing girl behind her. Away from the club’s age shielding lights, she looked so very young. Her eyes big and round, her black hair messed up, the girl reminded Shego of a fallen bird or newborn kitten. A sense of innocence enveloped her, but Shego knew better.
Innocent girls didn’t hang around clubs at this time of night.
At the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to condemn this young, fragile thing, much less steal her money (which, by the way, still stuck out of her pants). The rebellious, devil-may-care attitude resonated with Shego.
“Get out of here,” Shego said as she bent down to check the frat boy’s now dusty clothes, “You didn’t see anything.”
The girl snapped out of her frightened shock and ran down the opposite side of the alley, never looking back.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say there’s a new Slayer in town.”
The sudden, masculine, and monotonous voice startled Shego. She whipped around and saw a gang of teens consisting of three women (a blonde, a brunette, and a red head) and two guys (one short, one tall). The petite blonde in the middle stood out in front, obviously the ring leader of the group. She had these intense green eyes that belied her wispy, sinewy body. While physically smaller than everyone else, she stood head and shoulders above the others, an untouchable fire burning in the way every part of her moved.
She was beautiful, delicate, dangerous.
“You’ve got to be Buffy.”
The blonde raised her eye brows. “And you are?”
“Faith, Vampire Slayer. I’m kinda… disappointed.”
“I thought you’d be taller.”
B wasn’t your typical Slayer. For starters, she’d been doing it longer than most others. Something about her kept her alive--friends, family, determination, something, or maybe even a combination of somethings. In a lot of ways, Kimmie, B was like you, looking out for the world and never really expecting much in return. By the time I came along, she’d saved the world two times over and killed the man she loved because he’d gone “bring hell to earth” bad.
Like I said, she had something about her.
While Aines taught me how to fight, I’m sure B was the one who showed me how to win. She burned with a competitive fire, much more intense than mine or yours and we’re already prime, Type A girls. When you’re the only person who can save the world from blowing up, you’ve got to have a brand new kind of spunk and B had it in spades. She rubbed off on me big time.
Is that a good or bad thing?
Still figuring that out.
- To be continued…