“The whole summer it was, like, the worst heat wave. So it's 118 degrees and I'm sleeping without a stitch on, and all of a sudden I hear this screaming from outside. I go tearing out, stark nude, and this church bus has broken down and there's these three vamps feasting on half the Baptists in South Boston. So I waste the vamps and the preacher comes up, and he's hugging me like there's no tomorrow, when all of a sudden the cops pull up and they arrested us both.”
Xander, the taller guy in Buffy’s entourage, smiled the smile of a pubescent boy going through his father’s pornography stash. As his eyes shined with that “motherload” luster, he drooled, “Wow! They should film that story and show it every Christmas!”
Willow (the mousy red head), Cordelia (the queen-bitch-and-proud-of-it brunette), and Rupert Giles (Buffy’s remarkably cute, British Watcher) gave Xander varying stares ranging from “Grow up” to “You’re going to die now.” Oz (the shorter guy with the monotonous voice and an arm around Willow) took the comment in stride.
And Buffy? Well, she was stunned. Not quite speechless but definitely stunned. “Do you do that all the time?”
“Save Baptists from vampires?” asked Shego.
Xander perked up again. “Sleep naked?”
“No,” sighed Buffy, “the getting arrested part.”
“Sometimes and no,” the “other Slayer” answered, grinning ear to ear as she leaned back into her chair. “Nice place you’ve got here. This library open twenty four seven?”
“Kinda,” happily chirped Willow. When all eyes descended upon her, nerves claimed her. “I mean, only when there’s demons to be killed or apocalypses to stop but seeing how we live in Sunnyhell that means all the time so like yeah I guess this library is open all the time or when Giles here is in because none of us have keys to library because this one time Xander left it unlocked so it’s only open when Giles is here and there’s an apocalypse coming oh and during school hours even though no one comes here except for us.”
The continuous babbling impressed Shego who until now had never seen a person--not even Hego--talk for so long without pause or breath. She showed her appreciation by staring at the girl in rapt amazement. The others seemed used to the phenomenon and just waited for the red head to recover from panting and blushing.
When she did, Giles took off his glass, cleaned them with a handkerchief, and cleared his throat. “Well, that was certainly a succinct summary of our recent activities, wasn’t it? Now, Faith, where is your Watcher?”
Everyone except Buffy groaned at the no fun, starchy Giles who put an end to them poking and prodding this new Slayer. He steered the conversation back to business and the only person who didn’t have any beef with that was Buffy, Buffy who seemed apprehensive, Buffy who seemed put off by everyone being so interested in Shego, Buffy who seemed jealous of Shego’s carefree spirit and incredulous stories.
Suddenly, Shego didn’t feel like spilling her guts about Aines, Kakistos, and her arrival in Sunnydale. Defensive minded people tended to not trust hostile people, and within the last few weeks, out of necessity, Shego got really defensive really quick. Her blossoming instincts told her she needed to be better than Buffy, to not cowl before this arrogant wisp of a cheerleader. Kakistos’ goons were showing up everywhere and it’d only be a short while before he pinned Shego down in Sunnydale. If and when he came, that’s when Buffy would hear about him.
She couldn’t stomach giving the other girl any reason to look down on her.
“She’s on some kind of vacation,” Shego lied.
A dawn of understanding came to Giles. “The Watcher’s retreat in England?”
Despite not knowing what he was talking about, Shego nodded. “Yeah, retreat. Bunch of stuffy people stuffed inside a stuffy room. Not my kind of scene, you know?”
“FYI,” said Xander, butting his way in, “this is Giles, stuffy dude extraordinaire.”
“Thank you, Xander, I couldn’t have described myself any better.”
The boy blinked. “Was that dry, British sarcasm or an honest observation?”
“Oh oh oh,” Willow jumped, “I vote for dry, British sarcasm!”
Tired of the (according to her) useless exchange, Cordelia thwacked Xander’s arm (eliciting in a girly “Ow!”). “I don’t know about you other losers but I have class tomorrow. If all you’re going to do is blabber at this new Slayer like a puppy then Xander and I are leaving.”
“Hey,” whined Xander, “What if there’s something important going down?”
“Then I’m sure it won’t involve you.”
“Ouch, geez, Cordy, leggo of my arm will you!”
Thus went the swirling amalgam of destruction known as Cordelia and Xander, storming out of the library and leaving a trail of grunts, whines, and sharp comments in its wake.
Giles massaged his aching head. “I suppose meeting tomorrow afternoon would be a prudent idea. Faith, do you have anywhere to stay?”
“I’m five by five. Got a motel room downtown.”
Head cocked and face quizzical, Oz voiced the question on everyone’s mind. “Five by five?”
“You know, ‘five by five,’ like ‘it’s cool’ or ‘I’m all good’ or ‘the coast is clear.’”
“Five by five,” Oz repeated with a shrug, “Huh.”
“But those motels downtown are terrible,” said Willow.
“Don’t got much of a choice, Red. It’s either that dive or a park bench and I don’t like benches.”
Willow--oh gentle creature she was--gasped at the “Slayer’s” plight. “But Buffy has a spare room at her house,” she said with growing delight, “You could stay there!”
Meanwhile, Buffy almost fell out of her chair. With a look that could (and probably did at some point) kill, she barked a sharp, “Wills!”
The protest wasn’t lost on anyone. Disappointment appeared on Giles’ face, disappointment over his usually big-hearted charge’s embarrassing attitude. Not everyone was fortunate enough to have money or a strong support system and he thought Buffy’s experiences--being shunned by the popular crowd, running away from home, and helping her friends through their various trials--taught her better. Oz bit his lip, about the only hint of emotion he’d shown all night. His message: “I know you’re the Slayer but don’t talk to my girlfriend like that.” Willow contributed the starkest reaction, descending from bubbly, friendly heights to flat out rejection, complete with quaking mouth and teary eyes.
No one needed to say a word.
Shego shifted her discrete glance from person to person, inwardly glowing at the awkward silence. The infallible Buffy Summers’ friends angry at her? From the way Aines wrote about the blonde, it must’ve been a first.
Aines. That twang of guilt and pain struck again, and though it dulled with repetition, it remained strong enough for her to wince. The others interpreted the slight flinch as rejection which added more fuel to the fire Buffy had started.
“Great idea,” the blonde stammered, “I mean, ‘Wills! Great idea.’ Kind of spaced out for a second.” She finished off the lame save with an embarrassed laugh.
Watch her squirm, watch her blush, watch her lose that arrogant edge. Shego, these thoughts in mind, twisted the proverbial dagger. “I can read the writing on the wall,” she shrugged, “No big. Not a lot of people want a sorry charity case, you know? I’ll deal.”
Screech echoed the wooden chair as it scraped against the library’s hard floor. Shego stood, gave a general nod to everyone there, and sauntered out the door, out to the high school’s empty halls, out to the vampire filled, Sunnydale night. The satisfaction gleaned from watching Buffy squirm warmed her against the biting winds. Always had a bit of the sadist in her, but this was rich and priceless. This was… was…
Wrong. On so many levels.
There it was again, her conscience. Why wouldn’t it shut up? Didn’t it cause enough problems already? Christ, why did that little voice in the back of her head insist on making her uneasy at every corner? Couldn’t she enjoy her modicum of victory for one measly moment?
Villains had it easy. No conscience, no problems. It wouldn’t insist on being honorable or honest. No more “following the rules” or “feeling bad about wanting, taking, and having.” Sure, villains had to run from the law all the time but they didn’t have to put up with themselves. How cool was that? How cool was being able to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and be truly ok with it?
That name again! Gah! It sent bitter chills up Shego’s spine, no thanks to her c-o-n-s-c-i-e-n-c-e. Yup, villains had it made.
Shego slowed but resisted the urge to turn around and gloat. “What’s up, Buffy?”
“I… You can… It’s not really…”
Ah, speechless now, the perfect time to lay it on thick. “Listen, you don’t need to do anything for me. Haven’t had any favors in a long while so it’s nothing new. My life, my problems, my way, and all that stuff.”
“I’m trying to be nice,” the blonde offered.
“What? After you were about to light into your friend? After I spent the whole night watching you size me up like competition for your job? Not feeling the nice part.”
“I’m trying, ok?” Her voice unrepentantly raised and caught Shego off guard. “You’re not the only one with problems.”
“Got friends, got family, got a roof over your head, what do you need to worry about?”
“You should understand since you’re a Slayer too!”
Shit, she wasn’t a Slayer. She trained like one, fought like one, and with her powers brought on by that fateful meteor, probably even equated to one, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t bound by duty or destiny, just… just…
An annoying conscience and an unwavering sense of honor bestowed by her parents. “Yeah,” muttered Shego, “Slayer, I get it.”
Apparently, Buffy didn’t catch the sincerity. “I live with the world’s existence on my shoulders. I get up every morning and know if I don’t give this job everything I have, no one is going to have a future. Do you have any idea what it’s like to know that if you fail, your mom is going to die? How about knowing that one of these days, no matter how hard you try, it’s not going to mean anything because it only takes one mistake to mess this all up? Do you know what it feels like to kill the man you love because he turned evil thanks to something you did? No, you haven’t been here long enough--forget that, you haven’t been a Slayer long enough--to know what it’s like living on the Hellmouth.”
They’d stopped a while ago, the dead-looking high school still in the view. Buffy’s voice carried far and wide, sounding off into the Sunnydale sky like a trumpet. Her words spent, the blonde folded her arms around herself in an effort to keep warm. She didn’t back down and she didn’t advance, instead waiting for Shego’s next move.
And Shego was taken back by the realization that this person--only a year older than Shego herself--lived with such a burden. Even in the worst of worst scenarios with Team Go, someone else would’ve stepped up to stop Avarius. That was the thing with evil villains: even when they did take over the world (or country or city), they were so delusional and crazy that everything they’d worked for would fall apart.
Not here, not with Buffy. Bad guys win, then it’s literally game over for all of civilization. The stark truth left Shego’s mouth dry and a scant trace of uncertainty in her. Maybe coming to Sunnydale wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe Aines’ memory should’ve stayed in Boston, torn asunder like her body. Maybe it was time to go home.
Finally turning around, Shego fell into two pools of glistening green. Her heart skipped a beat. “So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying sorry,” said Buffy without sounding a bit apologetic. “Stuff happens and I get stressed.”
“Makes living with you a drag, doesn’t it?”
“Which means I’m probably better off at the motel.”
“You’re just being stubborn now.”
“No, I don’t want your pity. The only reason you’re even out here is because your superfriends gave you the cold shoulder. If you had your way…”
“Don’t even finish that sentence. You don’t know me well enough to say a word.”
“I don’t know you well enough not to say what I did.” Shego put her hands on her hips and frowned. “You pointed it out: you’re not the only person with problems. Yeah, I haven’t had to stop an apocalypse, but I have to deal with shit you don’t even consider, shit like where’s my next meal coming from, where am I going to sleep. Might not be as sexy as saving the fucking world, but in my eyes, different problems don’t mean less importance.”
Buffy opened her mouth to retort but a familiar, dangerous chill tingled about her skin. Vampires, a lot of them, and they closed in fast. Shego, her own battle prowess honed, heard feet shuffling and cloth rustling from the shadows. Combining that with the blonde’s reaction, she took out a stake from her jacket and readied herself.
From the roof of a small convenience store jumped three men. Three more slid out of a previously empty alley. Two came up from the manhole in the middle of the street. None of them looked like the just-risen variety of undead.
“The Slayer must die,” one of them intoned.
Another finished, “So says Kakistos.”
The name ignited fear in Shego’s heart, but instead of succumbing to it, she let it fuel her rage. Her knuckles turned bone white as her grip tightened around the stake. She felt a hidden strength well up within her, pumping her blood faster and faster. Kakistos forced this Slayer’s existence on her, ruined her grand adventure, killed a friend, and just wouldn’t stop.
“Kakistos?” repeated Buffy. “Never heard of it. Is that a breath mint like Mentos?”
Shego crashed into the pair in the middle of the street, a fitting accent to signal the fight’s start. They landed solid blows to her face and stomach; they gnashed their fangs and tore at her arms. The pain, however, didn’t register in Shego’s consumed mind. All that remained was the will to fight, to win, to quiet her conscience, to be free from Aines, Kakistos, and Faith.
She grabbed one of the vampires by the jaw, forced his mouth open, and rammed the exposed fangs--along with the appropriate head--into her other opponent’s eye. Before blood and vitreous humor could spill out, the stake went through one heart, kept going as the vampire turned to dust, and found the other’s heart.
A sharp kick hit Shego’s back and made her drop her weapon. The three from the roof came rushing in. They quickly kissed the pavement when Shego dropped and lashed her leg out in a wide arch, falling them in a smooth motion. A frighteningly cold smile in place, she withdrew her second backup stake and the vampires went poof, poof-
The last one stopped her. She recognized his face from that night in Boston. He was one of those waiting on the street for her and Aines, one of those who took part in mangling the Watcher. The two combatants locked gazes, and in that time, the vampire knew his death would not be swift or painless.
The stake burying itself in his throat made sure of that.
With her bare hands, Shego beat the vampire. Silence and darkness embraced her in a state of sensory deprivation. Her entire world consisted of her fists and his rapidly unrecognizable face. Each second resulted in a new alteration like a broken cheek bone or a shattered and distended mandible. Pretty soon, the face didn’t resemble a face anymore, but Shego didn’t mind. She yelled at the vampire but couldn’t hear herself. She bathed in the unbridled violence until a sickening uppercut separated head from body.
The vampire faded into nothingness. Shego returned to herself.
Her bleeding knuckles, cut by bone and cement, shined like rubies. Far away but getting closer was Buffy’s voice.
Blood, so much blood, so much pain. Was this how they made Aines feel?
“Faith! Little help!”
Slowly, Shego lifted her head. In the time it took for her to dust her attackers, more came from out of nowhere and swarmed Buffy. The blonde looked to be holding her own, but nine against one didn’t seem like good odds even for the best poker player in town. Forcing back the sluggishness, Shego scooped up her fallen stakes and leapt into the fray.
Her strikes pierced foreheads, stomachs, and even genitalia, each aimed at inflicting agony. Her kicks knocked bodies over and bent knees backwards. She fought to torture. She fought to show these vampires her frustration and guilt. She snapped joints, crushed bones, split sides, and smashed heads. She fought hard, harder than Buffy.
Of course, Buffy opted for efficiency.
Between the two, the vampires didn’t stand a chance. Soon, the street was empty save for two women and heapings of dust.
As if their tension laden conversation never stopped, the blonde snapped, “What the hell were you doing!”
“Slaying, what else?”
“No, you were beating the those vampires like eggs!”
“Gee, if doing violence to vampires upsets you, you’re in wrong line of work.”
“The job is to slay demons, not beat them to a bloody pulp while their friends corner me.”
“You were fine. Since when did the great Buffy Summers need help?”
How much more infuriating could this woman be? She didn’t take life seriously, she offered little help or understanding, and she was more self-absorbed than the high school quarterback. So much for the olive branch and Slayer togetherness! “You know what? Go back to your crappy motel! Go beat on vampires and whatever you want to do! I don’t care!”
“Fine, wasn’t looking for your approval anyway, B.”
“B, short for Buffy. I figured Buffy was too tall a name for you bite-sized Slayers.”
Responding with words seemed so inappropriate. This swirl of angst, belligerence, antagonism, bonding, and insults called for an extreme response, for example the mean roundhouse kick (followed, of course, by a guttural yell) that Buffy threw.
Not enjoying being used as a practice dummy, Shego tackled the blonde as she recovered from the attack. The two rolled around on the sidewalk, fighting for leverage and supremacy while shards of glass from broken bear bottles and carjackings cut their skin. Sucker punches and crafty knees blended in with hair pulling and biting until Buffy ended up on top. However, before she could do anything with her advantage, Shego crashed her forehead against Buffy’s, knocking both of them senseless on impact.
And being a real, honest Slayer, Buffy came to first. In another time, she would’ve wondered why Faith didn’t get up as fast as she herself. In another time, she wouldn’t have attacked another human being. In another time, she wouldn’t have advanced and kicked her poor opponent while she was down.
This wasn’t another time.
“How this one, F?” Her foot met Shego’s side. “How does your own medicine taste, F?” A heel clocked Shego’s head. “This take your mind off your problems!”
Her name said with that distinctive British accent halted her passionate madness. Dismay sifting into her heart, she looked from a beaten Faith on the ground to her three appalled friends--Giles, Willow, and Oz--not twenty feet away. Immediately Giles and Willow attended to the moaning girl, checking her for any serious wounds.
Oz stood back and shrugged. “This is probably why there’s only one Slayer every generation.”
Wow, so Buffy beat you.
Cleaned my clock and took my lunch money.
Was she really that good?
Maybe. I’d like to go a round or two with her today, just to see how she takes the plasma. And let’s face it, Princess, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. Who knows? Might not even be close, but it’s a question I can’t really answer anymore.
B and I, we had a falling out.
How could it get any worse?
Well, after the fight, B and Giles brought me to her house to patch me up. Guess that’s where the lusty friendship started. In the end, that's whatruined things.
Kimmie, you might wanna hand Stoppable a bag. Looks like he’s going to hyperventilate.
“I have no words for you, young lady.”
Buffy winced under her mom’s withering glare. Joyce Summers was a imposing, bull-minded, fiercely independent woman who survived an unloving marriage, single parenthood, and her daughter’s nocturnal activities. Underneath the dainty exterior lay a tigress who could protect her child just as easily as she scolded it. Even Slayers capitulated to their mothers.
“You aren’t the daughter I raised. It’s like I don’t know you anymore.”
In the midst of the blonde’s tongue lashing, Shego should’ve felt triumph but the spiteful glee abandoned her. Joyce’s pained voice held overtones of her own mother’s, each disbelieving of their children’s’ acts.
Been a long time since she’d last seen her mom. Their last moments together consisted of angry shouts and flowing tears, not the happiest times. A rash decision, a means to an end, and a stubborn will separated Shego from home, and in that time, her anger and bitterness subsided, much to her chagrin. Regret rooted itself in her already aching heart, forbidding her--despite her attempts--to take joy in Buffy’s pain.
Giles, who aimlessly cleaned and recleaned Shego’s meticulously bandaged wounds, cleared his throat. “Joyce, it’s very late. Perhaps Faith should stay at my-”
“No, Rupert,” insisted the elder Summers, “Buffy needs to talk with Faith alone.”
Joyce leveled a dreadful expression at her resilient daughter to shut down the protest. “I am going to bed. I want you to do the right thing but I want you to do it on your own, not because I told you.”
Giles took off his glasses and massage the bridge of his nose. “Well, I guess this is goodnight then. Don’t worry, I’ll serve as a mediator between them.”
That stopped the Englishman as he moved to clean his glasses. “Excuse me?”
Joyce sighed and walked over to put a hand on his shoulder. “Alone,” she repeated, “That means no mediator.”
“Ah.” Giles shuffled about, his lips upturned in that shy, ironic smile of his. “I’ll be… Maybe I should… Goodnight it is, then?”
Like that, the adults faded away, Watcher out the door and mother up the stairs. The departures left the living room dead as each girl fought their own internal battles. Between the self-reflection and questions about what to do, Buffy sat down next to Shego, perhaps in a show of acceptance, perhaps as an opportunity to stall. Crickets chirping in the background blunted the silence’s edge, but in the end, they were still left to squirm alone but with each other.
Never one to take emotional tension very well, Shego broke the ice.
“Your mom’s wicked.”
Nowadays, wicked meant a lot of things. Wicked meant hardcore, evil, cool, devious, and awesome, all in one utterance. “Wicked how?”
“Wicked like all good moms should be.”
Not wanting this tangent end, Buffy replied, “She gets like that most of the time.”
“Then she’s a good mom most of the time.”
“So’s that how your mom is too?”
I’m only here to prove that I can make it on my own? I haven’t seen my parents in months and I’m sure they’re worried sick about me? I’ve been lying my ass off this whole entire time and I don’t want to tell you anything more? I’m jealous that your mom lets you do this Slayer stuff the way you want to, even the apologizing part, which was so unlike mine who freaked out at having kids who were superheroes?
“No,” Shego said, sliding away from Buffy to hide the uneasiness.
The blonde made assumptions at the terse answer. She knew the signs of emotional distress, herself a recent victim of the silent pain. Ever since she sent Angel to hell (“Angelus,” she reminded herself), the nights grew drearier, the days less invigorating. The memories of that fateful moment haunted her, broke her, and forced her further from her friends and family. She couldn’t keep the soul burning depression away, and in the end, she ran. She ran away from home, tried to live another life, and failed.
Buffy knew this silent pain well. She knew the signs, the unwillingness to talk and to give it a form. She knew how much it hurt, how the world expected the Slayer to be strong even when she wasn’t. She knew enough to see Shego’s clouded eyes and draw her own conclusions…
Conclusions which, had she known the truth, weren’t too far off.
“I’m sorry, Faith.”
“Didn’t mean much when you said it earlier, B.”
“I mean it this time.”
“You’re sorry because your mommy and Watcher told you to say so, that’s all. The only thing you’re probably sorry over is not taking a few more cheap shots at me when you had the chance.”
“What else do you want? I feel like I’m two feet tall, my friends and family probably think I have a few screws loose, and you… you’re a…”
“I’m a what? A bitch?”
“No. You’re a mystery.”
“Guess what, B? I haven’t figured out myself either so we’re in the same boat.”
“If that’s the case, why don’t we start over?”
“Start over, like from square one.”
Shego rolled her eyes at the hackneyed attempt at peace. “My ribs hurt and I have a wicked bruise on the side of my head. Can’t hit the reset button on that, now can we?”
“No, but I can try and that’s more than what I can say for you.”
The seemingly innocuous comment pierced Shego’s apathetic mystique. The fundamental wrongness of the situation, of watching someone squirm, got to her (again). After the adrenaline wore off, after all the sorrys were said, after what sounded and looked like a sincere apology, she couldn’t find the wherewithal to still be angry at Buffy.
God damn conscience, there it was. Villains never forgave transgressions or defeats, that’s why they always kept coming back for more. Only good guys forgave, and despite her conscious rebellion, Shego’s continued mockery of Buffy’s words grew more difficult. The little angel on her shoulder dragged her kicking and screaming into the blonde’s shoes, into the role of threatened, insulted, and stressed out Slayer as opposed to her current freeloading fun seeker caught up in remarkable circumstances.
It sucked, enough for Shego to relent, droop her shoulders, and cease her sulking. “You want to start over? Fine, but I don’t guarantee liking you this time around.”
An indignant spark reenergized Buffy. “Goes both ways, F. I’m liking you less already.”
Like an uncoiling spring, Shego closed the distance on Buffy in a flash, her temper flaring and overriding her uneasiness. They tussled about the couch, arms and hair flailing in all directions. The lamp on the end table shook dangerously as the struggle reached critical proportions. Just before the lamp broke, Buffy’s mom woke, and all hell gushed out of the Summers home, the girls stopped.
Shego lay on top of the blonde with a forearm around her neck and a hand (which was suppose to be on a shoulder) on a soft mound of breast. Buffy had a crushing grip on one of Shego’s wrists and another hand (which was suppose to be looking for leverage to flip said opponent off the sofa) palming sensitive nether regions. Heavy panting stymied attempts to talk, and for the first time, they were allowed to look each other in the eye, each so full of fire and emotion.
Maybe it was because of adolescent hormones. Maybe it was because Buffy was attractive. Maybe… maybe Shego wanted to see what those luscious lips would feel like. But before she could see for herself, Buffy stole what was rightfully hers: their first kiss.
She knew I wanted to kiss her and she beat me to it. I think she did it to spite me even though she was straight as an arrow and couldn’t stand the sight of me. We brought out that fight in each other, that will to be the dominant one, but we stopped that night. God damn it, she stole our first kiss and stopped short. She mumbled something about being embarrassed and hasty, something about not being gay, and ran upstairs. I didn’t know whether to be hurt, happy, or angry. Again I cursed myself for leaving home and getting into this mess. My entire body buzzed but my mind was so tired--it was like a bad case of insomnia, all laying awake and not knowing what to do about it.
Eventually I fell asleep on the couch while wondering how bad this day had gone: I felt like shit physically and mentally, I’d gotten beat at every turn with B, and Kakistos was in town. To think, I had no idea that GJ and Betty Director were about to make everything even worse.
What does GJ have to do with vampires and demons?
A whole lot. Betty doesn’t tell anyone everything. She loves keeping people in the dark and surprising them to prove her points. For example, did you know that GJ has a supernatural division called the Initiative?
How come the Initiative sounds like a bad TV series knockoff?
Laugh all you want, Kimmie, but GJ’s got its grubby little hands in everyone’s business, namely yours and mine. I’m aiming to change that. You’ll see.
- To be continued…