Part 8

I slept through the next day, getting myself back on Slayer time. Since most vampires didn’t have anywhere near the resources to pop for the fancy genetic therapies that would let them hold a day job, vampire-hunting was still primarily a nocturnal hobby.

Vange was outside my apartment building for the start of our graveyard shift, his beat-up, unmarked cruiser looking so nondescript that it almost screamed “cop” to anyone who’d spent any time at all on the mean streets. As soon as I got settled in the passenger seat, he shoved a bag of doughnuts at me.

He shook his head as he downed one with powdered sweetener on it. He washed it down with some no-caffeine coffee substitute and said, “Damned no-cholesterol, no-fat crap. I’d like to find the s.o.b. who sued the junk food makers out of business and shove a bag of these tasteless wonders down his scrawny geek throat. Just once I’d like a New York Strip I didn’t have to buy from the rackets, you know? I don’t figure how we could have outlawed every vice and still be so fucked up.”

He gestured grandly at the city around us in an effort to encompass the full breadth of the his profanity-enhanced editorial on society’s decay.

“And a good evening to you, too, Vange,” I said, setting the bag of ‘doughnuts’ aside. They really were as awful as he said.

We hadn’t been on the road for more than ten minutes when my department-issue phone rang.

“Detective Summers,” I answered, the old title sounding unfamiliar and awkward on my tongue.

The voice that answered froze me with unaccountable dread.

“Hello, ducks. You’ve been a very bad girl, killing Dru. Going to have to make you pay for that.”

“Spike,” I managed to say, and Vange practically ran off the road. He double parked and immediately started a trace through the cruiser’s computer.

“The one and only. Look, love, I’m in town with a couple of days to kill, and since I wrapped up my business a bit early I thought I’d get in a little sport while I’m seeing the sights. And guess what? You’re the sport.”

“You don’t scare me, Spike. We’ve danced this tango before,” I said.

“I’ve learned a couple of new steps since we last tripped the light fantastic, B. S. For instance, I’ve learned that the best way to hurt you is to hurt the people you care about.”

“You got the wrong Buffy Summers, pal,” I said. “This one doesn’t have anyone she cares about. Not in this world.”

“Now that’s not entirely truthful, is it? Really, without honesty, this relationship isn’t going to have much a future.”

I felt a tightness in my chest. I knew what was coming next. I’m not sure how I knew, whether it was Slayer intuition or bitter experience with bastards like Spike, but I could almost hear the words before he spoke them.

“A shame about Cordelia,” he said. “She was really rather pretty, wasn’t she? Ah, well. Easy come, easy go.”

“You son of a bitch,” I hissed. “If anything happens to her, you’re going to beg me to run a stake through your heart before I’m done with you.”

“But it’s already happened, love. Water under the bridge. Time to deal and move on. Well, I’m running up a bill and this chat’s just not as big of a turn on as I thought it would be, so I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” he said, turning the last part of the last sentence into a song.

Then he hung up.

“I got it,” said Vange. “He’s over by …”

“The Inferno Club. I know,” I said. I double-checked my service Magnum. “Let’s roll. I want that bastard in an urn before sunrise.”

*                              *                              *

The Inferno was on fire.

Orange-red tongues of flame flared bright against the dark night sky and painted the bottom of the low overcast with a ruddy, hellish glow. Fire trucks were already on the scene when we got there. The firefighters weren’t trying to save Cordelia’s doomed club, but rather were doing their best to prevent its immanent destruction from claiming the rest of the block along with it.

I’m so very sorry, Cordy. I always end up failing you in this world, don’t I? Why does my life always hurt those I care about? I thought, watching the flames flicker through unshed tears. I blinked the tears away and buried the emotion deep down with the others I’d kept hidden for seventy-five long, barren years.

That was when my phone rang again.

“Burn, baby, burn,” said Spike.

My mind went cold and hard, as it often does when my psychological defenses start to come between me and the universe. I became the Slayer again. She was a part of me I could never be rid of, and in moments of honest reflection I knew I never wanted to be rid of her. She was too much of what I am, and without her I really don’t know who Buffy Summers is. I never did.

“One of us dies tonight, Spike. No more games,” I said into the phone. “Let’s end this.”

Vange looked startled by the chill edge to my voice, by how easily and quickly I’d slipped back over that thin gray line between human being and trained killer, between woman and Slayer. I can try to deny what I am all I want, but somehow my life always comes back to Buffy Summers the Slayer, to Buffy Summers the killer.

“Yes, let’s,” Spike said. “I’m back at Dru’s place and could stand some company. Seems some nasty person went and killed poor old Dru. Tell me, love, what would you do to someone who’d killed Angel? Your Angel, that is, not that dead loser this world called Angel.”

Did I detect genuine emotion in his voice, real grief and sorrow? Or was my mind merely playing tricks on me? Either way, it didn’t matter anymore. This drama would play out to its inevitable, deadly conclusion. All that remained was to find out who died at the end of this particular opera, whether it would be the tenor or the soprano. Funny thing was, at the moment it really didn’t matter too much to me which.

I turned to Vange.

“Get out,” I said.


“I said get out. This is my fight.”

“No way.”

I drew my sidearm and pointed it at his head. “Get. Out.”

He looked at me in stunned silence for a moment, then opened the door.

“Yeah, whatever. I’ll send flowers,” he said before slamming the door behind him.

I slid over to the driver’s seat and left Vange and the collapsing funeral pyre of the Inferno behind.

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