Astra looked up from the computer screen to see her teenage grandson staring out the window like he was possessed.
Let me guess; blonde, beautiful, blue eyes
Wills voice was getting excited. And coming this way, Gramma! You werent casting love spells again, were you?
Astra gave him a flat look. Will was a 16-year-old bundle of nervous energy, handsome with a wildness in his eyes, skinny as a rail, but he was cursed With a height that had him looking up at nearly everyone he met. At 5'2, there werent too many people he could tower over, but his heart more than made up for the stature.
You know very well that you dont need any love spells. How long were you stuck with that girl from Baton Rouge?
Three days, he mumbled.
Three days, and did she leave your side for more than a second?
Well, not really
I imagine going to the bathroom must have been interesting. And what about showering? Did you even shower?
Wills face was becoming a nice shade of red, she decided.
A sharp knock on the trailer door stopped the discussion from going into more embarrassing places. Will took this opportunity to move quickly to the latch and open the door, his face not changing much in the way of colour.
From her seat, Astra couldnt see who was at the door, although she assumed it must be this blonde girl Will was already mooning over, and if his current expression was any indication, she must be quite a looker. For some reason, beauty never bothered Astra like she thought it should, like she saw how it bothered others. Then again, pushing the underside of sixty years old, and this gaunt, lean body to attend to, she wasnt going to enter any contests either.
Wills voice came out in a nervous squeak. Can I help you? He coughed, cleared his throat, and continued in a artifically deep voice. Sorry. Must be the helium.
Its okay. Im looking for Astra. The girls voice sounded business-like, authoritative. This girls used to getting her own way.
Will sighed. Isnt everybody? He gestured for the girl to enter.
Oh, my, Astra muttered under her breath. It was her eyes that caught you; her body was shapely enough and her face was quite attractive, but it was the eyes, with the fire and confidence that disguised the darkness. And there was something
The young girl walked up to the fortune-teller and held out her hand.
Hi, my name is Buffy. I guess Ill be working around here a little while. Rya said you were the person to talk to for a place to live.
Astra took her hand to shake it and (blood stake fire red death teeth pain blood vampire cross grave snake naked blood wolf punch sword hell fangs kick blood) drew it back in shock.
There was something all right.
She couldnt quite keep the awe out of her voice. Vampire Slayer. Its been a few decades.
Buffy stepped back in surprise. Behind her, Will crept out of the trailer and closed the door.
What are you talking about?
Astra smiled. I havent been a fortune-teller for forty years by being blind. You havent been the Slayer long, I imagine. Two, three years at the most? And youve faced tragedy, girl, I can feel the pain from here.
Buffy shook her head. Im sorry, you must be mistaken. I just came here to get a place to sleep. If youre not into that, I can find a blade of grass for a mattress.
So the girl wishes to remain anonymous? Well, that is her right.
Will, take Buffy? Take her down to the girls trailer; I think there is still an empty bunk, if my memory hasnt deserted me completely.
Everyone was motionless for a moment; Astra watched the Slayer wrestle with a decision, but it was clear the truth wasnt going to be faced this afternoon.
Thank you, said Buffy, as if the middle of the previous conversation had never happened.
Will led the way.
* * *
It was a lond innocence in the strangest places
Why did you lie to my grandmother? asked Will, looking at her curiously.
Buffy paused her private little battle with a chunk of celery. Uh, she was mistaken. End of story, not enough box office for a sequel.
Will laughed. Gramma is wrong about as often as the sun sets in the east. Besides, youre not a very good actress. I mean, maybe you are around people you know, but with strangers? Especially ones that know about the things that go bump in the night?
Thats actually pretty common its called sex.
Youre pretty funny is that part of the job?
And whats your job?
Well, so far it involves helping you whenever I can, or at least keeping you out of trouble.
Really? Did it ever occur to you that I might not need help? Im not a helpless young maiden over here.
Oh, thats right, I forgot youre the Slayer.
What is this obsession your family has with this Slayer person?
Want to see a magic trick?
His abrupt change of subject caught her off-guard. She blinked.
Its a good one, youll like it.
He stood up and reached over the table, cupping a hand around her ear. What have we here?
She bent backwards away from his hand, not quite trusting this strange young man with her secret in his mind.
He brought his hand back in a closed fist and sat back down, fist held up in front of her. He opened it.
Hey, Merlin, your hand is empty. She smiled sweetly.
He smiled in return. Maybe so, but whats in my other hand?
He brought his other hand from where it was hiding and dropped what it carried on the table. The object was a nicely sanded stake.
Her eyes widened. Almost faster than he could see, she checked her right-rib holster. Empty. She growled.
Stay away from me. She snatched up the stake and walked off.
Will sat there for a few moments, bemused. I guess Im not getting a round of applause.
* * *
Well, I didnt expect any applause, certainly, but a few words indicating some sort of agreement might be in order, said Giles uncomfortably.
Willow coughed politely. You really think theres a big Buffy conspiracy involving Principal Snyder, the police, and the government?
I, uh, grant that, on the surface at least, the notion seems a little farfetched.
Farfetched? retorted Xander. How about beyond-the-horizon-fetched? Far isnt enough to describe it.
Yeah, agreed Oz. I mean, if that were true, this place would be, you know, bugged. Serious bug action, with wings and everything.
Giles face turned an alarming shade of pale. Bugged? I never thought He spun around, looking for ah, there it is. He pressed the play button on the portable CD player, and the melodious sounds of Nine Inch Nails filled the library. He motioned for the others to huddle close.
Cordelia grimaced. Is this pathetic Goth-rock really necessary?
Listen, if Im wrong, then no harm is done. If Im right
Willow grasped Giles arm. What are we going to do now?
We have to find Buffy. That much is certain. But the how of finding Buffy is the tricky part. Giles removed his glasses and wiped a lens absently.
We have to retrace her steps, think like Buffy, follow any leads, said Willow, tapping her chin. I can scan the newspapers for any supernatural occurrences.
Why would you do that? asked Oz.
Giles shrugged. Sunnydale may be a strong focus of supernatural activity because of the Hellmouth, but there is a theory of mine
Oooh, thats a shock, said Xander.
that the Slayer is drawn to evil, in much the same way that iron filings are drawn to a magnet. Wherever she is, shell find dangers without even trying to look for them.
So thats another reason to mount the posse, concluded Oz.
Willow frowned. This is going to require all of us.
Oz smiled. A summer roadtrip, cool.
Right now? asked Cordelia frantically. This summer? But Ive got a summer job lined up at the Gap, how am I supposed to save for college or buy the latest outfits? I mean, Buffy needs help, thats as plain as Martha Stewart, but you really dont need me, do you?
Xander patted her on the shoulder. If you cant make it, you cant make it. Its all right. Listen, when the vampires start looking for someone to blame for last weeks disaster, make sure to have a lot of stakes handy. I hear theyre allergic.
She hit him in the arm. You would use fear as a motivator, wouldnt you? God, I dont know why I let you hang around me.
Willow coughed, a sound that, to the ear, resembled the word masochist.
Giles clapped his hands for attention. Right then, are we decided? He looked at them one at a time, pausing only for an answering nod. Fine. Oz, will it be all right if we use your van?
The Oz van? exclaimed Cordelia. Do you mind if we hose it down first?
I was at a car wash just last week, Oz countered.
I think she means the inside, explained Xander.
Oz pondered this for a moment, then said, Oh.
Okay, well meet here tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.? Pack light, please, its not an R.V. And yes, Cordelia, I am directing that request in your direction. Giles ignored her resulting frown.
So were leaving on the Buffy quest tomorrow? asked Xander.
Thats right, replied Giles.
Whos gonna tell Mom?
* * *
The other girls tried to interest Buffy in a poker game, but she shrugged them off politely and retreated to her bunk, which had a serviceable mattress, an improvement over the hard ground she had slept on the night before. She lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the anger to pass.
Im not gone from Sunnydale a week, and already strangers know who I am. What, do I have a big Slayer sign on my forehead? Why cant I just leave all that behind for a while? Dont I get time off for good behaviour? Saving the world has to win you some brownie points with somebody.
Even wars end, she muttered to herself. In the ceiling she could see random faces, Willow, Xander, Giles, Kendra, Angel, Spike, her mother. That last one hurt more than she would have thought. For a precarious second, she almost allowed herself to face the whole thing, her situation, her responsibilities, her reasons for leaving, her fears, her hopes, everything.
She sat up abruptly. If I cant sleep, I might as well walk.
Outside, the stars in the sky twinkled heedlessly above her. Off to the west, clouds were approaching, but she couldnt tell if they were light or dark. The fairgrounds were quiet, the day done, and the gypsy-like residents of the carnival home in their trailers, doing the sort of things you would expect of any community: watching television, reading books, listening to music, making love, whispering secrets, spreading gossip, and planning mayhem and destruction.
In that order, usually.
She moved on towards the midway.
After wandering around the silent, unmoving rides, she found herself in front of the Ferris Wheel. Thats something she missed; riding in a ferris wheel. She remembered doing it once as a child, a ten-year-old girl at the carnival with her father. The day had been bright and colourful, and she couldnt remember a moment when she wasnt smiling, or giggling at a ridiculous thing her father said, pointing at cute older boys and saying, How about that one, Buffy, want me to set you up? He might want to kiss you, though. And she would laugh and stick out her tongue, saying, Dad, boys are disgusting. I sure wouldnt want to kiss one. He brought her up to the ferris wheel, and teased her about having to be her date, since she didnt like any of the boys he had lined up for her. They got in the basket and he locked the arm, telling her not to rock the boat, and what did he do once they were up in the air? He rocked it back and forth just to hear her happy scream, laughing as she punched him repeatedly in the chest, saying, stop it, stop it, Ill never go on a date with you again, and that seemed to work.
Too well, she thought, looking up at the dark, skeletal wheel. The topmost basket was rocking. She frowned. There wasnt any wind. None of the other baskets were rocking. In the silence of night, Buffy heard a wet sound, like something, a bone perhaps, snapping.
She was all too familiar with that sound. Moving back several feet to get a better view, she squinted up at the topmost basket.
Looking down at her was a vampire.
Buffy made a frustrated noise and ran up to the base of the wheel.
Youre going to climb this, Buffy?
A muffled scream.
All signs point to yes.
She started up, surprised to find that the collection of struts, braces, and rivets provided plenty of handholds. Her Slayer agility speeded her ascent, as she swung upwards from one support bar to another like an Olympic gymnast. She reached the main girder that held the topmost basket and quickly climbed up, slowing as she approached her destination. There were no sounds from above, and she took a quick look down.
The wild assortment of girders and bars looked like a game of steel pick-up sticks. Falling would not be good. Duh. She glanced back up at the basket, which was rocking slowly. Off in the distance, thunder rumbled. Great, a thunderstorm, too. Maybe Spike and Drusilla will drop by to make things interesting. She pulled herself up, grasped the edge of the basket railing and leaped in.
Buffy had joined a young girl, who at one time had been alive, but with her throat torn open like a candy wrapper and her neck at such an odd angle, that was no longer the case. But no vampire. She looked around quickly and saw a black form scoot along the connecting girder to the next basket.
Monkeybars you want, monkeybars it is. She climbed out of the basket and started along the girder, which was nearly wide enough to walk on, if you were accustomed to tightropes. She felt a few drops of rain fall, and groaned.
Hey, fang-boy! she called. Why are you running away? Too much perfume? Not enough deodorant?
The vampire had reached the next basket and crouched there, watching her approach. The few drops became several, then hundreds, then thousands. The steel was slippery, but it was the soaking she was getting that was really annoying her. She got to within five feet, and stood up on the girder, pulling the stake from her holster. The rain fell around her, and over the next hill, she could see lightning strike.
You look like you need a hug, she said, jumping into the basket and tackling him against the seat. He pushed her away and stood up.
The vampire swung a fist, which she blocked easily, kicking him in the side. There wasnt a lot of room in the basket, which was now rocking dangerously. Buffy grabbed the safety bar for some balance, ignoring the rain, and the vampire came at her, pushing her body against the bar.
She wriggled the stake out from between their bodies and raised it up. That made the vampire jump back from her, landing on the far end of the seat. She regained her balance, grabbed his hand, and used her momentum to swing the vampire around, slamming him into the bar. With her foot, she unlocked the bar, and the undead creature fell out of the basket. This made the basket rock so wildly that Buffy rolled out as well, grabbing the slippery bar in time to prevent herself from tumbling to the ground below.
She looked down and saw the vampire had caught a strut just ten feet down, and was inching his way down to the center of the wheel.
Leaving so soon? Dont you want a goodnight kiss?
A flash of lightning illuminated the carnival, and the thunder hit three seconds after. Suddenly she realized that the Ferris Wheel was the tallest thing around. And it was metal. One big lightning rod. With a panicked gasp, she swung herself over to the main girder and descended with all the speed she dared to make. Going down was harder than coming up.
She slid down a strut and swung over to a lower bar. Looking down, she realized that she couldnt see the vampire. Forget the vamp, lets get the hell off this wheel. She dropped to another strut, inched along it, reached out for the next foothold, reaching, reaching, where is that damn thing, oh, there it is.
Lightning. Thunder, two seconds later. Her left hand lost its grip on the bar, and she flailed for a second before finding another bar. Finally she reached one of the lower girders, and she scooted along it.
A fist came from the darkness, knocking her back off the girder, and she fell four feet before stopping abruptly. One hand, her hand, now holding a rivet, kept her from falling the remaining twenty feet. She flailed again, reaching for something, anything, and lightning struck again. She saw the vampire standing above her with a toothy grin, bending down towards her handhold. There has to be another rivet somewhere, come on, its either the fall or the electrocution, but lets get it over with.
Crying out in triumph, Will swung down from a higher bar and knocked the vampire off his feet. The demon slid to the bottom of the girder, where he shook his head, laughed, and continued his descent.
The next lightning flash allowed Buffy to see Wills outstretched hand. Take it, lets go.
She grabbed it and he pulled her up. The electricity in the air was palpable; Wills hair was trying to stand on end. They moved down the girder, helping each other down to the next strut, and the next. Buffy felt her stomach suddenly fold in on itself. They were still twelve feet from the ground.
Jump! she yelled, and they leaped for the muddy ground below; it rushed at them, but not fast enough for Buffy, whose mind was babbling, ground is safe, ground is good, ground is not metal. They landed one-two, splashing into the mud with the grace of natural acrobats, rolling away from the wheel.
Behind them, lightning struck the Ferris Wheel with a WHAP!, knocking Will and Buffy back another few feet. The electricity ran through the steel like wildfire, lighting it up with a blue intensity before finding the ground it so eagerly sought.
They sat there in the mud catching their breath before Will finally said, So, Slayer, what else do you do for fun?
She tossed a handful of mud at him.
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