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"But lead me to Orleans and I will show you the signs I was sent to make."
--Joan of Arc, 1429


"Do not go to Missouri."

But you've never listened to Wes before, and why would you start now? Merrick was different; Merrick had been there and done that, whatever the job was. This kid is just...a kid, no better than you are, no kind of counselor. Hey, Wesley -- Watch this.

So you go. Not because you've heard of the vampire with the cloven hands and the alligators -- bad skin and weird playmates are par for the course when it comes to vampires, and you're bored with them, frankly, although you never complain. Why bother? At least it's what you're good at. It's what you know.

No, you ditch the Greyhound to Cleveland you were supposed to take and get on one going to St. Louis instead. By the time Wesley notices, you will have proved yourself right. Again.

You take the wrong bus because of the cult -- the Church of Christ Impassioned. Now that's news.

You've heard them called plenty of things: the Judas Knights is the prettiest of the names, although not the most complimentary. Golgothics, mainly, after the Place of Skulls, which you've heard of because of the band, Golgotha Tenement Blues. They had a song on the Crow soundtrack.

They serve the vampires, you've heard. They have it in their heads that this daddy vamp with the alligators is some kind of test, some scourge sent by God to test their faith, and they go way, way off the deep end with this What Would Jesus Do? business, to the point of making modern-day saints out of his human victims. You've heard the really inspired Golgothics get together in the parks at night and hold suicide services, singing and praying until the vampires finish their evening coffee and get around to showing up to suck them dry.

This blows your mind. Part of you thinks the whole story is probably an urban legend, but the rest of you has no doubt that humans living in conquered territory could go just that batshit. Which, you've got to admit, would be at least

Anyway, you've been to Cleveland twice already, and you're getting sick of it. You're thinking about making a rule: no saving any city more than twice. More than twice, and they're obviously just begging for it. You think of it as thinning the gene pool. Hell, there are always going to be vampires; maybe your job is just to make sure they're feeding off people who have no place better to go than...Cleveland. You know, losers.

Besides, there are dreams, which you haven't told Wesley, because you like calling your own shots; you might go where the dreams lead you, but damned if you're gonna cop to that in front of Mary Poppins. Not dreams so much, just -- voices. Voices that hover in your ears as you come slowly awake in the afternoons, saying, You are needed. There are signs in Missouri. Follow them.

So what the hell. Someplace different for a change. Mad cultists, that's a new one on you, and though you know damn well what Wesley would say about your plan to treat these Vichy humans just like the vampires whose boots they licked...well, that's the thing about Wesley, isn't it? He's got all these rules, all this philosophy,
but at the end of the night, you're the one who has to live or die by the choices you make.

At the end of the night, it's all about the Slayer. You're seventeen years old, you're ruthless and beautiful, and you go where you damn well please. What's he gonna do, send you to bed without supper when you get home?

Fuck him. Fuck them all. You have a crossbow strapped to your back under your jacket, you have three twenty-dollar bills and a bus ticket in your pocket, and this could be your last day on earth.

Or not. Either way, it's nobody's damn business but yours and your victims'.


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging...the right of the
people peaceably to assemble...."

They've turned out in droves to see you; most of them have brought their lunches, like it's a fucking picnic up here. The place is called Cahokia Mounds, and you get that there used to be some Indian sun temple up on this hill, which sounds about right to you, because it's hotter than hell up here at high noon. You're sweating, and the sweat keeps settling, stinging, into the fresh cuts along your scalp -- for which, by the way, some of these people are going to pay in hell.

Once you figure a way out of these chains. You're lashed with solid iron to a block of concrete, and they've all come to gawk at you, climbing forever up the steps carved into the temple hill, past cross after cross planted into the ground. At least you're pretty fucking sure none of these people are vamps.

They're worse, as far as you're concerned. Vampires are like roaches; they do their thing, and you do yours. Nothing personal, even though your thing happens to be stepping on them until they go squish. But these people, these people have no fucking excuse.

Regardless of the heat, the bigwigs of the Church of Christ Impassioned are all tricked out, the Elders in their black suits and ties, the Deacons wearing rougher gear, leather and tough paramilitary blacks, with those trademark silver skulls pinned on their shoulders and Beretta nine mils holstered by their sides. These people put on a hell of a show, you've got to give them that.

A few of them are women, maybe one in six. Mostly, the women are in civilian clothes -- sundresses and sandals, fanning themselves casually with paper plates, running this bullshit trial like an ice cream social. They're probably all named Betty, you think nastily. Betty Jean, Betty Jo, Betty Louise, and Betty Michelle, the church
decorating committee. Fucking whores, in their pink lipsticks and barrettes and the straps of their slips showing ever so demurely from under the straps of their dresses. Yeah, you remember when you had nothing better to do than accessorize, too. It was a long time ago, and anyway, you were fifteen, for Christ's sake. You got over it.

She's in the crowd, too, close to the front. She stands out among the wives and daughters; her shirt is a little black baby t, her skirt bright yellow and short, and she's barefoot. You don't look straight at her, but you can feel her eyes on you. You don't really know whose side she's on anymore, and frankly, you don't give a fuck.

Or you wouldn't, if it hadn't been for....

You don't give a fuck. If you did, you'd look her way, and you haven't yet. Ergo, no.

They have a whole song and dance, lots of praying, lots of Bible verses -- not the ones you would have picked. There's plenty of blood and warfare in the Bible, as you recall from Sunday School back when your father was around and liked you all to go As A Family every week, but they're sticking tight to the Jesus stuff, which,
to their credit, does have a continuing "trial" theme. Gethsemane, Judas, Pilate, give us Barabbas, yadda yadda. Eventually they get off their asses and ask some questions.

Buffy, you tell them. The Vampire Slayer. This seems to blow their tiny minds, and there's some more feverish praying, and then they push you on it. Have you come to make war on Kakistos and his regime? Well, yeah, that's pretty much the gig. Slay-er, The. To slay. She who does the slaying.

It's hot, and a lot of what follows gets confused in your head. Why? they want to know.



You're the Slayer, you insist. You have to. You were called....

By God?

No. Yes -- you don't know. By the Powers that Be.

Do you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel and Jesus, the Christ, the son of the living God?

No. Yes. Maybe. You break at that point and look at her, the girl with the thorns tattooed around her arm, the girl with the soft brown hair. She's looking at the ground. She can't see you. You look away again. Fuck her, too.

You believe in vampires, you say. You believe if there's a God, he's got to be on our side. There's no vampires in the fucking Bible, are you right?

Your mistake, obviously. Back they go into the Bible, and you're dying up here from the fucking heat, sweat in your eyes, sweat everywhere, your knees shaking from holding yourself up and all this metal, too, while they're droning on and on. You close your eyes, listening for the first time, just to take your mind off your discomfort. Daughters of Jerusalem, someone is ranting, and you open your eyes just a tiny bit, and this time she's looking at you, and it hurts like hell for just a second, to see her eyes. You both look away at the same time. ...but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.'

And it goes on. Why do you do what you do? Who are you? Who sent you here? What are you? Why are you here?

Eventually you're so hot and miserable that you'll say anything that comes to mind, and so you tell them about the dreams. About Merrick. Wesley. You tell them of other vampires you've killed, how you did it, anything you can think of. It would help if they'd let you know what they're looking for.

They take a break after a while, and they let someone bring you a drink. It's her. She holds a freshly opened, sweaty can of Diet Coke, which strikes you as pretty fucking amusing. Yeah, with as many calories as you've sweated out of your system today, you're not worried about your diet. You can see that her bruises have faded some, but mostly they're just covered over with makeup. If she sold you out, she sure better be getting a good price.

"I'm sorry," she mumbles, and you're feeling pissy and tired of being caged up, so you're not really giving a flying fuck about what they think of you right now. You lean in, and you kiss her. She drops the soda, but she doesn't pull away until somebody else jerks her off by her arm, and they all start praying for you again. Several of the women catch hold of her and hustle her away, you can't know where to. It doesn't matter; she can't possibly matter to you. How many things really have, in your life? Mostly just the kill, and she's not a part of that, never could be.

They want to know where you came from. They want to know who sent you. They want to know what right you have to come here and start killing.

Fuck you, you're screaming suddenly, full of an angry enthusiasm you wouldn't have thought you had the energy left for. Fuck all of them -- you go where you damn well want to go, you're a Vampire Slayer, you were born for this, the one girl in all the goddamn motherfucking world who can save their miserable asses.

You've really sent them into orbit now. They don't even know what to do with you, as you thrash in your chains and scream at them, call them cowards and demon ass-kissers and murdering mutant trash, a disgrace to the species.

Do you believe in God, they say again, like they're going to hit reset and go again from the beginning.

Yes! you scream -- for fuck's sake, yes, you believe in the Powers That Be, you know you were chosen, you know God wants you to kill them all, every last filthy, roach-brained, murdering leech, and you will, you'll kill them all or you'll die trying.

It's what you know. It's all you know. Slayer, you. You, Slayer. Fight, die.

It's your God, your only God. And you believe. Oh, yeah.


"Stop! You're going to get her killed!"

You've only been in St. Louis a couple of days, and you've figured out that the rumors are as true as rumors get. Kakistos is one tough son of a bitch; you're looking forward to fighting him, actually, but he's being half smart, throwing truckloads of lackeys at you first, probably to get a feel for what you can do. Maybe just to keep your hands full until he can put some kind of plan into action. You've seen the smart ones act this way before.

The spooky thing is these goddamn Golgothics, their sleek-looking Elders preaching from every other street corner about Blessed are those who are persecuted and blessed are the peacemakers, talking about if this cannot pass until I drink it, your will be done. Bunch of other-cheek claptrap, and mostly people walk on by, heads down, maybe throwing a buck or two at their feet as they go. Nobody heckles, though, because of the Deacons. They're fucking everywhere, covering the city better than the cops ever could have, serious-eyed, seriously armed. Keeping everything peaceful. Bless 'em.

It gives you the wig. Religion is one thing; it's cherry to keep a cross handy at all times, once a city goes bad like this. Hell, you wouldn't leave home without one, and fine, you like the bit about the prodigal son, you always liked that one. But this is just...beyond the creep. You don't trust these bastards, blazoned with the skulls and the silver CCI.

At least you can see 'em coming.

You get some shit done. You make sure Kakistos hears your name. You lay the groundwork. Basically, you do your job, and you don't let yourself think about how it gets harder every year, how there seem to be more of them this month alone than ever before. How you're losing, even with every fight you win.

And you think all the time you can see them coming, but it turns out you can't, and you walk right into their trap.

There's this library, a big two-part stone building, and a walkway in between, covered by a big arch, very Goth. You've been past it several times. The last time, there's something going down, bringing in the crowds, and you wade in to check it out. It's about three in the afternoon.

Two Elders and two Deacons at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the library doors, and they've got this girl ringed around, with nowhere to go but up the steps. She's about your age, but dark-haired, and she's fucking gorgeous, even though she's pale like old ashes. She's got jeans that are almost worn through, worn white in spots, and a bra top that makes you so jealous of her tits you could just kill something, and a nice leather jacket. She's scared as hell of whatever she can see with every glance she throws over her shoulder, and after a couple of seconds, you recognize her. She bummed some change from you the other day, for coffee. You talked with her.

It takes you a minute to see what she sees, but it's under the arch, in the shadows. It's not pretty -- and those aren't hands. Mr. Kakistos, charmed, you're sure.

They're backing her up, closing in until she steps backwards and stumbles on the bottom step. She's no more got her feet back under her than one of the Deacons smashes the butt of his gun across her cheek, and she crumples. You jump, surprised. No one else watching seems surprised.

Get up, they demand, and she does. So they hit her again.

It goes on like that for a minute, maybe two, while you watch, paralyzed with amazement. One of them is ranting, calling her names, calling her a sinner and a traitor and the devil's bitch, and it goes on and on, over and over. Hit, fall, crawl away. Get up! She gets up, nose bleeding, gash on her temple bleeding, shaking all over,
looking at what they're pushing her toward.

Him. It. Suddenly, you come out of your little coma, and you start shoving through the crowd. "Stop!" you order. "Hey, stop it -- leave her alone! Can't you see you assholes are going to get her killed?"

Nobody tries to stop you. That should have tipped you off. You get all the way through the crowd, which is probably thirty or more strong by now, and you throw a right hook at this moron with the gun that ought to smash the holy hell out of his jaw, and you break right through their line and crouch down over the girl, who's lying almost on the top step, just two or three yards from where the vampire is lurking in the safety of the shade.

You have time to wipe the blood from her nose with your sleeve and slip your arm under her shoulders. "It's okay," you say, throwing a glare at the Golgothics. "We're not hanging around here anymore."

The sting on the back of your neck has your fingers and toes tingling and going numb before you realize you've been shot up with something. You try to move, but you're rigid and clumsy, and worst of all, you can feel your heartbeat getting slower and slower.

Worse than the worst.... Worst, you see them step right past you, offering hands to the bloodied girl, helping her to her feet. She looks down at you, and you get it. You took the bait, didn't you? Hook, line, sinker.

Move her quickly, someone orders. The paralyzing agent won't hold her for long -- not if she's what she claims to be.

Better fucking believe it, asshole, you think as somebody grabs you by your arms, someone else around your calves

As you're losing consciousness, you catch a glimpse of her being led away, an Elder's arm around her shoulders, and you see her looking back at you, frowning.

You have to wonder if this is one of those signs they promised you. If it is, you don't know where it's supposed to lead you.


"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me."

"So tell me about this church," you ask, dumping more sugar into your coffee, as you catch her looking out the window, at an Elder preaching across the street.

She shrugs gracefully; damn, she's a honey. You wish that you weren't on a schedule, here. "They think that we should handle the vampires the way Jesus handled his enemies."

"Like...passive resistance?"

"Like, trust God." The way she says it, you can't tell if she thinks it's bullshit or not. You can tell she thinks it's a death sentence, but she seems pretty bland about that.

"Who buys into this? I mean -- not everybody. How many of them are there?"

The girl looks at you, and you get a sudden sense of banked fire, of something deep in hibernation under the surface of her. "Enough that no resistance against the vampires in this town lasts long."

"What do they -- do they...kill them? The ones who fight back?"

She looks down into her coffee, her face darkened and blank. "They say if the city is pure, then God will strike down our enemies."

"That's crazy," you insist, flatly. Inside, you're thinking, it's more than crazy. It's scary as hell. Because...if these are the humans...if this is what hides under the smiles and the have-a-nice-day of these regular, midwestern human beings...then what have you been called to do? Who are you busting your ass trying to save, anyway?

What's the whole point

She shrugs again, and you notice an odd accent in her dull voice. Southie? She's a long way from home. But then, so are you. "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."

You leave, not long after that. She watches you go, and you get the definite feeling that she's wishing she could get the hell out of here as easily as you can.

You're tempted to double back and explain to her that she wouldn't want to live like you do. Not that you're unhappy, but...but then, you were built for this, weren't you? You're not wired to live like humans do. She's just some girl, some street kid with whatever her normal problems are, and you are the Slayer.

That has to be true. It has to be true that humans are the victims and vampires are the enemy, and it has to be true that you're more than just a cop, more than some comic-book reject vigilante. You have to be different from all of them, because otherwise...why would you ever do the things you do? Why would you keep on living this life?


"Take me with you."

You come to behind bars, and your head hurts like a stone bitch. On the one hand, it's nice not to be dead, but on the other hand, you're feeling a little too strung out to jump up and down with glee at the prospect of facing whatever it is they have lined up for you. Alligators, whatever. You just want a shower and a hamburger, and then you want to call Wesley and have him wire you the money for a bus ticket home. That's one nice thing about a Watcher; he's the guy who has to take you back, no matter how crappy you treat him.

You expect Golgothics, you're even braced for vampires. But she's the one who shows up. Someone opens a metal door and she slips in. You can hear the door lock behind her, leaving you both in this empty cement room, a set of bars between you.

She crosses her arms in front of her, almost nervously. You notice a tattoo around her arm, a ring of thorns. There are bruises on her face; that beating she took was for real, anyway.

"Well?" you finally say. "What do you want?"

"I want you to take me with you when you escape," she says bluntly, and it makes you grin. Good girl. Knows the score. No fucking way these meatballs are going to keep a Slayer penned up like veal.

"You set me up," you remind her.

She takes a step toward you, and that thing you saw sleeping, it's waking up now. Something in her eyes, something dangerous. "I converted. It was that or die with...with my friends. But I'm not like the Judas Knights. I'm what you are."

You laugh, nastily. "Little girl, no one is what I am, okay?"

"I used to fight them. I've slayed vampires." She throws her head back, proud. Hell, you like her. She has style.

"Doesn't make you a Slayer," you say, though. "You couldn't keep up with me."

"I want--"

"Listen to the sound of my voice, Little Miss Xena. I don't care what you want. I'm the Slayer. I work alone."

She comes closer, right up to the bars, and she takes hold of them, her face close enough to yours that you can smell her, spring rains and secondhand smoke. "You came here for a reason. You had to."

You don't know what to say to that. Did you come here for a reason? You can't even remember now. Maybe it was just to spite Wes.

Then it comes back to you -- signs. There should be signs.

She's a little taller than you are. She reaches through the bars, and for some reason you don't spook away, like you normally do from people touching you. For some reason, you let her put her arms around you through the bars, and her head down against your chest. Her hair is amazingly soft under your chin, and you touch her back carefully.

For just one moment, almost a split-second, you keenly feel the loss of the life you thought you were doing just fine without. You remember what it was like to have friends, to sleep in comfortable beds instead of on buses and in YWCA hostels, to feel excited about the idea of getting naked, instead of vaguely unsafe. You remember that you were human once. That once you weren't alone.

And you hold on to this stranger, tighter and tighter, until she almost can't breathe, but she still won't pull away. Maybe she is what you are -- seventeen, ruthless, beautiful, free. Slayer, a. One who does the slaying.

Maybe she's exactly what you are. Dream-plagued, vision-ridden. Alone. Nothing to live for but the hope of dying for a reason.

Maybe if you kissed her...maybe if you fell for her...maybe if you took her to Cleveland with you....

They pull her away, right out of your arms. They're armed with nets and tasers and nightsticks, and they open the gate. You fight, like you're supposed to, and it's not until one of those fucking sticks hits you hard across the back of the head that pain makes you stumble and slow down long enough to really cost.


"For Kakistos, you will die."

You were right; Kakistos turns out to be one ugly mother, and you don't just mean his face. But you do okay. It takes a little too long to adjust to the alligators; you have to go at them differently than you would a vamp. Unfortunately, you're a little slow figuring that out, and you almost got your head eaten off. As it is, your head's in place, but it feels like someone split your face down the middle and tried to peel it off.

It turned into a regular core meltdown, and the whole city seems to be in the streets rioting -- Golgothics and vampires and regular people and the few cells of vampire hunters that had managed to slip in under the Golgothics' radar. By the time you push off the manhole cover and crawl up to the surface somewhere around
Laclede's Landing, you just know Wesley's never going to let you live this one down.

You gasp so hard for a breath of clean, moving air that you make a sound that's almost a shriek. God, you hate this underground shit. You get yourself up onto solid ground, and you pull her up after you.

Her eyes are still open, and every now and then she blinks. Every now and then she coughs up blood. She's alive, even though she can't move. You've been dragging her for probably a mile and a half, and with everything on her busted, ripped, or pulled out of joint, you know she must be in pain like you can't even imagine. You keep expecting her to pass out, but she hasn't yet.

You spread her out flat on the ground, a mockery of making her comfortable. She blinks at you. You blink back.


It only takes a glance around at the chaos to make you understand that there's nowhere to go for help. If the ER's aren't barricaded closed, they just won't have the time or the manpower to do a thing for her.

At least she's not going to die in the alligator pits. At least you didn't leave her behind in the place where the goddamn Judas Knights sent you to die.

You still can't believe she followed you down there -- or you wouldn't believe it, if you hadn't seen her fight, seen that fiery thing blaze out and light her up. You wonder who she was seeing as she killed them; for you, it was that first vampire, the one who killed Merrick, for more than a year. Now you see nothing but blips on a screen, moving bodies, moving weapons. But this girl -- she has a name, she said it was Faith -- but Faith still fought with blowtorch, meteorite fury, haloed with her own hate, beautiful within it somehow.

She was good. But not good enough. She couldn't dodge what you could, and couldn't keep up through the pain. She's going to die in the middle of the street, you know. Right now.

And she looks like hell, and you know you do, too, with black and drying blood on every part of you both. But you remember when you caught sight of her during the fight, and she saw you, too, and she smiled. God. What a smile.

You talk to her, because you don't know what else to do; you're trained to kill, this is beyond you. You tell her she was great. Brave. You tell her about the smile thing, and that you want to bring her to Cleveland. You tell her she's going to be fine.

She dies, while she's still looking at you, her eyes glassy with pain and strangely patient all through your babbling and her dying. You're kneeling over her body, and you think you want to cry, but you don't. Can't.

You're looking down from much higher up, seeing your own blonde head bent over her, seeing you both so terribly still on the pavement.

You see it as a sign.

You see yourself never crying, not once, ever again. You know you've cried your last tear, and you can't even remember when it was.

You see your own eyes in her face, empty and staring. You know that this is all you've ever been chosen for: to die. You know that you're stronger than she was, but only by a few weeks, a few months, a year at the most. You see the signs of your own death in her dead eyes.

You see the sum of all the people who used to put their arms around you, and won't again. Your father, your mother, Merrick, Pike, even Wes, who loves you, in his own asinine way. You know you don't have the time left for a touch like that, a peaceful one. You see, also, the ghostly afterimage of the people who would have loved you, if things had been different. In her, this stranger, you see a whole life you never lived, pains and pleasures that never belonged to you.

And you see it all as a sign that your time is almost up.


"I have to believe in a better world."

Things run their course in St. Louis. You blend in with the refugees who've barricaded themselves into Union Station; you live there with them for three or four days, until the makeshift community breaks up, everybody drifting bit by bit back out into the real world to see what's still standing out there.

You try to call your Watcher, several times, but the phone lines are usually down. After a couple of days, you get so wiggy, thinking about how you could die here in St. Louis and everybody would be dragging Cleveland for your body, that you even try calling your mother. You get a line out, but she's not at the number she was at
when you lived with her, and you don't know where else to try. What would you have said to her, anyway? Remember me? How've you been? Mama, do you still love me?

You've long since lost your duffle bag and whatever cash you had left in it. You have nothing except what you've looted inside the mall.

You stand with almost every watch, all your own shifts and everyone else's, too, because you can't sleep anyway. These people aren't the ones who used to hang in the shadow of the Golgothics, and they weren't at your trial, and they have only a vague idea that you have some experience with this kind of thing. They're nice to you, in their tired way, but nobody feels too much like talking.

Some of them are afraid of you, especially the younger ones. That bite the gator took out of your face is nasty-looking, a gash right down the middle, forming a cross with your mouth. You pause almost every time you pass by a reflective window. You used to be so pretty. But it's not like you were using that smile, anyway, so, really, who gives a fuck? You're well past worrying about Friday night dates.

In weak moments, when the solitude is eating away at you in the middle of the crowd, you know Faith wouldn't have minded the scar. You think she might have bragged it up on your behalf, telling the one about the vampire who kept alligators, and how you kicked every ass in sight, vampire, alligator, whatever.

You finally get hold of Wesley, and the first thing you do is tell him you took one to the face, and you think it's going to scar. That's unfortunate, he says, and he probably means it, in a casual kind of way. He asks a lot more questions, designed to figure out whether or not you've damaged anything crucial. Anything that would make it hard to fight. That's what Wesley really cares about. Okay. It's what you really care about, too, mainly.

But you take it as another sign. Pretty is as pretty does, in your case. You'll live to fight another day, but that kiss at Cahokia Mounds was your last.


"I have to live in this one."

"We'll discuss your disobedience once you're safely home again," Wes threatens, and you smile just a little, cradling the phone closer to your face. He's such a snot when he's trying to pull rank on you that it's almost cute.

You tell him you're on your way, rubbing the bus ticket between your thumb and forefinger. Just as soon as you get done in Cleveland, you'll come on back.

But he tells you to forget Cleveland, which you're more than happy to do. California, he says, and at first you think he means Los Angeles. Maybe you'll go see her. Maybe you'll try to find your mother....

SoCal, but not L.A. Someplace called Sunnydale, sleepy little burg that's having a problem with an old Hellmouth that's not as blocked up as it used to be. You don't have directions, but you have a contact there, some librarian who used to work for the Council. Great, another booky British guy -- is that whole island full of people who sit around drinking tea and worrying about vampires?

You take up two seats on the bus, your feet up on the second. Nobody likes that very much, but Slayership has its privileges. Not many, but you're hanging on to this one. They're not going to fuck with you about it; you've had the attitude down for years, the I don't care if you live or die, so think carefully before you get friendly with me vibe, and the scar is just the scary-bitch jackpot. It's going to be a quiet trip, you think, pleased.

By the time you make Kansas, you've stopped seeing her dead body every time you close your eyes.

You pick up a new passenger in Nevada, an old black woman with a big wooden cross around her neck. You wonder what it means to her. If she'd die for it. If any of these people are willing to die for anything.

When you get off the bus in Sunnydale, it's colder than you expected it to be, and the place isn't quite as ridiculously small as you were picturing. The doors hiss as they close behind you; you're the only passenger getting off at the Sunnydale stop, imagine that.

For a moment, you stand in front of the bus station, disoriented. It strikes you that something is wrong here. It strikes you that you shouldn't have come.

You wish for a clear sky and some sun, just a little of the sun that sucked you dry at Cahokia Mounds.

You wish you'd meant what you said there. About believing. You think, you're pretty sure, you did believe it at the time. But the whole thing was just...crazy. With the heat, and the weird pseudo-Inquisition theatrics of the CCI, and her headache, and Faith. No wonder you were out of your head. It wouldn't have been surprising if you'd started speaking in tongues, you were that crackers at the time.

At the time, you believed. At the time, you were pure, chosen, heroic. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, they said to you, and you bought it, you believed that they were talking about you.

But that's just words, prayers and poetry and other forms of soothing bullshit, all the assorted works of man that help us convince each other that we're headed somewhere, that the world is going to amount to something in the end.

Hey, Jesus Christ was persecuted for righteousness, right? And here's where it landed you, all of you. This is the world he bought and paid for in blood. It's cheap as hell -- but then, so is blood.

You pull yourself together. Slayer, you. You, Slayer. It doesn't make too much difference; your death won't be any different from Faith's, no matter how much you tell yourself that it was you that got chosen, not her.

But it's all you have. And it keeps you alive, for now.