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Beyonce the Vampire Slayer

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Beyoncé was called when she was fifteen. By the time her Watcher found her, she'd already killed two vampires and accidentally crumpled a steel lamppost.

He was pushing eighty and as down-to-earth as any Watcher who'd seen twenty slayers die would have been; he told her plainly, "You're going to die soon, and you're going to die bloody."

Beyoncé didn't mind the bloody part, but she didn't really feel like dying any time soon. So she took his recommendations and did them twice over, running double what he told her, practicing for eight hours a day instead of four, and living and breathing her slaying. As more and more Slayers were called, the world became more visibly chaotic. It shouldn't have been possible that vampires and demons would multiply along with the swelling ranks of Slayers, but that's what was happening. Evil was fighting back.

By the time she was twenty, she'd been tapped by the Council to participate in their mentoring program. When she was twenty-three, they sent her to New York. It had always been a hub for evil activity, of course, but now the frequency and severity of events was getting exponentially worse.

So she was in the city when music mogul Jay-z's new prodigy got onstage and broke her mike into too many bits to count.

According to the Council's report, the girl had just laughed. "She will require a strong hand and strict training," the report said. "Caution is recommended with her mentor as his participation in the Council's efforts to establish a United States base is integral to the program."

Beyoncé didn't think her style counted as strict, but the Council had been a little kiss-ass since she'd threatened to personally punch holes in the fuel tanks of every single one of their planes, so she didn't bother pointing out that discrepancy to them.

Her main problem, then, wasn't getting to the girl. It was her new Watcher.

To his credit, Kanye was a nice guy. He was very earnest and passionate about what he did. But he was incredibly defensive of her, and instead of offering her criticism on her training methods, he tended to stand on top of the balance beam and clap. It was very affirming, but not all that useful.

And as it turned out, he was also somewhat obsessed with Jay-z – for values of "somewhat" that translated to "off the charts and in the stars somewhere".

"Look," Beyoncé said the fourth time he got glassy-eyed and started swaying, "I like the guy's music too, but he's -" arrogant, and probably dangerous – "someone we're going to have to deal with in a professional context, so calm down, okay? I've seen ten apocalypses and you're scaring me a little."

"I'm going to sit at the same table as Jay-z," Kanye said. "We're going to be best friends. What should I wear? Think he'll give me a record deal, or will he just keep me around to rap at him all the time? I should bring a sword, shouldn't I? I bet he'll like a sword. Will you catch me a pet demon? I bet that would impress the shit out of him."

"Kanye!"

"I'll go catch a demon. Demons totally want to hang with me. Everyone wants to hang with me. Jay will want to hang with me."

Beyoncé put her head in her hands. "Life was easier when I was trying to stop Rush from opening a hole in this dimension and bringing an army of Republicans back with him," she told the floor.

Kanye stopped raving. For a moment, Beyoncé thought she was saved. But then Kanye said, "I bet Jay would love me if I told him I was the reason Obama was elected. I canvassed for him."

"You told people demons would eat them if they voted for John McCain."

"Same thing. He'll love me. Who doesn't love me?"

"Demons," Beyoncé said. "And I'm going to feed you to them."

"We've been over this, B. If a vampire tried to eat me, my blood would make it explode. From awesome."

The only thing stopping Beyoncé from petitioning for a new Watcher sometimes was the knowledge that Kanye really could fight his way through a crowd of vamps. Most Watchers couldn't even take out one. Still – "Someday you're going to realize you're not as great as you think you are, and then you're going to cry."

"I'll realize I'm greater and throw a party." Kanye strapped stakes to his wrists. "All right, let's do this thing."

They left the motel room to hail a taxi, Jay-z's address on a paper in Beyoncé's hand.

||

The house wasn't a house, really: it was a massive mansion on the outskirts of New York City. A real, actual butler met them at the door, taking Kanye's coat (and glaring when Beyoncé refused to relinquish hers) and saying, "The master will be with you shortly. If you have weapons – guns, knives – I'm afraid I'll have to take them now."

"No weapons," Beyoncé said. It was partly true; she didn't have guns and she hadn't brought any of her knives. Of course, she had five stakes on her and her own bare hands – but she was what she was.

"Then allow me to show you to the sitting room," the butler said, and did just that. When they were seated, he excused himself with an exorbitantly long sentence and left, closing the door behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Beyoncé let herself say what had been running through her mind since the second the door had opened. "What the hell?"

"He's so amazing," Kanye said excitedly. "Do you think he'll have his guys rough us up a little?"

"Dear God, I hope so," Beyoncé said. A fight might make her feel more balanced. "This is a damn circus. He needs to just give me my Slayer."

"She's not yours," a voice said.

If Beyoncé hadn't been so used to surprises that it was virtually impossible to actually surprise her anymore, she would have jumped. He had cameras or mics, then – or both. Fine. "Are you trying to claim she's yours? The magic that's got ahold of her is older than you can even imagine. If you don't let me teach her -"

"Yeah, yeah. Look, we're going to have this conversation face to face. Ten doors down, up to the third floor, turn right, five more doors. See you soon."

Silence. Beyoncé doubted the butler was going to come back to repeat the directions. "Stupid son of a bitch," she muttered. His voice had been just as arrogant as the worst of the barely-resurrected Watcher's Council.

Kanye didn't respond. He didn't really look like he could; he was completely dazed.

"Augh," Beyoncé said, and stood. Fine, she'd play his game. And when she actually found him, she'd punch him through a wall.

She counted doors and climbed the stairs as quickly as she could. Kanye was following her without speaking. The last time she'd seen Kanye this starstruck, he'd been watching her slay for the first time. Maybe she was the one who wasn't as great as she thought she was.

The hallways were sparsely decorated. Everything was dark and heavy, like he'd wanted to make it as stereotypically masculine as possible – but the lack of actual decoration made it look half-finished, like there wasn't any heart to it. Of course, that carelessness made it even more intimidating. The music industry bastards did that with everything.

She finally came to a halt outside the biggest door yet. Very Freudian, she thought, and raised a hand to knock.

The door swung inward of its own accord.

"Beyoncé the Vampire Slayer," that same arrogant voice said.

She couldn't stop herself from laughing. The dark walls, the enormous mahogany desk, the two chairs sitting behind it – "Seriously? Are you joking with this shit? Nice dick substitution. Very subtle. You should add some antlers on the wall."

"Oh, it's not substitution." Jay-z smirked. He was wearing huge sunglasses, and his fingers were covered in rings. He looked ridiculous – but Beyoncé wasn't stupid enough to look away.

"Oh my God," Kanye said faintly behind her.

His starstruck tone shook her out of her reverie. "Okay, you've got a big dick. Give me the girl." At this point, she was a little worried about the girl herself. This guy probably couldn't take care of a goldfish, much less a teenage girl.

"She's not here, actually," Jay-z said.

"Where is she?"

Jay-z shrugged. "Fighting demons."

For a second all she could think about was being fifteen again, one of the first Slayers the Council had been able to grab before the newly formed Slayer's Legion could get to her – tossed out into an arena without any training and told to dust the vampires surrounding her. "You stupid fuck."

"Beyoncé!" Kanye sounded like someone had put a gun to his forehead.

But Jay-z didn't even blink. "What, you think I'm an idiot? She's been getting hand-to-hand lessons since the day she broke her mic. And she's out there with five ex-military guys. I'm not as shady as your Watcher's Council, Slayer."

She didn't stare. Barely. "And you want to create your own American Watcher's Council? Nice hypocrisy, there."

"She doesn't mean it," Kanye said quickly.

"I do," Beyoncé said. "Come on, Mr. Carter. Give it up. You just want more people under your thumb."

And just like that, Jay-z's attitude fell away. "I can't control the Watcher's Council," he said. "And you think I didn't research the shit they do? I read up on you. She's not going through that. Any of it. If I found an American branch of the Council, I get a say in the shit they do and Rihanna gets their info and power. It's that simple." He leaned back, smirking again. "I don't need another Mafia. I've already got one."

It was a good argument – well, the parts that weren't egotistical bullshit. The Watcher's Council had survived being blown up by the First, but only barely. These days, the Slayer's Legion – with the oldest Slayers at its head – were plenty powerful. But the Council still had all kinds of knowledge that no one else in the world had, and they'd make new Slayers like Rihanna hurt as much as they could. Those two facts were the reason Beyoncé stayed with them, struggling to keep them from controlling her and others; she couldn't fault Jay-z for doing the same.

"Okay," she said. "That's a great plan. But I've done my reading on you, too."

"Have you."

"You do have a Mafia," Beyoncé said. "For god's sake, you call your people 'la familia'. There are all kinds of rumors about how you treat other rappers. I'm not sure I want you controlling what Rihanna learns."

"Now, come on," Jay-z said. "I don't treat my family wrong. Rihanna won't ever be hurt by an American Council. I'll - "

"Okay." A new voice rang throughout the room. "That is the last time I let your military assholes follow me. They shot the demon, Jay. I have demon guts all over me."

Beyoncé turned to look at the Slayer. Rihanna was standing with her hands on her hips, looking supremely pissed. She dressed flashily, her hair styled into the kind of punkish look Beyoncé never would've attempted even as a teenager. And she was covered, head to toe, in fluorescent blue goo. The 'guys' Jay-z had sent – only one of which was actually male – were standing behind her, all of them stifling grins.

She was surprised to hear Jay-z laugh. "You should've gotten out of the way. Aren't you supposed to have superspeed?"

"I'm not the Flash," Rihanna grumbled. She walked over to the table and picked a seat near Jay-z, plopping her gooey self into the leather chair. She nodded at Beyoncé. "New singer?"

"New Slayer," Jay-z said. "This is Beyoncé."

"Huh." Bright eyes looked her over. "Is she good enough?"

"Haven't seen her in action."

"Why not? We've got five people. They could do it."

Beyoncé's perception of them was changing by the second. There was none of Kanye's reverence in Rihanna's voice, even though she had to have met Jay-z after he got famous. She was a new Slayer, sure, but if Jay-z had ever scared her, he sure as hell didn't now.

Good.

"I'll fight ten of your people," Beyoncé said as evenly as she could. "But if we do it in here, I'll probably break a lot of your things."

"I can afford it." Jay-z waved a hand. "Go grab five more," he told the group of five. The woman on the farthest right left the room. "You're sure you want ten?" he said, sounding amused.

Beyoncé shrugged. "I fought worse odds yesterday." Not technically true, but hey. She could play this game.

"And I don't want to be taught by a crappy Slayer," Rihanna said.

Beyoncé didn't even have a chance to tell Kanye no before he exploded. "Beyoncé isn't crappy! She's fucking amazing! She's the best!"

Rihanna laughed. "We'll see," Jay-z said as the other five entered the room.

The ten arranged themselves in a loose circle around Beyoncé. "Step back," Jay-z told Kanye.

Kanye scrambled to obey.

Beyoncé didn't let any of her consternation show on her face. She could beat them; she wasn't even considering the possibility of losing. But she wanted to do it as quickly and neatly as possible. Pretending she didn't have anything to prove would be a lie. Jay-z's sarcasm and Rihanna's suspicion made her want to fling the myth of the Slayer, the reality of the Slayer, into their faces.

"Okay, go," Jay-z said.

The second the ten of them rushed at her, Beyoncé's mind went completely blank. She'd been training for seven years now; it was hardly any time by normal standards, but half a lifetime for a Slayer. She could fight. The power in her made her need to fight. And these people – ten of them barely even made a challenge. This wasn't what she was born for, not really. This was just fun.

She disabled them in just a few minutes. She'd broken chairs over two of their heads, and she finished it by throwing the last one into a wall, knocking a huge painting down. When that guy groaned and didn't get up, she said, "I don't have tight technique compared to some Slayers. But I fight to win."

"Her," Rihanna said immediately. Her eyes were a little wide. "Her, Jay."

Jay-z clapped slowly. "Good job, Slayer."

He still sounded like a condescending bastard. "Keep this in mind," Beyoncé snapped. "I could break you without even starting to sweat."

"I like that in a lady," Jay-z said. He leaned back. "Rihanna, take her to the game room or something. I've got work to do, and it's gonna take a few days to shake a contract out of the Council."

Rihanna met Beyoncé's gaze and stood, jerking her head to Beyoncé's right. Beyoncé followed her out of the room. As she crossed the threshold, she realized Kanye hadn't followed.

"I taught her everything she knows," Kanye was saying solemnly. "Everything. She's - "

The door clicked shut.

Beyoncé shook her head. "He's insane," she said. She couldn't keep the affection out of her voice.

"Jay's got that effect on people."

"You?"

Rihanna's smile was sharp. "Nah. I have other priorities. But what about you?"

"I have other priorities," Beyoncé said as repressively as she could.

"Uh-huh." Rihanna started walking, not even looking behind her to see if Beyoncé was following.

Beyoncé, of course, was. She wasn't going to lose sight of the kid now.

They walked through hallway after hallway, both of them silent. Finally Beyoncé's big-sister instincts kicked in, compelling her to say, "It can be difficult."

"What?" Rihanna pulled out a card from her pocket and swiped it over a discreet pad next to the door.

Of course Jay-z would have ridiculous security. "Well, most things, to be honest," Beyoncé said. "But guys in particular." She hesitated. Was it cruel to keep talking? Maybe – but Rihanna should know the reality of things. She was older than Beyoncé had been when she was called, but she was still young enough for boys to be a huge thing, and Beyoncé didn't want her to lose the spark she had now, that obvious enjoyment in her power that nine out of ten guys would resent.

So she'd shoot straight. "Guys don't always like powerful girls," she said. "Especially for long-term relationships. Either they feel threatened, or they want a piece of your power. Either way, it's difficult."

They finally stepped into a room that looked like the most tricked-out arcade ever. "So," Rihanna said, going towards a door with a restroom sign on it. Beyoncé had long since stopped noticing the goo, but it was still very much present. Hopefully Jay-z's extravagance would extend to showers in his insane arcades. "You're basically telling me to love 'em and leave 'em?"

Pretty much. "Of course not," Beyoncé said. "Just...be careful, is all."

"Uh-huh." Rihanna shook her head. "I've been burned before. Don't worry about me. I'm not -"

"Don't say you're not a kid," Beyoncé said. "You are. You might not want to be, but for now, you are."

Rihanna frowned. "And, what, you think I'll stay a kid when I'm the Slayer?"

"A Slayer. And – no." She couldn't lie to Rihanna about this. No Slayer could hold onto her childhood with what they had to do.

"Right, okay." Rihanna's frown disappeared as abruptly as it had appeared. "I'll be all right, then." She ducked inside the bathroom.

The house was too well-made for Beyoncé to be able to hear the shower running, so she wandered around the arcade. It was completely over the top, like Chuck E Cheez and the world's ritziest bowling alley had mated and had a baby. She paused at the DDR machine, trying to imagine Jay-z playing it.

...nope. Was this all here for Rihanna's benefit, then? Beyoncé felt like a creep, trying to imagine what their relationship might be and coming up with nothing but echoes of her own suspicion. She didn't want to think that Jay-z would be the type to prey on young girls, if only because she didn't want to think a Slayer could be controlled that way. She could throw him across a football field if she wanted to; wasn't that insurance against being hurt?

Unless he'd somehow made her not want to defend herself. It happened; being a Slayer didn't mean being invincible, and Rihanna had been called after Jay-z had taken her under his wing. God knew enough Watchers had taken advantage of their new Slayers' vulnerability to exact all kinds of abuse. If he'd started out by hurting her...Beyoncé shook her head, trying to force her mind to stop speculating.

"What do you think?" Rihanna said a few minutes later. She was dressed again, hair slicked back. It wasn't unattractive – Rihanna was hardly the type of person whose hair could render her ugly – but it did make her look a little weird, abrupt and almost forbidding.

"It's nice," Beyoncé said. "A bit..."

"Much? Yeah, that's what I said." Rihanna shrugged. "But I mentioned wanting to go to the arcade, right, and Jay just built one in here. He said it was easier. He's crazy."

Well, then. Beyoncé couldn't even comprehend that level of...what was it? Devotion? A slavish need to keep Rihanna happy? Who the hell knew?

So she latched onto something else. "The arcade?"

"Yeah, there's one in the City, like, limits. It's kind of cool. Old, though. And dirty." Rihanna glanced at the DDR machine. "Want to play?"

She did, actually, but she knew perfectly well why Jay-z had decided to exile them to a game room. She didn't like anyone sending her off to play while the men did the important things. "I do, but not right now," she said. "I'm assuming you have a training room set up?"

"You want to train?" Rihanna pulled a face.

"Mr. Carter sent us out here because he didn't want us participating in negotiations," Beyoncé said. "His idea that we should be useless is pretty sadly mistaken."

"Jay probably just didn't want you breathing down his neck."

"I'd never get close enough to breathe down his neck," Beyoncé said before her brain had a chance to catch up with her mouth. Christ, Kanye was a bad influence. She cleared her throat. "Look, the important part is that they've shut us out. You should get used to it; that's how people normally try to handle Slayers."

"So, what, we bust the door down?"

"No. We train." Beyoncé gave into the urge to show off and leapt forward, catching herself on one arm and balancing upside down, one leg stretched straight over her and the other at a right angle to her body. "This is your power," she said. "This is the power they want. All of them. So you keep it, and you exercise it, and you get good. Then they can't control you."

When she hopped to her feet again, Rihanna's eyes were a little wide. "Right," she said finally. "Jay wouldn't control me like that."

She had her doubts, but arguing wasn't worth it. "Fine. But the others would."

For a second she thought Rihanna was going to insist on staying here – but then she turned. "Fine. It's this way."

She led them down yet another series of twisting corridors. He had to have designed this with the intent to confuse people, Beyoncé thought. It was completely ridiculous. And yet Rihanna navigated with ease, her body language speaking of nothing but confidence.

She almost fell over when Rihanna opened the door and motioned her to walk in. She'd been expecting extravagance, but this room was ridiculous; it was enormous, for one, and hundreds of weapons lined the wall. Three punching bags were suspended from the ceiling, and there was a full set of gymnastics equipment on the other side of the room. When Rihanna clapped her hands, mats fell from the wall nearest them and folded out across the room.

"I told him he didn't need to do that, since I could lift a hundred mats without, you know, breaking a sweat," Rihanna said. "But he did it anyway."

Beyoncé couldn't reply. If she did, it would be with something embarrassing to them both.

"So," Rihanna said, and did a series of flips and jumps that took her to the other end of the room. "What do you want to work on?"

Beyoncé's own training schedule would have made the Watcher's Council cry, both from its intensity and its organization. It was effective for her, but she wasn't sure about introducing it to a new Slayer.

Oh, who was she kidding? Of course she was sure. "Agility," she said. "More than anything, you need to be able to dodge. You're as strong as most vampires, but it's not a hard and fast rule." Though hopefully she'd never have to learn that by enduring having her powers taken on her birthday.

Rihanna nodded, expression determined. "So how're we going to practice?"

"I'm going to fight you," Beyoncé said. "And I'm not going to hold back. Attack me."

Rihanna's eyebrows went up and she didn't move. "No, seriously," Beyoncé said. "Attack me."

"Are you sure this is the right way to train? What if I attack you wrong?"

"You're trying to cause damage," she said. "You want to inflict pain. If I beat you, you'll get a feel for how that happens. Other people will teach you the names for the moves. I'm going to teach you to slay."

It was the kind of speech that would have made Kanye stare at her worshipfully. It was another point towards Rihanna that she just shook her head. "I really hope you don't, you know, take that speech on the road," Rihanna said.

"Hey," Beyoncé said, pretending offense.

"I'm just saying. Are any Slayers good at speeches? Jay's made me watch some of the ones Buffy made, and man, that is not her strength."

Pretty much all the new Slayers hero-worshipped Buffy. Of course, no other Slayers were on close personal terms with one of the biggest names in music. "Her strength is staying alive longer than any other Slayer in history," Beyoncé said pointedly.

"When do I get to meet her?"

As far as Beyoncé knew, Buffy shied away from meeting other Slayers because she hated hero worship. Then again, Rihanna might be a breath of fresh air. "I don't know," she said. "Let's just work, okay?"

"Okay," Rihanna said, and launched herself at Beyoncé.

Her technique was tight – tighter than Beyoncé's, probably, since Beyoncé had learned on the job and was more focused on survival than actual technique. But that was her essential weakness: she fought with the precision and identifiable moves that would get her killed.

"Good," Beyoncé said, blocking a punch and ducking to roll behind Rihanna. "Now, break your rules. I'm a vampire; I've studied your martial arts discipline for five of your lifetimes, and mixed it with ones you'll never learn. Surprise me or I'll kill you."

Rihanna redoubled her efforts. Beyoncé kept moving, hoping Jay-z was watching. He should know who he was dealing with: Beyoncé wasn't going to let him keep a Slayer with this much potential away from her.

||

She'd assumed getting Rihanna would be a one-day job, but when she and Rihanna stopped practicing, it was already seven, and dark enough that she could begin patrolling. She was stopped, however, by Kanye, who was lurking right outside the practice room.

"We're not patrolling first tonight," he said.

"What? Of course we are." Beyoncé started walking.

Kanye scurried after her. "No, seriously, Jay wants us to eat dinner with him, and we can't turn this invitation down! Look, B, I'll make it up to you." He jumped and landed in front of her, eyes wide. "Please? Pleeeaaase?"

Someday she was going to snap and kill Kanye for real. But today wouldn't be that day, if for no other reason than he currently looked incredibly pathetic and hopeful, and she really couldn't kill the hero-worship written all over his face.

But that didn't mean she had to be nice about it. "Fine," she all but snapped. "Where's the dining room?"

Kanye's face lit up. "You won't regret this!" he said, running down the hall. Over his shoulder, he called, "He's gonna serve us a five-course meal! And talk to us about a new Watcher's Council! His ideas are amazing, B!"

The dining room, it turned out, was made for Jay-z, Rihanna, and a hundred of their closes friends. "Jesus," she muttered, sitting at the nearest end and looking up at the gaudy chandeliers. If Jay-z himself had walked up and down the table with his pants down, waving his dick in his guests' faces, it would have been more subtle.

Not, she thought, that that was an image she really needed. Jay-z's smirk-filled face was bad enough. She didn't need to have the slightest thought about what he looked like below the waist.

"Hey, don't sit so far away," Jay-z called, slamming the door on the other end of the room open.

Think of the devil. "I like it down here," she yelled back.

She'd hoped he would get the message and stay on the other end of the room, but instead he ambled his way down to where she sat – and sat down next to her. "You're gonna love this," he said. "Lots of protein for Slayer muscles, cooked by the best chef my millions could pay for."

If she was even a fraction less mature, she would have declared herself a vegetarian just to see him splutter. Instead she smiled narrowly. "Sounds great."

She was saved from further conversation by Rihanna walking in. "Oh God, seriously?" she said. "Can't we just have pizza or something?"

"What kind of host would I be then?" Jay-z said. "Sit down and shut it."

It was said affectionately; once again, Beyoncé felt oddly jarred, her expectations of Jay-z and Rihanna's relationship so far from what they actually were that she was continually surprised.

"Yeah, yeah," Rihanna said, and sat.

"So," Jay-z said as the butler came out and started laying bowls of soup at each of their places, "Kanye and I were discussing the Watcher's Council."

"He wants reform!" Kanye said, breaking his starry-eyed silence. "His ideas are brilliant!"

"You didn't tell me you were controlled by the old Council," Jay-z said.

Beyoncé couldn't keep herself from stiffening at the words. "It wasn't exactly your business."

"On the contrary, it's exactly my business. You're gonna be guiding my protege. If you're going to use hinky torture methods -"

"If you think for one second that I'd put her through what they made me do, you can get fucked," Beyoncé snapped.

Jay-z smirked. "That settles that, then. Calm down, girl. If you're not going to hurt her, we've got nothing to be pissed at each other for."

"Don't call me girl," Beyoncé said, but she leaned back in her chair and sipped the soup. It was delicious, annoyingly enough; she would have been happier if she could mentally complain about the quality of the food. "Did you and Kanye discuss what creation of an American Council would entail?"

Kanye nodded so hard he almost fell off his chair. Beyoncé carefully kept her attention on Jay-z.

"Mostly just a ton of money," Jay-z said. "But we'd have to vet whoever ended up being Rihanna's Watcher. And you'd probably have to be tested every few years, too."

"No tests," Beyoncé said. "A Slayer's tested every night. If I'm not dead, I'm good enough. End of story."

"Fair enough," Jay-z said after a long pause. "We'll need facilities, and recruits to learn the lore and shit. And it'd probably help to have the Slayers' Legion in on things, so if you know how to get 'em, cough it up."

She did, actually, but she wasn't going to be giving the information up that easily. "First you're going to have to prove to me that you know what you're doing," she said. "That means I need access to everything. Financial records, plans, the whole nine yards. I want to know where you think you'll build the Council facilities, how much money you think you'll need to invest in materials, what kind of chairs you want - everything. Got it?"

"Fine by me." Jay-z slurped some soup. "'Course, if Rihanna tells me you're not up to it, I'll get another Slayer."

"No one would ever say that about Beyoncé! Except vampires she's about to dust!"

"I actually kind of agree," Rihanna said, smiling at Kanye. "She's good, Jay."

"Even the old Council could tell you that, and they haven't been in any Slayer's favor for a good fifteen years," Beyoncé said.

"Yeah, you're hot shit," Jay-z said. His eyes flickered up and down her body. "In more ways than one."

She'd had enough. She picked up a fork, snapped it in half, and threw the pieces so that they pinned one of his sleeves to the table. "Don't piss me off again."

Both Rihanna and Kanye were grinning broadly.

Jay-z, on the other hand, was smirking. "All right. But girl, you've gotta admit, the Watcher's Council isn't the only group that admires your...form."

She stared at him. "Girl?" she said quietly, trying to keep herself from putting her fist through his skull.

"He didn't mean it like that!" Kanye said. "Unless you did," he added to Jay-z, "in which case, Beyoncé's form is the greatest and you shouldn't mock it!"

"I think I know exactly how he meant it," she said. The mood rising in her could be solved by only one thing: violence. And since she really did think Rihanna was a good kid, she was going to have to take out her anger on some vampires. "I'm going to patrol," she said. "I'll see you in the morning."

She left without a backward glance. Luckily – for him, at least – Jay-z had the sense not to say anything as she left.

Every time she patrolled, she felt a little haunted. Her old Watcher dying had been a relief as much as anything else, but death still dogged her heels.

Slayers, the Slayer's Legion taught, were death's constant companions. Whether a Slayer's death was accident or suicide was historically hard to determine, because Watcher's diaries were incredibly biased – frequently just because the Watchers didn't want the Council to think they'd failed. But one thing was for certain: Slayers died young. That was just how it worked. So the Legion worked to keep Slayers alive as long as possible, hoping to get them to reach at least middle age, though none of them would ever grow old.

Well, maybe Buffy would. But she wasn't the kind of Slayer anyone else could hope to become. She really was the one in a generation kind of deal.

So she walked outside and felt death catch up to her. She could die tonight. Doubtful, but hey: the possibility was still there.

She kept her stake out and walked quickly. Trouble would find her, even this far away from the city. It always did.

Trouble came first in the form of a gang of three vampires. They must've been newly turned, because they didn't even notice the stake in her hand.

"Well, well," the leading vamp said. "What have we here?"

Beyoncé stood her ground. "A helpless young lady in desperate need of a guide home?" she said, keeping her voice as free of irony as possible.

"Or a slut," the second vampire sneered, "begging for a good pounding."

"Not even a slut," the third one said. "Black bitches are all sluts. She's just typical."

Fury flared. "Wow. I was gonna at least give you a chance to run," she said, and flipped, landing in front of them.

Staking two of them was a matter of a few seconds' work – but the third, the talker, she let herself mess with. A kick to the face brought him down, and from there it was easy to kick and pummel him until he was crying.

"I'd tell you this was a valuable life lesson," she said finally, "but let's be honest: I'm not gonna let you live."

And then she staked him, quick and clean.

Her fury hadn't died down. Vampires were always evil fucks, and whether one was a racist evil fuck or just a murder-hungry evil fuck shouldn't matter. She knew it shouldn't. But some part of her still let comments like that get to her, and it wasn't the same part that still acutely cared about the helpless, often stupid or careless people the vampires trapped. It was the part of her that was still angry at her destiny, the part of her that hated the shapes the world fought to mold her into.

And with this kind of thing, it wasn't always vampires yelling the slurs.

But Slayers, as a group, tended not to be too into the quiet self-reflection thing. She took out her aggression by pummeling a few more vamps, and then ran the two miles back to Jay-z's mansion.

Kanye was waiting with a fluffy towel and a bottle of water. "You did good, B," he said, clapping her on the back.

"It was a busy night," Beyoncé said. "We should make sure they're not after something specific."

"On it," Jay-z said from the doorway. He was leaning against the doorframe, and when she looked up, he very obviously looked her up and down. "You look tired."

"I'm used to it, Mr. Carter," she snapped.

"Hey, hey." Jay-z smirked. "I was just gonna offer to have the housekeeper lead you to your room."

She wanted to protest that they'd be staying elsewhere, but more often than not, the Watcher's Council had seen it fit to express their displeasure with Kanye's methods by denying them funds. Plus, she knew Kanye would cry – or worse – if she said they were going to stay in a Motel 8 instead of Jay-z's goddamn mansion. "Fine," she said, trying not to sound too snippy. Jay-z would seize on irregularities, she was sure, and use them to mock her for – what? Being young, being stupid, something. "Thank you."

"Not a problem. Martha?" A woman Beyoncé hadn't noticed before came out of the shadows. "Show them to their rooms, the ones I had you prepare earlier."

"Follow me, please," Martha said serenely.

"They'd better be next to each other," Beyoncé said.

"Of course," Martha said.

"Don't be rude, B," Kanye whispered urgently. "Jay-z's letting us stay in his house! This is a huge honor!"

"Jesus Christ," Beyoncé said, and followed Martha more closely.

She couldn't fault Kanye for his enthusiasm, though. She never could, when it was Kanye. He was too damn earnest, too - Kanye - for her to ever really begrudge him his enthusiasm.

And it was heartening, anyway. His attitude could be nice to have around when things got really bad.

The rooms were, of course, insanely nice. Martha presented them with a kind, "Let me know if there's anything you need," and left Beyoncé to walk inside her room on her own. Based on Kanye's moans of ecstasy that she heard before she shut the door (the walls must be really thick – and no, she absolutely was not blushing now), he was even more surprised than she was. Of course, at this point she was pretty sure the whole trip was pretty much a pilgrimage for him.

A nicer eye for décor had decorated these rooms. They weren't as overbearingly masculine as the dining room or Jay-z's study; the paintings on the walls were modern but tasteful, and the sheets on the enormous bed were light blue. The window opened up onto the (well-guarded, Beyoncé noted with approval) gate; the garden, tastefully lit by glowing fountains, was spread out before her.

She was impressed, and not really in spite of herself. She was, she reminded herself, perfectly willing to be impressed by Jay-z's house. He was a millionaire: it made sense that his house would be impressive. That didn't mean she was impressed by him, and it didn't mean she couldn't find the ostentatiousness annoying.

Her luggage had been brought in and placed on the chest at the foot of the bed. She got out the T-shirt she normally slept in, closing the curtains and changing into it. She had to fight feeling shabby next to the surroundings. She was a Slayer, she reminded herself as she brushed her teeth. That gave her status beyond being in the game, or what the hell ever that Jay-z was in the rap industry.

"I am fucking classy," she told her reflection, and left the bathroom to climb into bed.

Her old Watcher had made her practice meditation before he'd even let her hold a stake, and it came in handy now. She relaxed each section of her muscles one by one, closing her eyes on the last exhale and relaxing completely. Focusing her mind was a matter of old practice, and quieting down the different parts of her that were buzzing with adrenaline was almost easy.

Sleep, she whispered to herself. Rest, rejuvenation...sleep. Sleep.

When her window broke, she was half-asleep and half in a trance. Still, she reacted immediately, sitting up and grabbing the stake next to her, throwing it into the heart of the vampire who was two feet from her.

She leapt off the bed, diving for her weapons bag on the floor. Why didn't she have more stakes out? Stupid, stupid – but there were five vampires coming in the window. No time for berating herself, she thought, pulling a battle axe out of her bag. What she could reach immediately would have to do.

She cut off the first vampire's head and flipped using its falling body, landing on the bed and taking another one out with a smooth strike of the axe. The third one she only chopped one arm off of, but the pain felled him for the time being, allowing her to dive down and grab another stake from her bag. She staked the fourth vampire, whirling around in time to dust the one she'd dismembered, too.

She recognized the problem as soon as she faced the fifth vampire. The vampire was calm, her clothes unruffled, her eyes -

Beyoncé stopped herself just before she looked into the vampire's eyes. This woman had power.

Well, okay. It was hardly the first time Beyoncé had come up against someone whose walk might actually match their talk. "So," she said. "You're the one who runs this operation, huh?"

"Of course not," the vampire said. Her voice was smooth, mild - deceptively slick, like she'd rubbed butter all over it before it even left her mouth. "I'm an employee. A...contractor."

Beyoncé managed, barely, to keep her annoyance from showing. "And apparently second rate. Going to tell me all about your employer's plans now?"

"No," the vampire said, and -

Moved, reaching out for Beyoncé with teeth bared. Beyoncé barely managed to dodge her, ducking and rolling, coming up behind her and throwing a knife to land square in her back.

It didn't slow her down the way it would most of the vampires she'd fought in the past. Damn it, she thought. And this woman was working for someone else, someone more powerful?

But she didn't have time to stop and think. She leaped to the side, pulling out a stake and throwing it - it missed. Just fine; she had more, and she brought them out now, rolling and flipping to catch the woman's head in her thighs and break her neck.

The split second she needed to drive the stake in presented itself and she took it, falling to the floor as the vampire crumbled into dust. She was on her feet immediately, looking around for others; but if reinforcements had been sent, they'd already fled.

She smiled grimly. Good.

Part of her wanted to call Kanye, but Jay-z must have security on the mansion, and he'd be arriving at any minute, knowing it had been breached. Add that to the fact that she was sure Kanye would hear the noise, and...well.

She sat down on the bed, crossing her legs and slouching. She was going to savor this victory, just a little.

"Beyoncé!" Kanye shouted just moments later. "B! B, are you okay!"

"I'm fine," Beyoncé said. "Come on in. It's fine."

"Jay's with me!" Kanye yelled, barreling in. "You'll be fine! Jay, come in!"

Jay-z followed at a lazy pace, surveying the room with a smirk on his face as Kanye bounced on the balls of his feet. "So, you trashed the place."

"Did my best," Beyoncé said. "How'd you manage to get on the bad side of such powerful vampires? More importantly, how the hell did they get in here?"

"I've got a sign up front saying come on in." Jay-z shrugged. "If they're powerful, it makes sense. I'm notorious."

"You're an idiot," Beyoncé corrected. "Kanye, can you grab me a washcloth?"

Kanye bolted for the bathroom. Jay-z leaned against the doorframe. "I don't think I'm the idiot here. I'm not the one the vampires went after."

"Oh, please. I'm the Slayer. Vampires don't organize and move against a Slayer unless they're stupidly confident or have ulterior motives," Beyoncé said. Her mind was spinning now, galloping along familiar paths. This was a mystery that needed to be unraveled as quickly as possible. It was her duty, and the magic worked here just as well as everywhere else.

"Don't see what that has to do with me."

"It's not a coincidence that they happened to attack me in your mansion," Beyoncé said. "They want something from you."

"Could be money," Jay-z said.

Beyoncé shook her head. "This is New York. Everybody's got money. They probably want to stop you from creating the American Watcher's Council. Or control it, somehow."

"How the fuck would they control it?"

"The vampire in charge of the group that attacked me tried hypnosis," Beyoncé said. "Of the psychic kind, not the hokey magician kind."

Jay-z whistled. "Shit."

"You could say that." She shook her head. "This isn't going to be easy. We need to figure out who's running the operation, what they want, and how to eliminate them."

"I can send out word on the street," Kanye said. "You know, shake down some contacts, make people squeal."

Jay-z raised his eyebrows. "You've got city contacts?"

"Friends in low places," Kanye said confidently. He was lying through his teeth, Beyoncé knew, but that didn't mean he wouldn't find ways to get information. "Head out now," she said.

"It's late," Jay-z said.

"Which means all the criminals and vampires will be out." Beyoncé smiled sweetly at him, then turned to Kanye, the part of her that was used to doing business with him settling into their old routine. "Call me when you get a lead. If you need to squeeze anyone -"

"Knife 'em and you'll take care of the rest." Kanye nodded. "Got it, got it. I'll let you know what turns up. If the boss is old enough -"

"I'll have to shake down the Council for info, let the Legion know." And God, was she not looking forward to that. "So, rendezvous here in two hours?"

"Sounds good. Got you on speed dial, B," Kanye said, and hopped out the broken window.

Jay-z, to her surprise, looking mildly impressed. "You two are like a machine."

"We've had practice," Beyoncé said shortly. She was no longer worried about gloating or impressing him. The air coming in from the broken window was cold, for one, and she was fucking worried about just about everything and everyone.

"I can tell." Jay-z pressed a button on his watch. "Hey, Curtis? Call the closest construction people, get 'em up here. I know it's the middle of the night. I don't give a fuck. Pay 'em what they want. Yeah, yeah. See you then." He raised his head. "You want to sleep in Kanye's room?"

She did, but...Beyoncé shook her head. "I don't think I'll get much sleeping done tonight."

Jay-z nodded like it was the answer he'd been expecting. "Follow me, then."

If she thought about it too hard, she'd come up with a million reasons to say no. So instead, she put all thoughts firmly out of her head, nodded, and followed him out of the room.

The room he lead her to wasn't the stupidly decorated study she was expecting. Instead it was a smallish room with a big-screen TV and a bunch of gaming systems that looked more like a normal family's den than a room in a massive MC's house. "Make yourself comfortable," Jay-z said, going over to a bookshelf and pulling down a bottle of whiskey.

Beyoncé sank down on the couch. Every inch of the room still shouted money: the couch was impossibly plush, and the TV looked brand new. But it was comfortable, not showy. Somehow, that made her nervous. This was Jay-z's home.

"Here." He handed her a shot glass. "Good for the brain."

"Bullshit," Beyoncé said, but she smiled before she tossed it back.

Jay-z grinned in response. His smile was weirdly compelling. It didn't make his face look any softer or less...well, weird, and a little ugly. But it did make her want to keep looking. "Girl knows how to hold her liquor."

"If we didn't heal ultra-fast, Slayers would all be alcoholics," Beyoncé said. "As it is, it's too damn expensive to keep up."

It didn't make him laugh the way she'd been expecting. Instead, he looked suddenly – and bizarrely – serious. "Y'all oughta have designated therapists, or something. Dangerous fucking work."

"It's what we're meant to do," Beyoncé said as calmly as she could. Christ, what did it say about her priorities that she was breathing harder now than she had been facing down the psychic vampire? "Our, you know. Destiny."

"Fuck destiny," Jay-z said. "I'm gonna find Rihanna the best damn head-shrinker in America."

"There aren't many who know what we do," Beyoncé said.

Jay-z shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I'll find 'em anyway. Or shove some vamps in the best one's face till he gets the point."

And the thing was, Beyoncé believed him. It was funny, in a way, because it often seemed like the entire supernatural world ran on false promises: destiny, the triumph of good over evil, all the old epic crap. But Jay-z had the stubbornness that meant his promises were anything but false, and she knew it.

"So," she said.

He nodded. "So."

"...thanks. You know, for -"

"Don't thank me. Seriously, don't," he said.

She hadn't really wanted to in the first place, but her mama's admonitions about manners had broken the veneer of what she knew was really stubborn refusal to treat him decently. So now she just nodded, smiling a little. "Done."

"TV?" he said, picking up the remote.

She held out her hand – but he just smirked, turning it on and starting to channel surf. "Come on, now, you can't think I'd just let you have the remote."

"I could take it away from you if I wanted," she said.

"Stubborn," Jay-z said, laughter in his tone. She refused to even dignify that with a response, glaring at the TV instead of answering.

They didn't talk for hours, and Beyoncé was okay with it. She hadn't been joking when she said she wasn't going to sleep, but she figured Jay-z would crash sooner or later. Most people, when they said they were going to stay up all night, meant they'd crash at dawn and sleep till noon.

Beyoncé just didn't sleep. She didn't really need more than two hours or so, on average, but – well. Normally she got six or seven, because she also didn't want to go crazy, which not sleeping tended to make a girl do. Tonight, though, she knew she wouldn't be able to manage it.

Sure enough, when six AM rolled around Jay-z groaned and said, "All right, that's it, I gotta crash. I'll tell people to let Kanye know where you are, cool?"

"Thanks," Beyoncé said, not taking her eyes off the Scooby Doo rerun they'd been watching.

He sounded amused when he said, "Goodnight, honey."

She didn't even react. There was no way he was going to get a rise out of her, she thought. Absolutely no way.

To her surprise, Rihanna was the first person to seek her out, just past nine. "Heard you had some fun last night," she said, sitting on the other end of the couch.

"You could say that." Beyoncé grinned at her, feeling the camaraderie that was almost instinctual between Slayers. "If a bunch of vamps headed by a mind-controlling psycho is your idea of fun."

Rihanna whistled. "Damn. But you got out okay."

"I have experience." Beyoncé drummed her fingers on her thigh, trying to decide how much to tell her.

But Slayers didn't survive when they were kept in the dark. "Mr. Carter's worried."

"You can call him Jay, you know."

She wasn't even going to go there. "We think they came because of the American Council shit. It's luck that they came in through my room – if they'd come in through yours, you would've died."

"Jay's got security around my room," Rihanna said, too mildly for Beyoncé to tell if she was insulted by Beyoncé's estimation of her skills.

"His security's human, though."

"Seriously?" Rihanna laughed. "Oh, man. No, it's not exactly human. He's got a troll and a chaos demon, too."

That sent a chill down Beyoncé's spine. "What the hell kind of favors do they owe him?"

"Hell if I know, but...it's not something shady." Rihanna didn't even sound pissed that Beyoncé doubted Jay-z – she just sounded absolutely, almost religiously certain. "Jay likes having people loyal to him, but his body count's at, like, five. Which for a rapper is pretty fuck – uh, damn low."

"You can curse up a storm around me, you know."

"Jay doesn't like people cussing. Well, except him." Rihanna yawned. "Okay, fine, he probably wouldn't care. I'd feel weird about it, though. But anyway, I'm pretty safe. What're we going to do about the attacks?"

"Kanye's out getting me some information. Depending on what he figures out, we could have...an interesting couple days."

She tried to sound disinterested – she was supposed to be a behavioral model for Rihanna, after all – but she couldn't keep the excitement out of her voice. Knocking down big bads was one of the joys you just didn't get unless you were a Slayer.

"You sound like the cat that just ate the fish."

"Canary."

"Whatever, cats like fish too." Rihanna stood, stretching. "C'mon, let's get breakfast."

"I didn't -"

"You need to eat," Rihanna said firmly, reaching down and tugging her arm. "Come on!"

Beyoncé gave in, both to Rihanna and her stomach's prodding. When they got to the kitchen, Rihanna poured them both obnoxiously huge bowls of Lucky Charms. They were eating at the kitchen island, Rihanna telling her an involved story about catching her producer and music video director getting it on on-set, when Kanye bounded in, Jay-z on his heels.

"B," Kanye said, gasping for air. "There's – we -"

"Calm down," Beyoncé said. "You've got time."

Kanye nodded, falling against the island. "We, uh. We've got some problems."

Beyoncé raised an eyebrow at Jay-z, but he shook his head. "He wouldn't tell me. Wanted to tell you directly."

That sounded like Kanye's weird brand of loyalty. "Okay, so spit it out."

"Remember the vamp you dusted three months ago, the guy who said he worked for Rasputin? With the -"

"Red goatee, who summoned Sweet?" She nodded. She remembered it a little too well, to be honest.

"Well, he's in town. Rasputin, not the vamp you dusted. Or Sweet. Unfortunately."

That was insane enough to make her forget to chastise Kanye for his hard-on for Sweet. "You've got to be kidding me. Rasputin doesn't exist. He's dead!"

"Apparently he does and he is. And he's hangin' with this girl he calls Anastasia. No one knows if she's the real one, y'know, but apparently she's a stone-cold Russian killer." Kanye's expression was torn between fear and what Beyoncé had learned to identify as fanboyish excitement. "They've got it in for you, B!"

Well, she was flattered that he apparently thought it would result in the kind of fight he'd fill a page of the Watcher's journal with exclamation marks when describing, instead of one that would kill her. Still – "Rasputin? Jesus Christ. Why the hell does he care about an American Watcher's Council?"

"Apparently he's been living in Alaska for the past century or so. Maybe it's a patriotic thing."

"That explains Sarah Palin," Jay-z said.

"Hah, hah," Beyoncé said. "Okay. We need a plan."

Jay-z ambled over to the refrigerator, pulling out some orange juice and pouring two glasses of it. He set them in front of Beyoncé and Rihanna before saying, "I think what you need is an army. Can't you call in some other Slayers?"

Beyoncé snorted. "Please. They'd never stop giving me shit for not being able to handle it."

"They've got a lot of vamps, B," Kanye said.

Damn it. "Hit me."

Kanye pulled up a stool and pulled a paper out of his pocket. Smoothing it out, he pointed to the column of notes. "The lowest number anyone gave me was a hundred fifty. Could be up to five hundred. Dude's got an army, basically. We're fucked if we try to take him out on our own."

"Christ." Beyoncé gave into temptation, burying her head in her hands. "Five hundred? How the hell'd he get that many vampires into New York without raising some kind of alarm?"

"It's New York," Jay-z said. "No one gives a shit who dies in the concrete jungle, 'cept maybe the cops. And even then, you know, fuck 'em."

"They ignore the Bronx, Queens, all the usual places." Rihanna took a sip of juice. "Even the Upper East Side, as long as no one's rich wife is shooting his mistress, or whatever."

"Still." She refused to say she was scared, because she absolutely wasn't. People like her didn't get scared. They just got pissed. "All right, fine, I'll make the calls. But in the meantime, I'm going to patrol like I usually do." She downed all her orange juice in one gulp.

"You're kidding, right?" Jay-z said. "You're gonna patrol with a crew five hundred strong waiting to off you?"

"One, we don't know there are five hundred of them," Beyoncé said. "And two, Mr. Carter, this is my job. Slayers don't just stop doing it, we don't cut and run when things get tough. That's not how we're built."

Jay-z looked like he wanted to yell or hit her or something, but instead he nodded curtly. "I'll talk to y'all later," he said, turning to leave.

Rihanna took a break from snickering behind her hand to say, "You pissed him off pretty good."

"He doesn't seem to understand that the only person who tells me what to do is me," Beyoncé said. "At least, until a senior Slayer comes knocking."

"So what you're saying is I should ignore my Watcher," Rihanna said.

"I'll kill you myself," Beyoncé said. "You have permission to act that stupid when you've killed as many vampires as I have, and not a day sooner."

"Beyoncé's great," Kanye told Rihanna, dead serious. "She's the greatest. You should probably, y'know, keep that in mind."

"Between you and Jay, I don't think I could forget it," Rihanna said dryly. "But thanks."

Kanye patted her shoulder. "You're gonna be great someday, too."

Beyoncé shook her head, looking away. She loved Kanye, but honestly, if a less self-conscious person in the world existed, she had yet to meet them.

The rest of the day was quiet. She and Rihanna spent some quality time in the practice room; Rihanna managed to get a hit in while they were sparring, to her elation and Beyoncé's mildly chagrined pride. Beyoncé was getting ready to go out on patrol when Kanye came into her room. "Looking good, B!" he said, applauding as Beyoncé went from a handstand to a bridge before standing up and shrugging on a leather jacket.

"Going to wish me good hunting?" Beyoncé said.

"Actually – uh, Jay sent me up here." Kanye dug his hands into his pockets, clearly nervous.

This ought to be good. "And why'd he do that?"

"We're, uh." He squinted, looking at Beyoncé hopefully. "This wasn't my idea, y'know."

"Okay." She crossed her arms, giving Kanye a hard glare. "We're what?"

Kanye looked at his shoes. "Goin' on a cruise," he said. "Tomorrow morning."

Occasionally she wished she'd been born psychic. If she had been, right now she'd be shattering windows and mirrors and ripping pictures off the wall, and it'd feel fucking good. "What."

"He thinks it'd be a good way to avoid Rasputin! And, y'know, I think he's tryin' to show off a bit, which is cool with me because it means he likes you, and it's great, but -"

Beyoncé took a deep breath. Putting her fist through a wall would be satisfying, but ultimately counterproductive – and she knew it. She could stay calm. She'd taken entire weeks off from patrolling to meditate and focus on controlling her temper. She could be really fucking calm.

It wasn't working. "I," she said loudly, cutting Kanye off point-blank, "am going to go hunt some vampires until I feel better. And can stop trying to psychically kill that son of a bitch."

She took a running leap off the balcony before Kanye had a chance to answer.

||

Vampires had a unique stink to them. It wasn't a smell, exactly, but it was definitely a stink. It permeated her pores and made whatever magic (demon's magic, she'd heard, but she'd never had a confirmation either way) inside her twitch and stand to attention.

She'd fought her share of wanna-be vampire psychologists, the chatty assholes who tried to get under your skin by saying you were just like them, a demon too, a murderer, in love with death or the fight or what-the-fuck-ever they thought would make you falter long enough to deliver a killing stroke. Beyoncé didn't give a shit about them. Nothing they said could match the nicest thing her first Watcher had said; no amount of cruelty from a bloodsucker could match what that circle of assholes had put her through.

So when one of the vampires got his hand around her throat and smiled as he said, "We will feast on your blood, tear strips of flesh from your Watcher's bones and cook them for the dogs to savor," she just kicked him back and staked him. "I couldn't care less about your plans if you were actually dead," she informed the pile of dust, and jogged off to find her next opponent.

But it was more than a little unsettling when a little white girl, just a few feet tall, blonde, and sweet as a fucking chocolate bar, tried to rip her throat out. In a heavy Russian accent she said, "Father Winter will see like a blessing when we're done with you."

Beyoncé didn't have a snappy rejoinder. She just staked the kid, hands shaking just a little. Christ, she knew about a lot of vampires' love for theatricality, but that had been a bit much. And – very possibly Anastasia. Well, shit; if it was, she'd piss Rasputin off nice and thoroughly.

This time, when she got back to the mansion, it was easy to sleep. And if she did it with a stake in her hand, well – it wasn't like there were any witnesses.

She was awakened by the smell of obnoxiously high-quality coffee. "Mr. Carter thought you might want a bite to eat before you board the yacht," the woman she recognized as Martha said, holding out a plate heaped with eggs. It came from a tray stacked with enormous covered dishes.

She hadn't been eating nearly enough in the past few days; she was hungry enough now that the idea of someone feeding her breakfast barely seemed weird. She scarfed down the eggs, gulped the coffee, and shoved the three pieces of toast the woman offered in her mouth. When Martha pulled the cover off the last casserole dish to reveal three thick slices of steak, Beyoncé devoured those, too.

"Thanks," she said when she was done, wiping her mouth and hopping to her feet.

If her devouring the food even struck Martha as unusual, she gave no indication. "When you're ready, Mr. Carter, Miss Rihanna, and Kanye will meet you on the dock in the back of the property."

She was tempted to ask why Kanye didn't get an honorary, but knowing Kanye, he'd said any kind of title would just make his amazing name sound less glorious. "Thanks," she said, grabbing the fluffy towel draped over her bureau and heading for the bathroom.

She took her time showering, getting dressed, putting on makeup, and doing her hair. Each action calmed her down a little; she was nervous about going on the yacht, stupidly so. There were logistic problems with it, of course; she liked having the option to run like hell when she fought vampires, since sometimes that was the only option if a Slayer wanted to stay alive. Swimming like hell didn't have the same kind of ring to it – and wasn't nearly as viable, survival-wise.

But she doubted making those arguments to Jay-z would postpone the plans. Bastard, she thought, jerking on her boots a little harder than was really necessary. He was a bully – a rich, irritating, stupid bully.

And she sounded like one of those heroines in a shitty romance novel. Not that she had anything against shitty romance novels, but she really didn't want to start acting out the bad writing in them.

Okay, she thought, standing and heading out, turning to where she thought the back of the mansion might be. She could do this. It was just a yacht, and they'd only be stuck on it for a few days. Just a few days. She could handle that.

Right.

The sun was painfully bright when she ducked out one of the many back doors and started walking towards where one of the maids had told her the dock was. They were all three waiting for her, Rihanna sitting and dangling her bare feet over the water, laughing at a joke one of them had told.

Beyoncé felt almost like an interloper when she walked onto the dock and said, "Hey. Sorry I took so long."

But Rihanna jumped to her feet immediately, smiling and saying, "No, don't worry about it! We were only out here for a few minutes."

"And now we can weigh anchor," Jay-z said.

Beyoncé squinted at him. He was wearing a white polo shirt and a ridiculous-looking scarf. "Do you even know how to sail?"

"We're not gonna be sailing. The yacht's got a motor. A huge one." He winked.

"That's not even funny," she said flatly.

"Oh, come on, loosen up." He actually managed to hip-bump her. Jesus Christ, she thought, giving him an annoyed look.

"All right, all right," Rihanna said. "Come on, let's get moving." She strode down the dock, heading onto the boat and plopping down in one of the deck chairs.

It was just...it was weird, Beyoncé thought as she followed. The boat was insanely luxurious, and Jay-z and Rihanna both looked completely at home. Had someone told her three months ago that Jay-z and Rihanna were going on a cruise, she would have recognized their names from the magazines and assumed Jay-z was robbing the cradle. But the way Rihanna tugged at the bottom of his shirt, and the way Jay-z bopped her on the head, was anything but sexual.

It was heart-warming, in the gross way that made her want to punch someone half out of jealousy and half out of pure annoyance.

Kanye followed her around as she walked around deck and sat down next to her when she finally chose one of the plush beach chairs. "Jay-z told me to tell you to just relaaaax," Kanye said theatrically. "Just chill. He'll take care of the yacht."

"I wasn't planning on trying to learn how to steer the boat," she said dryly.

"You're totally tense, though," Kanye said. "He's not out to get us, you know."

"The problem is more that he's -" She stopped, literally biting her tongue to keep from saying anything she'd regret.

"B." Kanye put his hand on her shoulder. He looked just about as serious as she'd ever seen him. "He's not the best guy ever, but he's not, you know, out to get you. He can be pretty okay. You just gotta give him a chance."

"You'd give him a chance if he ate babies in front of you."

Kanye shrugged. "Okay, but I'm right. He's a good dude. And he wants you to like him."

That made her snort with disbelief. "Oh, he does, does he."

"He does!" Kanye said. "He's showing off for you!"

"He's showing off to make sure I know how powerful he is," Beyoncé said. "That's not the same thing."

Kanye stared at her for a long time before sighing. "All right. So. I'm gonna grab you a water." He bounded to his feet and walked off.

She knew she was being uptight and whiny even by her standards, but – damn it, she wasn't going to be impressed by a big boat and a swagger. She just plain wasn't.

And that was the end of it. She leaned back in the chair, taking her jacket and her boots off and closing her eyes against the sunshine.

||

She somehow managed to fall asleep, despite the noise of the water and the yacht's motor. The shadows were getting long when she sat up, yawning and stretching.

"How long have I been out?" she said to whoever might be around.

"'bout four hours," Jay-z said from beside her. "You shouldn't stay up all night like you did, y'know."

He wasn't looking at her; he was leaning against the rail, his legs crossed, staring at the sky.

"I know," she said, using the most moderate tone she could manage. "But it can get hard. And I don't – I mean, I don't actually need much sleep at all."

"Slayer superpowers." It wasn't mocking at all; if anything, he just sounded tired.

"It helps with adaptation."

"Still's pretty rough," Jay-z said. "I don't want Rihanna thinking eight hours a night is a bad idea."

"Technically speaking, seven or six is fine for a normal person."

"Funny," he said. "Look, I know you don't really want to be a role model, but -"

"But I am," she said. "I know." All Slayers were, now – and the longer you lived, the more of a role model you were. It wasn't fair, but the entirety of being a Slayer really wasn't fair, either. So she took a deep breath and said, "You're...a good role model for her yourself, you know."

Jay-z snorted. "I wasn't always, I can tell you."

"I don't really need you to. I've listened to your records."

"I'm not talking about the coke. Though that's probably not being a good role model, either."

"Do you think so?" Beyoncé said dryly.

"Yeah, okay, it's not." Jay-z shrugged. "But honestly, the fact that I'd'a run from a vampire the second I saw the teeth is worse."

Beyoncé tried to reconcile her image of Jay-z as he was now with someone who was that big of a coward. Or, okay, a normal person; but normal people couldn't raise Slayers. "Yeah, okay, you've got a point."

"I've changed," he said. "Obviously."

He looked...not shifty, but uncertain. She squinted at him. "Why are you telling me this?"

Now he just looked even more uncertain. No – definitely shiftier, now. "I just feel like you should know," he said.

"Okay, but seriously," Beyoncé said, "what's your motive? You're not just gonna bust out with the soul-baring for laughs."

Jay-z narrowed his eyes. "Because you're gonna be the one helping Rihanna figure out what kind of Slayer she's going to be," he said. "And I don't want you thinkin' she comes from some kind of rich-ass background where she's never seen a rough time."

She was a little tempted to hit him; he sounded like he thought she was a stern schoolteacher or a judgmental bitch. "I wouldn't have assumed that," she said finally.

"Yeah, well. Good."

He looked...there was no word for it, she thought. He just looked weird. Well, there was one way to fix that. "So what you're telling me is that you want me to be a role model for Rihanna, and not assume life's been easy for her, and also keep in mind that you used to be the kind of asshole I'd put my fist through."

Now he looked straight-up frustrated. She just barely kept herself from smirking. "I don't -"

"I think I've got it, thanks," she said cheerfully. "Don't worry, I'll make sure she grows up right."

"Sure," he said. "All right. I'm going to go...steer the boat now."

"Have fun."

"Yeah, sure." He all but stomped off.

"What was that all about?" Rihanna said, wandering over.

"I think he was trying to be protective," Beyoncé said. "He was telling me about how much he sucked as a human being."

Rihanna craned her neck to look at Jay-z. "Seriously? Jay's great."

"Apparently he wasn't always."

"Yeah, but -" Rihanna raised her eyebrows. "Ohhhh."

"What?"

Rihanna smiled, quiet and secret. "Nothing."

"What?" Beyoncé said, knowing she sounded ridiculously demanding and not really caring.

"Jay's just kind of sensitive about people he cares about, is all," Rihanna said.

That was bullshit, Beyoncé thought – but it wasn't like she could just call Rihanna a liar to her face. "Right," she said suspiciously. "Fine. Okay, so, is there a place on the yacht to spar?"

"We could just clear off the chairs from here."

She'd expected Rihanna to want to slack off. Falling on the floor wasn't going to be fun, but if Rihanna was really up for it, Beyoncé wasn't going to argue against it. "Let's go, then," she said, picking up three chairs and carrying them to the edge of the deck. She could see Kanye hanging on the railing next to Jay-z, saying something enthusiastic that involved a bunch of arm-waving and the occasional foot stomp.

"What do you want to do?" Rihanna said, moving the rest of the chairs to the side.

Beyoncé thought it over. Her daily routine was less muscle-rippingly awful than it had been with her first Watcher, but it still wasn't suited for a new Slayer. Still, if they were going to face Rasputin, Rihanna needed to be whipped into shape as quickly as possible. "Full-on sparring," she said. "No holds barred. We need to get you up to par right away."

"Did Jay tell you I wasn't good enough? Because I'm -"

"He didn't say anything," Beyoncé said quickly. "Honestly, the whole conversation was just weird. But he thinks you're great, I promise. I'm just worried, because – Rasputin? I have no idea how powerful he is, but judging by the vamps he sent me last night, he's a pretty big deal."

"I still can't believe we're fighting Rasputin." Rihanna took her pumps and vest off, stretching and eyeing Beyoncé like she thought Beyoncé was going to attack right off the bat. "Like – what the hell's he even doing in New York?"

"Got me. Maybe he's looking for the first Slayers."

"You mean Buffy and Faith?" Rihanna shook her head. "What, he thinks he's gonna bring them down? They're the next thing to actually being immortal. Everyone knows that."

Even a kid who'd just been called with the most overprotective rapper pseudo-father ever. Goddamn fame and how quickly it bred delusional rumors. "No one's immortal. Not me, not you, and certainly not two aging Slayers. They changed everything, and they're probably the best the world's ever seen, but that doesn't make them anything but mortal."

"Yes, ma'am," Rihanna said, mock saluting. "Now, come on. Let's do this."

Beyoncé didn't hold back. She ran at Rihanna, jumped, used Rihanna's shoulder for leverage, and landed with enough momentum to swipe Rihanna's feet out from under her and pin her. "And you're dead," Beyoncé said. "Let's do that again."

This time it took her two moves to disable Rihanna. She expected Rihanna to be pissed; Beyoncé herself had never been patient when her Watcher made her go up against someone who'd been given permission to all-out kick her ass. But if Rihanna was getting mad, it didn't show in her face or her actions. She seemed almost preternaturally calm as she stood again, holding out her fists.

Beyoncé let go of the need to fight for long enough to assess Rihanna like the teacher she'd appointed herself to be. "Your form is good, but you're not fast enough," she said. "Don't think about it too hard. It's like -" She needed a metaphor Rihanna would understand. Her mind flashed back to what she'd read about Jay-z in magazines she sternly told Kanye she bought for the makeup tips. "It's like when Jay-z raps. He does it in one take, right? He can't be thinking about it too much, then. His brain's been thinking it over, so when he raps he just lets go and rolls with the punches. That's how you should be fighting."

Rihanna cocked her head. "How do you know what Jay's like when he raps?"

Beyoncé was once again left in the position where she was infinitely glad that it wasn't really obvious when she blushed. And where she wished she was better at thinking ahead. "Kanye never shuts up about him. Now come on – let's go through the motions again."

Rihanna nodded and modified her stance, expression solidifying into determination again. This time, it took Beyoncé nine moves to pin her.

||

She didn't really want to admit it, but being on the boat was restful. Jay-z didn't try to push her to talk to him, and the excitement of being on the water kept Kanye running around all day. She was left alone, but not lonely; after sparring with Rihanna she went back to lounging on the chair, meditating lightly and not thinking about anything in particular. Too much time like this and her brain would rot, but right now it was a welcome reprieve.

It felt, a little, like being back with her family, on the days when she and her little sister would watch hours of cartoons while their mom sewed. The comparison made her wince internally a bit; she didn't want to think of these people as her family. Kanye was, of course, but Jay-z and Rihanna – no. Not at all. Especially not Jay-z, who would've taken the implication that he was like family and run with it until Beyoncé was forced to toss him overboard.

"So I hear you called me by name," the annoyance in question said.

Beyoncé didn't bother opening her eyes. "You heard wrong, Mr. Carter."

"If you wanna call me Jay, that's fine." Arrogance. So damn much arrogance. "But Jay-z's just a little awkward. And we're friends, here, aren't we? We don't gotta stand on ceremony."

He emphasized each syllable of the last word, ceh-rah-moh-nee, so that it sounded like a swagger all on its own. Beyoncé gritted her teeth. "Mr. Carter, I wasn't aware you were having Rihanna report all our conversations to you."

"Rihanna does what she wants. And apparently what she wants is to push us together like a Barbie and Ken doll."

The imagery was...disturbing. Not in the least because Beyoncé happened to appreciate having actual genitals. "We don't share that desire," she said finally, as coldly as she could.

Jay-z's silence tempted her to open her eyes – but it ended up being unnecessary, because just a moment later he started laughing so loudly it was practically a roar. "You're a fuckin' riot, B," he said gleefully. "Thanks for that."

She listened to his footsteps as he walked away. When she was sure he was gone, she opened her eyes. Her face was burning; there was no way, now, that she wasn't blushing visibly. She got up and walked the length of the yacht, finally finding the stairway downstairs. She needed to be alone, needed to get away from him so that the itchy urge to punch him or – to punch him, would go away.

"Bastard," she muttered as she walked downstairs. "Asshole. Son of a -"

She wasn't going to finish, because he wasn't, she told herself sternly, worth getting really worked up over.

That was a lie, of course. The lie confronted her the second she told herself it. But it didn't matter if it was a lie: it was a necessary one, because feeling this strongly was dangerous.

She wasn't a virgin. She wasn't even that long out of her last relationship. She knew it was a fuck-him-or-kill-him attraction, and...

It was Jay-z. She wasn't ready to deal with it, and more importantly, she didn't want to. Fucking a full-of-himself, not even all that attractive rapper was just not the kind of thing she wanted to get into.

"I am really fucking tired of dealing with him," she told the wall, leaning her forehead against it.

And of course, with the way her luck had been going, she had about two minutes alone before heavy footsteps she had no problem identifying as Jay-z's approached.

"You should leave," she said, not bothering to turn around. "It's a big boat."

She was expecting some kind of full-of-himself rejoinder, but instead after a few minutes he lightly touched her shoulder.

"Back off," she snapped, whirling around.

He was too fucking close.

"If you didn't want to go on the damn boat," Jay-z said quietly, "then you should've just told me."

"And you would've said oh, of course, let's just stay, right?" she snapped.

He shrugged. "Maybe."

"Bullshit," she said, and flexed her hand in a fist. "I just, I fucking - fuck it," she said, and took a swing at him.

He ducked it, barely. She'd pulled the punch in spite of herself. "Damn it, Beyoncé!"

"Fuck you," she said, and punched him again.

This one caught him square in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. His lips peeled back in a snarl -

And then he stumbled backwards, leaning against the wall.

"There's a gym down the hall," he said, voice low and threatening.

She wanted, with an acuteness that almost surprised her, to beat him to a pulp. She definitely couldn't do that – but if he was inviting a fight, she wasn't going to tell him no, and she wasn't going to apologize for his inevitable bruises.

"Lead the way," she said grimly, shelving wonder at why Rihanna hadn't told her about the gym to be considered later. He moved in front of her, still looking murderous, and started walking.

They got to the gym and he kicked his shoes off and turned to attack her without preamble. It was easy to field his attacks; he had nothing on Rihanna, wasn't even close to Kanye's skill level. She couldn't help but wonder, as she blocked and pushed him back, why he was even bothering to do this. He had to be pissed, sure, but this couldn't be helping.

Unless he got off on it. God, she thought, finally slamming him against the far wall of the gym and laying a hand against his throat, that should bother her. It should repulse her.

It made her want to press closer.

"Give," she said coolly. He was gasping; she wasn't even out of breath.

And yet somehow, he managed to smirk in her face. "What if I don't?"

She raised her left fist. "I'll beat the shit out of you."

"Will you?" he said, and leaned forward and –

– kissed her hard

And in her head now she was backing up, slapping the shit out of him and storming upstairs, but her body didn't care about what her brain thought were smart choices. Her body was moving forward, grabbing his arms from her shoulders and pushing them up against the wall, kissing him hard. Biting his lips, running her tongue over them – and she was wet now, pushing against his dick, gasping into his mouth –

No. She wrenched herself back, feeling like an idiot when his arms came down and he grinned at her.

"So that's how it is, huh?"

"No," she said hoarsely. "No. Definitely – no."

Something flickered over his face – the kind of half-expression that people could always describe in books but never actually see in real life. "Right, okay. So, what, that was a fluke?"

Definitely not. "Rihanna," she said. "Rihanna...thinks I should call you by your name." Was she trying to make sure she could do this again? Jesus. Even if it wasn't a fluke (and she was still wet, aching; it wasn't), she should have agreed with him that it was. It would've kept the peace – her peace.

But it was too late. Jay-z looked calm now. Happy, even. "You could."

She frowned. "I don't think I want to."

"I won't bite. Well." He smirked. "Unless you want me to."

Of course she did, and of course she wasn't going to let him. But still, calling him "Mr. Carter" now would be so stupid it verged on embarrassing just to think about. "Fine," she said. "Jay."

Jay-z – Jay – smiled. It wasn't, she thought, all that attractive. He wasn't all that attractive just generally. But somehow, his smile made her want to step closer, lean up and kiss him again.

She looked away.

"We should go upstairs."

"Might be a good idea," he said. "Hey, Beyoncé –"

"Let's just leave it," she said quickly. "We're both busy, responsible, busy adults." And she, at least, knew exactly what happened when guys got too close. If there was anyone who was actually capable of putting up with having a girlfriend who could kill him without getting out of breath, she hadn't met him.

And she was pretty sure Jay wasn't going to be that guy, since he was an egomaniacal rapper.

"Right," he said. His voice, for once, didn't have insane levels of ego behind it. "Let's go upstairs, then. Rihanna and Kanye probably think we've killed each other."

That made her laugh. "Please. You can't kill me."

Another smile. "True. Very true."

And that, more than anything else, was just plain unsettling. She picked up her pace, walking quickly out and towards the stairs.

Their fight, weird though it had been, had actually released tension. It was easy now to relax and enjoy the ocean, getting her mind off the still very real problem of the vampires waiting for them when they docked. Beyoncé let Kanye lead her in a ridiculous dance around the deck while Rihanna clapped her hands and laughed. Dinner was hot dogs Rihanna made on the gas grill after banishing Jay-z to a chair where he couldn't ruin the meat.

By the time night fell, Beyoncé was feeling sun-tired. "You don't need to patrol tonight!" Kanye said. "It's your night off! Isn't that great!"

"I have no idea where you're getting all that energy from," Beyoncé said. She'd already leaned her deck chair back and closed her eyes.

"There are beds below deck, you know," Rihanna said.

"There's also a gym," Beyoncé said. She opened her eyes in time to see Rihanna grimace in embarrassment.

"Yeah, well. That where you and Jay worked things out?" she said.

She hoped the weird half-guilt, half-arousal she felt wasn't visible on her face. "Yep," she said, and turned her head, looking at the sky.

New York was still close, and there weren't that many stars visible; but it was more than you could see in the city, just as the air was fresher than it ever was on land. She took a deep breath, watching the few stars she could make out as the boat rocked back and forth.

"He's a really good guy, you know," Rihanna said quietly.

And then, because she was starting to finally understand just how devoted Jay-z was to Rihanna, and how much he cared about keeping her happy, Beyoncé said, "Yeah. I do know."

It had been a long past few days. Almost the second Rihanna fell silent, Beyoncé found herself drifting off, lured into sleep by the steady movement of the ship.

||

When it happened, she wanted to curl up and hide from the shame. How the hell could she have forgotten? How could she have been so damn stupid?

Because most vampires weren't deterred by water. Only some were deterred by a supposedly great Slayer. The one thing that really scared the shit out of every single vampire was sunlight.

And so, just past midnight by the yacht's only clock, Beyoncé awoke to Kanye's scream.

It didn't take her any time or thought to leap to her feet and go running for the source of the noise. But she'd only gone a few feet before she realized that the problem was bigger than whoever – whatever – was attacking Kanye.

Because about fifty vampires were climbing over the rails and onto the yacht like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean on steroids.

"B!" Kanye pushed one vamp to the side and staked another. "What's the plan? We gonna rush 'em or what?"

She wasn't afraid. It was just important that she keep telling herself that, as sternly as she could. She wasn't afraid. She wasn't...

"We need to run," she said.

Kanye whirled around. "What?"

"There are too many," she said – but instinct took over and she found herself rushing forward, arms out, legs flying. She flipped over and staked two vampires, rolling to press her back against the railing as she took out another one. They did need to run; there was no way they could win this.

But she couldn't make herself stop, not in the least because the vampires wanted her, and so it was all she could do to defend herself.

"Beyoncé!" Rihanna called.

Beyoncé looked down to see Rihanna sitting in a crappy-looking inflated lifeboat with Jay-z. "Jump down! Get Kanye and just jump!"

And then the vampires would follow them and drag them all down into the ocean. No. She knew they needed to run, they couldn't. Not her and Kanye.

"Hang on," she said. "Just let me -"

"Kill a hundred vamps? Bullshit. Just come on!"

"There aren't a hundred," Beyoncé said, and pushed off the railing, going back into the melee.

She'd had to talk Kanye out of heroics early on in their partnership. Time and again, she'd sternly lectured him on the value of fighting defensively and letting her do the hard work. He'd learned his lesson, but only just; he was fighting ferociously, not taking as many risks as Beyoncé herself but taking more than Beyoncé wanted him to.

The only way to keep him from getting hurt was to get rid of every single fucking vampire who'd made it to the yacht deck – and so she did, moving as fast as she could and staking each vampire without even letting herself think about getting tired.

It was, thankfully, easier than it should have been: a lot of them were either fledglings or close to it, completely clueless about how to actually fight. Unfortunately, as the fighting wore on and Rihanna's yells went from throaty and constant to persistent but almost hoarse, the vampires who were left became progressively harder to stake. She was bleeding from three separate cuts and the right side of her neck had two shallow puncture wounds when she staked the last one.

For once, Kanye didn't backslap her in congratulations. "Come on," he said, and ran for the edge of the yacht, heading down the one rope ladder on that side of the ship.

Beyoncé stepped carefully into the lifeboat, avoiding everyone's eyes. Jay-z started the motor wordlessly – but they'd hardly gone a yard when Rihanna yelled, "How fucking stupid can you two get?!"

"If we'd jumped, they would have followed," Beyoncé said. "And unlike us, they don't need to breathe. This isn't up for discussion."

"B's right," Kanye said. "Obviously."

Beyoncé glared at him. "Thanks for that."

Kanye's smile was wide and guileless. He'd never give up on being her enforcer.

"Seriously," Rihanna said. "You didn't have to risk yourself like that! You could have died!"

Beyoncé, like all Slayers, had heard the stories about the speeches Buffy had given that awful last year in Sunnydale, and how bad she was at them. So she held off on speechifying, choosing instead to say, "That's what being a Slayer is. I did what I had to do."

Rihanna's protestations must have been mostly out of fear, because Jay-z tapping her thigh was enough to make her fall silent – though she was still glaring like her life depended on it.

Beyoncé wanted to apologize, even though she knew she'd just done what she had to. It was too late not to care about Rihanna, no matter how many more of these arguments she knew they'd have.

They reached the shore in just a few minutes, Beyoncé having stayed silent. "Go straight inside," Jay-z said, tying the boat up. "I'll come after you."

"What about the yacht?" Kanye said.

"Fuck the yacht," Jay said. "We need to lay low for a couple days."

"I'll stay with you," Beyoncé said.

Jay shook his head. "No fuckin' way am I letting Rihanna get off this thing alone."

"One, she'll have Kanye; two, she's a Slayer, and already plenty capable; three, the force Rasputin sent out was clearly aimed at the yacht, which means stragglers will be coming from the water, and I am not letting you get slaughtered out here on your own." She crossed her arms.

Rihanna's anger had apparently disappeared: she was grinning widely. Beyoncé staunchly ignored it.

"...fine," Jay said. "Go ahead, y'all."

They left quickly. "What are we waiting on, exactly?" Beyoncé said.

Jay took a deep breath. "To be honest, I just didn't want to go inside right away. I'm a little shook up."

She knew the feeling; she felt like she was about to explode, adrenaline still rushing through her. "Yeah," she said, sitting down on the dock. "I haven't dealt with this kind of thing in – awhile." Since the group of vampires had blown through town, killed her old Watcher, and almost taken her and Kanye out. They hadn't been led by a legend, but in the end it didn't matter. Not with vampires.

"You say that like there's a bad memory." Jay took a seat beside her.

But she couldn't stay still for long. The second he was close enough to make her body aware of his, she hopped up again, pacing up and down the dock.

She didn't know what made her tell him. Nerves, probably. "Me and Kanye – my old Watcher was killed by this gang of vampires. They weren't anyone important, just deadly. And I..."

It had only been a year ago, and the memories were still fresh enough to hurt. She'd been full of fury, too much for her body to contain and too much for her mind to handle. Anger at her Watcher for dying, anger at herself for caring, anger at herself for living. It was all anger that – for the first time – her Watcher wasn't there to beat down.

"I almost died," she said finally. "Kanye saved my ass." There was no way she was going to tell him more than that. Kanye rushing in, disobeying every fucking rule that existed about Slayers and Watchers, was why she was alive. It was also their secret alone.

Somehow, it had escaped her notice that Jay had stood up. He put his hands on her arms. "Hey. It's cool, B. Slow down."

She couldn't make herself look up at him. "We're not going to talk about – what happened." At least, not until she'd had a chance to get herself off a time or five.

"Who's talking?"

You're touching, she wanted to say. Instead she took a deep breath, lifting her chin to look him in the eye. "All right," she said. "I'm calming down."

"You don't need me to tell you it's not a year ago," he said.

"No." Kanye told her that every day, anyway. Being her biggest fan wasn't his only job.

"So let's sit for a few," Jay said. "Get our brains back."

"We shouldn't dangle our legs," she said when she could get enough breath to speak.

"Okay." He led her over to one of the thick poles keeping the dock up. "Here."

The shape of the pole meant their bodies were tilted away from each other. That was for the best, she thought.

They didn't talk for awhile. The air was comforting out here, cool but not cold, and clearer than it would be downtown. There still weren't any stars, but if she closed her eyes she could pretend she was fourteen again, didn't know about vampires and loved her mama and her sister without complications.

When she opened her eyes again, though, it was to Jay's hand lying conspicuously close to hers, his arm twisted to hold the pose.

They were going to play this game? Really? He had to be halfway through thirty, and this was a middle-school move.

But affection was tinging her thoughts. She wasn't going to pretend to herself that she wasn't touched a little, in a weird way. She twisted her arm and turned a bit, so she could lay her hand over his. He raised his fingers enough that he could tuck them among hers, entwining them.

It felt good. Better than anything had for a long time – and in a way she wasn't going to think about, better than the kiss they'd shared.

After awhile, Jay stood. Beyoncé followed and they walked inside, neither of them reaching for the other's hand. When they got past the entryway they parted silently, Beyoncé making for her room and Jay – she guessed – going to his.

It was going to be a long couple days even without this completely ridiculous romance, she thought. Hopefully she could get through them without going crazy.

||

When she woke up at one in the afternoon and went down to the kitchen, she didn't see a single person. She made herself a jam-and-butter sandwich and devoured it as the coffee brewed.

It was, of course, when she was licking her fingers and staring at the coffee machine with the vague, sleepy hope that she'd develop psychic powers so she didn't have to move to get some that Jay wandered in.

He didn't even comment on her manners, though. He went to the coffee machine and poured two huge mugs, passing one to Beyoncé wordlessly.

It burned going down, but the pain was worth it – and almost an end in itself. Her knuckles were cut, her muscles felt like incredibly painful water. The sting of burns in her mouth was an affirmation of sorts, a reminder that morning was, in fact, finally here.

"Your knuckles don't look good," Jay said finally, quietly.

She shrugged. "They'll heal."

"Or get infected."

"My blood can take most bacteria." One of the perks of being a Slayer.

"There's Neosporin in all the bathroom cabinets. You should use some."

She distracted herself for a few minutes by wondering exactly how expensive buying all that Neosporin had been. Of course, knowing Jay, he had hundreds of first aid kits throughout the mansion, and anyway Neosporin didn't cost that much. She knew no expense was being spared in keeping Rihanna safe. Or as safe as a Slayer could be, anyway.

"We need a plan," she said, to keep herself from babbling mentally even more. "Tactics, a timeline."

"That can wait," Jay said. "How 'bout we just enjoy the morning?"

"I don't like daytime TV."

Jay laughed. "Good thing I've got on demand and every movie you can think of. You like action?"

She thought about lying and telling him that romantic comedies were the way to her heart, but that meant she'd have to sit through them – and they were far from her favorite genre, a fact that was reinforced every time Kanye got control of their Netflix. "Yeah, they're all right," she said.

Jay hopped out of his chair and said, "This way."

Back to the den. She relaxed into the couch, letting Jay pick the movie as she stretched and grabbed a blanket.

"So," he said, settling down next to her, "do vampires piss red?"

She blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Vampires. Do they piss red, or what? Do they swell up like ticks when they feed? How's it work?"

For a second she had to savor the image of the vampires she'd encountered, beautiful and otherwise, swelling up as they fed. It was pretty awesome. "No to both," she said. "They just stay the same, except they don't breathe and they drink blood. The science isn't really, um, science."

Jay laughed. "Right, okay."

But it sounded more like appreciation of the truth than any kind of remonstrance, so she let it rest.

He'd chosen Taxi; not bad, she thought. She hadn't seen it in long enough that she could get wrapped up in the (really kind of bad) plot, forcing herself to ignore when his feet crept closer to hers, when they ended up sharing a blanket on her end of the couch instead of staying on their respective sides.

It was a little sketch, she guessed, but then – she was completely crap at this stage. She either fucked a guy and that was it, or she freaked and bailed when she realized he wanted an actual relationship. Neither was possible with Jay.

"How long till Rihanna and Kanye find us, do you think?"

"Morning movies are a tradition with us," Jay said. "So not long."

It was well into the afternoon by then, but Beyoncé couldn't begrudge either of them more sleep. "So, what, are you taking time off?"

"Haven't had a vacation in almost a decade," Jay said. "It's probably time."

How emotionally bankrupt did you have to be to be that much of a workaholic? Of course, that was hypocrisy of the highest degree. She settled on saying, "Right," and lapsing back into watching the movie.

It was almost over when Rihanna came in, trailed closely by Kanye. "I pick the next movie," she said.

"No Disney," Jay said.

"Hey, you're the one who wanted to watch Dumbo," Rihanna said. "I'm just saying, you can't take the nostalgia, get out of the movie room."

They kept up their back-and-forth for half of Mr. And Mrs. Smith. Beyoncé couldn't help but smile at some of it, even though she knew it was mostly to keep any of them from bringing up Rasputin or game plans or anything even remotely like it.

They all finally got quiet – and Jay scooted a little closer, putting his arm around Beyoncé's shoulders in the least subtle move she'd seen since kindergarden.

This was actually kind of sad. Obviously it was up to her to up the ante. Warming to her self-made challenge, she draped her legs over his lap, stretching out luxuriously – and leaving Jay's hand curled up against her right side, fingers just brushing her breast.

She hadn't been expecting him to cop a feel, and he didn't. She didn't have the same scruples, though; her hand wandered up and down his thigh, squeezing the muscle. She smiled against his arm when she felt him shift uncomfortably.

Hopefully, neither Rihanna nor Kanye was looking at them too closely. Though knowing Kanye, if he noticed anything he'd just stand on the coffee table, applaud, and offer to babysit their children.

She had no idea what Rihanna would say. If this all kept up, she'd have to start asking herself that question pretty soon.

It was probably pretty sad that she'd honestly prefer to have the What If A Vampire Tells Me He Has A Soul talk.

||

The rest of the day was as low-key as its beginning. They hung around, sometimes together and sometimes separately, and resolutely Did Not Talk About Rasputin.

"Do you have to patrol tonight?" Jay asked.

Beyoncé nodded. "No reason not to. Except all the normal ones."

"Fair enough," he said. "Let's go bowling first."

"...bowling?"

"It's just as effective if you patrol closer to midnight, right? Or a little after?"

"Sure," she said. "But seriously, bowling?"

"They give you pitchers of beer for cheap," he said. "Also, it's fun."

She raised her eyebrows. "Bowling."

"Shut up and grab your coat," he said, swinging his keys in his fingers.

So she did.

||

His car was a stereotypically flashy Benz, and parking it in the sketchy Bronx parking lot was its own kind of bragging. It said: you can steal my car and I don't give a shit, because I'm loaded and I'm hard enough to walk wherever I want. I don't give a fuck.

"Looks sketchy, I know," he said as he got out. "But I got a tab."

"That just makes it sadder," she said, but she couldn't work up even perfunctory rancor.

"Bowling's one of the greatest sports of this century. And the most underrated," he said.

He didn't hold the door for her when they went inside, and he didn't even glance back as he grabbed his shoes and a ball and headed for an empty lane. She went over to concessions and ordered a pitcher of beer, putting on the bowling shoes while she waited. It wasn't a nice place; the neon signs on the walls flickered and blinked, and the floors were sticky and spotted with gum. But it looked comfortable and people were friendly. She could tell why he liked it.

She carried the pitcher over to their table. "Want a drink before I pummel you?"

Jay laughed. "No fuckin' way."

"No drink? Or you don't think I can beat you?"

"I'm a fucking ninja at this shit. Even your Slayer skills can't help you now."

But she'd been a badass bowler even before the Slayer magic kicked in. She let herself smile, slow and predatory. "Sure," she said, and grabbed the ball, making her first play.

Spare. She smirked at him after the second roll. "Beat that, champ."

So of course he got a strike. Damn it. She grabbed her ball, vowing to do better.

In a run-down alley like this, aggressive and competitive competency drew attention. They never got a crowd, but a good half the alley was watching openly, and another third was pretending not to. It made Jay swagger and talk even louder than usual; it made Beyoncé bend down a little farther than usual, and the toss beer back and throw the ball with Slayer speed and strength. She remembered her mother's cajoling, proud almost joking: "Work it, hon! Work it if you got it and especially if you don't!"

Jay's eyes in particular told her that, yeah, she had it. In more ways than one.

When she won, she leaned over the scoreboard, smiling widely. "Strike."

Jay's smile was wide and completely without the kind of accusation she was used to from guys she'd just creamed. "Nice. I owe you dinner, then."

"There's a wing place around here, right?"

"You wanna bum around the Bronx?"

"Sure. It's your hometown, right?"

"I'm from Brooklyn, actually," he said as they grabbed their stuff and returned their balls and shoes.

"Jesus Christ, seriously? Why the fuck did you take me here, then?"

Jay-z grinned. "Because it's an amazing fucking bowling alley. And if my car gets stolen, I can buy another one."

So he was just bragging, then. Beyoncé bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Right. So are we going to walk to your wing place or is it in Brooklyn?"

"Nah, it's here. So you want to walk, huh?"

"What, you scared?" She threw him a challenging look.

He caught her hand as they made their way out of the alley. "Why would I be scared? I got a Slayer with me."

God damn him, that was more endearing than it had any right to be. She surprised them both by pushing him back against the siding of the outside of the bowling alley, all but climbing him as she kissed him.

It was even better than she remembered. His hands were tight on her hips, his tongue aggressive in her mouth. She ground against him, moaning, and he returned the gesture, his breath hot on her neck when he moved to bite her neck, her shoulder.

He moved over the scabs the vamps had left last night without even a bit of hesitation, and it made her jerk her hips against him even harder, his thigh granting her exactly the right kind of not-quite-enough friction.

A whistle from the sidewalk brought her back to her senses. She went back to her feet, blushing but not bothering to control her grin and the way her hands curled in the front of his shirt.

"Fuck," he breathed. "That was...fuck."

She leaned in and caught his lower lip in her teeth, biting just hard enough. "Wings."

"...wings. Right."

He sounded dazed, she thought smugly as they headed across the parking lot and onto the sidewalk. She'd definitely managed to –

She tripped over the side of the sidewalk and would have gone sprawling if Jay hadn't caught her.

Right, okay. Maybe he wasn't the only one who was a little out of it.

"Thanks," she said, looking away.

She could hear the smirk when he said, "Any time."

The wing place was exactly as sketchy as she'd thought, and the wings themselves almost burned the skin off her tongue. It was the good kind of hurt yet again, and when she was done Beyoncé licked her fingers and grinned with stained lips. "Home?"

She didn't realize what name she'd given the place until Jay smiled back, wide and (unsurprisingly) suggestive. "Home."

Whatever, she thought as they left. It was worth it.

Of course, after that kind of beginning of the night, patrol was boring as fuck. Either they'd scared the vampires into regrouping or they'd decided to give in, turn tail, and run. She was betting it was the former, but really, that night it didn't matter. Slayers were meant to fight, and right now she was at loose ends. It was a hell of a job.

When she finally got back she heard laughter coming from the kitchen, but she went straight to her room anyway. She'd only staked two vamps, and she was feeling edgy because of it; she didn't want to end up biting someone's head off.

Beheading would have been nice, actually, she thought. Hah.

When she finally went to bed, it was to the tune of crickets outside. It didn't matter that things had been demonstratively quiet: her body was tensed, her mind prepared to hear the sound of breaking glass at any minute, anyway.

||

The next day was all but a feel-good montage of happy family moments. Or, well – Kanye acted like their son, anyway, but Rihanna was more like the crafty next-door neighbor. Beyoncé kept finding herself thrown together with Jay – they watched the same movies, ate at the same times, even went on a walk together. And it was mostly Rihanna's fault.

Damn schemer. Beyoncé couldn't help but approve.

She was in the habit of training early in the morning and then again before dinner. Their walk was almost done by four, and Beyoncé tried to leave with a smile, a nod, and an allusion to the gym.

But Jay just said, "Hey, awesome, I'll go with you."

Spending more time with him felt like a way more awesome idea than it should have. She made herself shake her head. "It's cool. I was thinking I'd call Rihanna in to work on her sparring, or something."

"She's training with the krav maga master I hired. Or mistress, actually. That sounds dirty, don't it?" He smiled. "C'mon, I promise to stick to the treadmill. Won't even touch the weights."

He was wearing an insanely tight muscle top that showed off his biceps. Beyoncé straight up didn't approve of the way it made her want to climb him like a tree – again – and now he was offering to let her see him sweat in it.

Damn it. Next time she saw Rihanna, she was going to sucker punch the girl. "Fine," she said. "Let's go."

Jay's look said he knew exactly what she was thinking. Seriously, no points for originality on her part, but damn it again.

When they got to the gym she threw herself onto an elliptical, running so quickly the damn thing started rocking. She didn't care; if she broke the equipment, she could just hop on a treadmill. As long as she stayed distracted.

Because really, it wasn't that she minded the idea of fucking him, or even kissing him and fucking holding hands. She minded the intensity of it, how she wanted an actual relationship – and how she knew it wouldn't last, knew he'd get tired of being with a girl who could beat him up with her pinky toes a hell of a longer time before she was ready to let him go.

So she ran, and ran, and ran. And when she was done with that, she went over to the weight machine and bench-pressed all the weights she could find.

"Seven hundred pounds? Impressive," Jay said from above her.

She almost dropped the dumbbell. "You said you'd stay on the treadmill."

"I'm not using the equipment." He leaned against the machine's frame. "So how much can you lift?"

She lifted the bar around her head, held it while she counted automatically. "Lift, or bench press?"

"Both."

"Lift...around a thousand. Bench press, eight hundred."

He whistled. "Nice."

"It's the demon in me," she said, just falling short of a smile. She was dripping in sweat, her tank top plastered to her; disgusting, but she didn't care, because it felt that damn good.

When Jay shifted, his muscles flexed. He managed to make sweat look hot – and fine, maybe she cared a bit. "Demon?"

"That's where the Slayer's power comes from, originally." Why was she telling him this? "Men chained a girl down, put the demon in her. Spelled it to hop from girl to girl."

His expression didn't change, but his hands tightened on the metal. "Pretty nasty of them."

"Well, they weren't going to risk their own lives," Beyoncé said dryly. Her muscles were starting to tremble. She lowered and lifted the bar one more time before sitting up. "Got a towel?"

He passed one to her wordlessly and she mopped her face up, making a face as she dried around her hairline. Styling was going to be a bitch.

She didn't realize he was staring until she lowered the towel. "What?"

"You're sweaty."

She thought about punching him. "Your point?"

He stepped forward, eyes on her chest. She swallowed hard, flushing with a suddenness that managed to surprise her. It was a different kind of staring than she'd thought. With anyone else, she probably would've realized sooner.

"My point," he said, kneeling in front of her, "is that it's hot."

She stayed absolutely, perfectly still. He reached out, ran his hands over her slippery arms. Down her sides and then back up again, tracing the muscles in her stomach, skating over the edges of her sports bra, moving horizontally until he could brush the sides of her breast and rub his thumbs over her collarbones. By the time he moved to cup her chin, his hands were soaked.

"If I pulled you down here," he said, "we'd slide all over each other."

"And then we'd get stuck to the mat and you'd cry like a tiny baby," Beyoncé said, fighting to keep her voice steady.

He laughed. "You think?"

"Absolutely." She was damn good at not sounding like a liar, normally. Now...well, hell.

"Maybe." Down her arms again, torturously slow. God help her, she wanted to fuck him. Throw him down, ride him hard, sit on his face, suck his dick...it was all relatively vanilla, but it had been a damn long time for her, and just thinking about it made her breath catch.

"You're not going to find out today," she said as calmly as she could.

He just smiled, long and slow. "We got time."

She stood up abruptly, shaking her head. "I'm going to shower," she said.

She realized her mistake when Jay smiled, slow and suggestive. "Uh-huh. Have fun."

The worst part was that getting herself off sounded like the best idea idea on the planet, and not something she could stop thinking about easily. And, hey, she knew Jay wanted it too – so she arched a brow, looking him up and down. "You, too."

When she walked away, it was with an extra roll in her hips. If she had to suffer, then so did he.

The shower was a dream, of course, like everything else in Jay's house. She turned it on and stepped in immediately, pelted by the huge, luxurious showerhead, leaning against the tiles once the water had warmed them, too. And then, when she was completely comfortable, she gave in.

She slid a hand down her stomach and over her clit, moving her hips and not bothering to hold in her moan. It felt so fucking good like this – she let herself think of Jay unreservedly. Think of holding him down and riding him, of fucking him with a dildo. He'd like that, she thought, pushing a finger inside herself and crooking it, using her other hand to play with her breasts, her thumb on her clit. God, just thinking of him writhing, his fucking arrogant voice reduced to begging her...begging her to fuck him harder. To suck him off, or even just touch him at all, anywhere, in any way.

She bit her lip hard as she fucked herself, easing off each time she felt close to coming. She wanted to make this last. She wanted to keep imagining her hands sliding all over him, him whispering his name as she took him in. They'd be so fucking good together – better than anyone else Beyoncé'd ever had. She was sure of it.

When she finally came, it was incredible. She had to bite her lip to keep from yelling, but ended up throwing her head back against the tile instead. Sensation spiraled through her, making her entire body flare with heat, her stomach clenching. When she finally came back to herself, spots were dancing in her vision.

She didn't realize what she'd done to the wall until she turned and shut the water off. The cracks caught her eye and made her turn completely to stare at them: she'd broken the tiles entirely, driven the wall back about two inches at the epicenter of the blow. Cracks emanated from that point, anywhere from an inch to about ten inches long.

There was no way whoever cleaned the bathroom next wouldn't notice that. If she hadn't already been flushed all over, Beyoncé would have been blushing up a storm. She couldn't even imagine what Jay would say when he found out.

Well, okay, that was a lie. She could imagine what he'd say, in excruciating detail. She'd probably end up punching his smug face whenever he finally mentioned it. Or, more embarrassingly, spluttering a nonsensical explanation.

But Christ, had it been worth it. She brushed her fingers over her stomach and down against her cunt, smiling to herself as she got out of the shower. Her body was still hypersensitive to touch, shivering wherever she touched herself.

She was going to draw this flirtation out, she thought. Make it good. It would be more than worth it.

When she wandered down to the kitchen an hour later, hair wrapped up and face free of makeup, it was to a disgustingly domestic scene: Rihanna was chopping an onion, Kanye was vigorously stirring a pot, and Jay was slicing a ham.

"What the hell," she said as nicely as she could.

Rihanna laughed. "Hey. We decided it was time to cook up a little something special. It's been a rough couple days."

"I thought you had a professional chef."

"I do," Jay said. "I gave her the day off."

Beyoncé blinked. "Right. Okay. How can I help?"

Rihanna and Jay exchanged a glance that Beyoncé instantly recognized. "Kanye! You told them!"

"It was for your own protection, B!" Kanye said, still stirring furiously. "What if you blew the kitchen up again! We could all die!"

"I didn't blow it up!" It was true; she'd only blown the oven up. "And that apartment was shitty anyway. The oven was a disaster waiting to happen."

"Most people still don't actually blow their ovens up," Kanye said. "Even in the really low-rent places. It's okay! You're just too awesome for the kitchen."

Beyoncé didn't miss the identical smirks on Jay and Rihanna's faces. "Fine," she said. There was no way she could have the cooking argument and keep her dignity intact. "Tell me what I can do, then."

"You could set the table," Rihanna said.

That was the kind of job you gave the eight-year-old cousin who was always underfoot at Thanksgiving dinners. Beyoncé made a face, but she grabbed the silverware from its ridiculous display cabinet and headed for the dining room. Being marginally useful was better than just standing around.

Everything was cooked, the salad was tossed, and the wine was poured when a tall, narrow man Beyoncé figured was the butler walked in.

"Sir," he said, "There is someone waiting for you at the door."

"Tell 'em to come back later."

"She says her name is Buffy and that she needs to speak with you immediately."

Kanye dropped his fork. "Buffy? Like, the Buffy?"

"I couldn't say, sir," the butler said.

To Beyoncé's surprise, Jay looked at her, his eyebrows raised in an obvious question. She frowned as she thought about it – but really, in the end, the idea of turning the Slayer away, or even making her wait, was completely insane. She shook her head at him.

"Send her in," Jay said. "And tell someone to get another place setting."

"You really think she's gonna want to eat?" Rihanna said.

"We gotta at least offer. Hey, I've got manners," Jay said.

Beyoncé didn't bother voicing her doubt; now wasn't the time to pick a fight, and she knew it. The tension between them all was mounting by the second.

They sat down, but didn't start eating, each of them looking their own brand of nervous. The walls of the mansion were too dense for Beyoncé to be able to hear anything useful; even her amplified Slayer senses weren't picking anything up until the door opened.

"...don't need a Jeeves type to hold doors for me, but thanks," the tiny blonde now walking towards the table said.

Jay stood up smoothly. "You must be Buffy."

Buffy blinked at him. "Uh, yes. And you're Jay-z, right? The rapper guy?"

"And hopeful founder of the American Watcher's Council."

That got him a frown. "Right, okay. We're going to talk about that later."

"Sure. Why don't you sit down and eat something first?"

Buffy shook her head. "This is a strictly business visit, thanks. Plus, you know, you look kind of – familial. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But, um."

"We can talk business with ham." Jay took another bite. "Otherwise, you're gonna have to wait till we're done."

Beyoncé fervently wished the table was smaller. She wanted to kick the hell out of him. There were plenty of people an arrogant record executive could blow off, but Buffy? "I'd be happy to talk to you now," she said, standing.

But to her surprise, Buffy shook her head. "No, it's fine. God, okay, Giles would kill me if he thought I was going to pass up on dinner for, like. Being serious." She sat down at the place that had been laid out for her, grabbing one of the three forks and her knife and cutting up the ham. "Do you guys eat like this every night? It seems pretty intense."

She was more upfront than almost anyone Beyoncé'd ever met; she'd heard the rumors that Buffy was like this, of course, but actually encountering it was something else. "I wouldn't know," she said. "I'm a guest."

"Right." She started eating. "So you're the new kid, right?" she said after a few bites, stabbing her fork at Rihanna.

Rihanna didn't even bristle. "Yeah. Beyoncé's been training me."

"How's that going? Any wonky stuff? Magic coming out of nowhere, prophetic dreams that aren't the typical new-Slayer mumbo-jumbo?"

It was an interrogation as obvious as the one her Watcher had subjected her to the first day he'd found her, but infinitely kinder. Beyoncé didn't say anything as Rihanna cocked her head and said, finally, "Nothing, really. Except for the reason you came into town."

Right then, Beyoncé learned just how terrible a liar the Slayer was. She turned bright red, stared at her plate, and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Uh-huh," Jay said. "Don't play like you weren't trying to feel us out for information. We don't know where the guy is or what he wants. Except he wants us dead, obviously."

Buffy sighed. "Fine. I was going to feel you up – oh god, stop making that face, I've got a gir – a person – anyway – to see how much you knew about it. It's freaking all of us out. He's supposed to be dead. I got chewed out in college because he's supposed to be dead."

"Could be an impersonator," Beyoncé said before she could keep babbling.

"In the end it doesn't really matter," Buffy said. "You're still dealing with a crazy powerful guy who has a massive boner over killing you, or ending the world or whatever. That's kind of a problem."

She had no idea what made her feel so defensive; she'd questioned Jay and Rihanna's abilities when she arrived, too. But things had changed in the few days she'd been here, clearly, since she practically growled, "We've got this."

"Whoa." Buffy held up her hands in a pacifying gesture. "I'm not trying to say you don't. But you probably need some help. And if you want to make a Watcher's Council – which, by the way, is a terrible plan – then having my backup won't exactly hurt."

Beyoncé saw Rihanna and Jay exchange glances. "Why exactly do you think it's a terrible idea?" Jay said finally.

Buffy's voice suddenly took on authority. "It'll be almost impossible to create. When you finally do create it, maintaining it is going to be a serious pain in the ass. You'll have tons of people with tweedy pretension out their asses trying to convince you to hire them, and you'll probably have to deal with a rogue Slayer or five. Also, Quentin Travers is still alive last I heard, and he is the slimiest, most awful man you'll ever have to deal with. Do you really want to go into business with him?"

"I want to protect Rihanna," Jay said. "I'll do that however I have to. The fuckers in England aren't going to touch her."

Beyoncé was expecting more authoritative speechifying from Buffy, but instead she narrowed her eyes at Jay. When she spoke again, her voice was a hell of a lot more level. "You're really serious about this, huh."

"Like death, Slayer."

Buffy nodded. "Okay. I'll butt out of the Rasputin stuff, then. Giles keeps reminding me Slayers need to handle apocalypse-type stuff themselves. But I've got some advice for starting the Council. You know, if you want it."

"We'll talk it over after dinner," Jay said.

For a second, silence fell. Beyoncé half expected Rihanna to quiz Buffy; she herself would have done that, back when she was a new Slayer. But if Rihanna was curious about the legend currently sitting across the table from her, she kept it to herself.

But part of Beyoncé was still that new, eager Slayer. "What have you been doing lately?" she said, keeping her excitement as dampened as possible. "I've heard a lot of stories. You were in Italy, right?"

"For awhile," Buffy said. "By the way, if an immortal guy ever promises you fidelity? Just say no. God, that was toxic."

Beyoncé was pretty sure she wouldn't get herself into that kind of trouble, but that was neither here nor there. "And now?"

"There's something big going down. Could be apocalyptic," Buffy said. "We're trying to figure out where it is. But right now all Willow's coven has is basically 'east of the sun, west of the moon', which is so not helpful."

"That was a good fairy tale," Rihanna said.

"Totally. Or so I've heard. They should make a movie out of it or something. Hey, how's your training going?"

Beyoncé watched Rihanna darken with an almost morbid fascination. So she wasn't immune to Buffy's legend status, after all. "It's going alright, I think. I'm not as good as Beyoncé yet, obviously."

"That doesn't really matter," Buffy said. "I mean, it matters to your ego, sure. But what matters is staying alive in the field. I'm better than Faith is in sparring, but she's my equal fighting vampires, and that's the reason we're alive."

"Faith?" Rihanna said.

Beyoncé knew the legend, of course, and she watched with interest as Buffy's cheeks flushed. "Um. The other Slayer after me, before we worked the spell."

That wasn't the end of the story, Beyoncé thought. She'd heard the rumors about Buffy and Faith; everyone had, really. Seeing Buffy right in front of her would have made her doubt the rumors if she hadn't seen Buffy blush, and heard her slip before; she looked like a picture-perfect California girl, fresh and young still. Not the type to have a violent lesbian affair that turned into a lifelong partnership.

But then, she also didn't look like the toughest woman on the planet, and she was definitely that. Preconceptions, Beyoncé told herself, and said, "You two are doing well?"

"We're happy together," Buffy said, like she'd actually told them they were in a relationship.

Jay proved he wasn't always quick on the uptake by choking on the bite of salad he took.

"You okay over there?" Beyoncé said, not bothering to hide a broad smile.

Jay waved a hand. "Fine, fine. Didn't know you were...in a relationship. Slayer."

"You mean you didn't know I was boinking a girl. It's fine," she said when Jay spluttered. "Lots of people were surprised. I'm not the type, or whatever."

Kanye, who'd been silent and – if Beyoncé was any judge – incredibly starstruck, finally said, "You're great! I bet she's great, too! You're legends! It's great."

Yep, Beyoncé thought as Buffy smiled tolerantly, definitely starstruck.

"So," Buffy said, finishing the food and pushing herself away from the table, "should I give you the Heimlich, or are you ready to talk?"

"I got the breathing thing, don't worry," Jay said, and stood. "Kanye? You'll want to be in on this."

"Do I?" Beyoncé said, standing.

"Well, it's Watcher's Council policy," Buffy said. "I'd rather be trying to break cinder blocks with my brain or something. Seriously, unfun."

The way she said it made Beyoncé pretty sure she didn't give a shit one way or the other. "All right. We'll be in the practice room if you guys need us."

Rihanna stood with her. As they left the dining room, she said, "I feel like a kid shut out from the grownup talk, or something."

"It's more like the muscle waiting outside while the generals plan the battle," Beyoncé said.

"What, you like war movies?"

"I went through a phase when I was twelve were all I'd read were books about World War Two," Beyoncé said. "But trust me, what they're talking about won't be interesting. We're lucky to miss out."

"I still feel like I should know." Rihanna shook her head. "Guess I'm a control freak."

"I was the same way when I was younger," Beyoncé said, remembering the way she'd demanded to know what her Watcher was writing in his journals.

Rihanna grinned. "And, what, in your advanced age you've gotten less curious?"

"More like lazier," Beyoncé admitted. "I pretty much figure they'll tell me what I need to know, and I'll hit anything that surprises me. Some of the Slayers are interested in tactical stuff. They're the ones who go for jobs in the Legion, instead of just paying their dues and letting the Legion tell them what to do sometimes."

"You think I could be one of them?" Rihanna said.

Jay'd known he had someone extraordinary when he signed her, even if he didn't know quite why yet. He had to have. "Probably," Beyoncé said. "You're willing to work hard. Plenty of people sling bullshit about how they've got natural talent, but the workers are the ones who get where they want to go."

"You're not with the Legion, though, and you're amazing."

"Now you sound like Kanye." Beyoncé pushed the door to the practice room open. "If I wanted to be a Legion officer, I could try to be one. But I don't."

"Why?"

"Because I'd have to stop doing this every day," Beyoncé said, and attacked.

An hour later, they were both exhausted. Rihanna was getting noticeably better every day; Beyoncé was going to have to tack on another hour of private practice. Sparring with Rihanna made her realize how close she was to plateauing, and not staying sharp meant getting dead for a Slayer.

But she also wasn't as wholly uncurious about Buffy's ideas as she'd told Rihanna. She didn't want Rihanna to have to confront the harsh reality of Council politics – not yet. So she waited until Rihanna went to take a shower before heading for Jay's study.

The door was cracked. She stopped outside, making sure her shadow couldn't be seen, and listened.

"Tell me how to stop it," Jay said. "There must be some way -"

"There isn't." Buffy's voice was brittle. "If there was, believe me, I would have found it. I never wanted this life. I still don't."

"Does anyone?"

"Some people make their peace with it. I thought I had...but I hadn't, really. I'd just let myself believe I wouldn't need to keep fighting."

"And now?"

"Now I know the truth – but that doesn't mean I'm completely happy with it. She probably won't be either, and you need to accept that."

"Don't lecture me," Jay said tightly.

A long silence, and then Buffy sighed. "Okay. I'll see you, then."

She exited before Beyoncé had a change to move. Their eyes met in the darkness; Buffy's mouth opened. For a second Beyoncé figured she was found out, and got ready to defend herself for eavesdropping like a stupid kid.

But instead, Buffy shook her head a little and walked away.

"Fuck her," Jay was saying. "She doesn't know what the fuck she's talking about."

A long silence, and then Kanye said quietly, "She does."

"Seriously? You're willing to accept that destiny bullshit?"

She expected Kanye to back down with his idol pissed at him, but he didn't. "You think I didn't look for a way to save her?"

"You could take it," Jay said. "The magic. If it could be changed once, it can be changed again."

"So you wanna rob her? She wouldn't be Rihanna."

Another silence, and then Jay said, so quietly Beyoncé had to strain to hear, "No. And she wouldn't be Beyoncé. But we have to keep looking."

"Man, who the hell do you think I am?" Kanye sounded flat-out pissed. "What do you think I've been doing with my fuckin' time, huh? You think you're the only one who cares about her? I'd rather die than see her even get hurt, but we can't help it. We can't stop it. This is who they are."

"I wish it wasn't," Jay said. His voice was as open as Beyoncé had ever heard it. She had to fight the urge to just go in and get her hands on him – kiss him, remind him that she was still alive and planned on continuing to be.

But if she even tried that, he'd probably pitch a fit. She didn't want to listen to any more of the conversation; Kanye's thoughts on her dying were something she could happily go her entire life without hearing. She left quickly, going directly to her room and lying down for a nap. If Buffy decided to patrol with them tonight, then it was going to be a hell of a time.

She drifted off easily, waking up when Rihanna called her at just past ten. "Hello?" she said, sitting up and tying her hair back.

"It's me. What happened to you earlier? You ran off."

"Just had things to do. And I was tired. Is it time to head out?"

"Yeah. Buffy's coming."

"I figured. You ready?"

"To completely humiliate myself?" Rihanna laughed. "Sure, B."

Beyoncé found herself grinning in response. "All right, see you in a few."

To her surprise, Buffy was wearing jeans and a tank top when Beyoncé met up with her and Rihanna at the front door. "Not as fancy as I expected, to be honest," Beyoncé said. "I've heard the stories."

"I've mellowed out lately," Buffy said.

Rihanna frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Have you ever slayed in high-heeled boots?"

That made Rihanna laugh. "No. Definitely not."

"I have," Buffy said with a sly grin.

It was almost impossible not to like her; both Beyoncé and Rihanna were grinning like fools right back.

"Okay," Beyoncé said when the smiling got awkward, "Let's do this."

They were lethal as a team. Beyoncé could tell by Buffy's body language that she was used to working with strangers; she was adaptable and left plenty of room for Rihanna and Beyoncé to work when they encountered a group, but she never left herself open enough to require defense. She didn't depend on them, only reinforced their effectiveness. It was fucking impressive.

They ran into three nests of six or seven vamps each, and a good ten vampires hunting alone. "That was a hell of a haul," Buffy said as she hopped the mansion fence. "Is it like that every night around here?"

Rihanna shook her head. "It's been getting worse lately. Because of Rasputin, we figure."

"Maybe." Buffy frowned.

"What, you think it's something else?" Beyoncé said.

"In my experience, the most obvious answer is usually the right one – but it's never as simple as you think it is, you know? Like, you guys don't know what he's up to, do you?"

Rihanna glanced at Beyoncé, raising her eyebrows. Beyoncé shrugged. There was no way to make them look good to Buffy. "Not really. We figured he was mostly just here to cause trouble."

"Well, yeah," Buffy said dryly. "But you're going to have to figure out what kind of trouble."

"Us?" Rihanna said.

Buffy nodded. "I've got to run. Giles called while you were napping, Beyoncé – he's got a case for me in the Catskills. Some kind of rabid werewolf/vampire hybrid." She shuddered exaggeratedly. "He always saves the weird stuff for me."

"What time are you leaving?" Beyoncé said.

"As soon as my hair's blow-dried," Buffy said. They went inside and Beyoncé took off her trainers, depositing them under the bench beneath the guest coat rack. "I'm actually going to run now. So – um. It was nice meeting you." She held out her hand.

Beyoncé gripped it tightly. "You, too," she said, looking Buffy in the eye. Buffy looked – respectful, Beyoncé realized. She was looking at Beyoncé like an equal.

It was a hell of an honor. "Take care of yourself," she found herself saying. Buffy was one of the least stable Slayers, changing location and missions almost weekly. And now that she'd actually met the woman, she was insanely invested in keeping a living legend. Emphasis on the living.

"I will," Buffy said. She grinned and turned to Rihanna. "And it's been awesome meeting you, too. I'd better hear stories about you in a few years."

Rihanna returned her smile with a sly one of her own. "Count on it."

They hugged goodbye, and within a few minutes Beyoncé and Rihanna were back in the living room.

"It's already three? Christ," Rihanna said, collapsing on the couch.

Beyoncé sat down a little more carefully. "That was unreal."

"Yeah? Hmm." Rihanna yawned. "It was interesting, for sure."

"Oh, come on. You have to think more than that. She's a legend."

"She's amazing," Rihanna said, "and intimidating, yeah, but you're forgetting that I have a rap legend as my weird overprotective father figure. I'm used to bumming around with mythical types."

Beyoncé opened her mouth to say that Jay-z was a far cry from Buffy – and then shut it, because that was a can of worms she'd deserve getting whacked for opening. "Right," she said finally. "Of course."

Rihanna laughed. "Wow. You really don't think much of him, do you?"

"It's not that. It's just that Buffy's..." She shook her head. "Buffy's more than just a pop culture legend. She's the person who changed everything for us. I wouldn't be who I was if she hadn't done what she did."

"Man, try saying that five times fast. But I get your point."

"Do you -" Beyoncé clamped her jaw shut. She doubted she really wanted the answer to what she'd been about to ask.

But apparently Rihanna's curiosity was insatiable tonight. "Do I what?"

"Has anyone told you what it means to be a Slayer?" she said finally. "How things will be for you?"

Rihanna's expression didn't change. "You mean the part about dying young?"

Well, yes. But – "It's more than that. You're picking up a duty that will change you. It's going to shape who you are for the rest of your life."

"Oh, God. You got the whole historic speech, didn't you? Because you had an old-timey Watcher."

That wasn't the word she would have used to describe him, but then they'd long since established that her relationship with her Watcher was...unusual. "Yes," she said finally, the words echoing in her mind. One girl in all the world...still. One girl to be guided by the Council. And that's you, Beyoncé. "I did."

Rihanna winced. "Sorry."

"You don't need to apologize. It's just..." She forced herself to shrug. "The traditions we used to have...they're gone now. And what's in their place is new, and messy, and in a lot of ways even more painful than what used to be."

"And still lonely, they'll tell us."

It startled her enough that she felt her eyes widening when she met Rihanna's gaze.

Whatever Rihanna saw in her face was enough to make her nod, a conclusion already reached. "I don't think I agree with that part of it."

"How can you not?"

"There are things I'd rather not be," Rihanna said. "None of the Slayers living now avoided attachments the way the old Watchers say you're supposed to."

It was true, almost painfully so, but that didn't mean Beyoncé was going to let it go uncontested. "How do you know that?"

"Jay told me." Rihanna cocked her head. "You're the closest, since you're the only one who survived old-school Watcher training past a year."

Before Buffy, that had been common. Before Buffy –

Into each generation, a Slayer is born. Such a lie, such a damned lie, because even before everything had changed, the magic had touched hundreds of them each generation and thus made them expendable.

"That's true," she said finally.

"But now you have Kanye. Things changed with him, didn't they?"

"How much do you know?"

"Only what I've been told."

Which wasn't an answer at all. Beyoncé shook her head. "I'd never wanted what Kanye offered. He wanted me to have a family, even if it was a family of just one excitable Watcher. He's a good person, but when I met him I was ready to throw him off a cliff."

She was ready – braced, really – for Rihanna to ask what had happened next, and to have to deflect the question as best as she could. Instead Rihanna nodded once, slowly. "And things changed."

"Things got closer to how they are for most Slayers, yeah."

"But you still believe in the loneliness."

She thought of Jay, of course. "I..." Don't want to. Am scared to. "At the end of things, it's still true. We die, and we die alone. There's nothing that can be done about that, no shortcut we can take or cheat we can use. Even Buffy will die alone, in the end."

"But in the meantime," Rihanna said softly. "We can have people. A family, and..."

"I hope so." Beyoncé had to swallow hard. "I can't give you a better answer."

"Well. Thank you."

A few seconds' uncomfortable thought – and then just like that, Rihanna was smiling brightly. "So we should crash, huh. Jay won't let me slack off tomorrow just because I met another legend."

The smile made something inside her relax – something she hadn't even realized was tense along with the rest of her. "Yeah, probably."

"See you." Rihanna stood and left.

Beyoncé stared absently at the door she'd gone through, her mind wandering. Personal attachments...someday Rihanna would meet someone she wanted to stay with. Would an enterprising vampire catch him – or her? Would Beyoncé be around to watch her eyes gain that bit of age that always came with the death of someone close?

An impatient part of her whispered, does it even matter in the end? And – she knew the answer to that. No, of course it didn't. In some ways, it couldn't. Rihanna would do what she was born to do, the same as Beyoncé had – and she would live her life as close to how she wanted to as humanly possible, the same as Beyoncé wished she could do.

She felt thoroughly useless sitting there in the dark, brooding. Even Kanye wouldn't possibly approve of how she was right now. And really, what conclusions could she come to? Nothing she hadn't fought with herself about before. She close her eyes, slowly counting to a hundred before standing and making her way towards her bedroom.

Kanye was already sleeping; when she laid her ear against his door, she could just barely hear him snoring. She smiled a little to herself and went into her room, folding her clothes neatly and climbing into bed. It was all routine, comforting in the light of the day's insanity.

She must have been more tired than she realized; she fell asleep almost immediately, and didn't wake up until Kanye started pounding on her door at noon.

Christ, she needed to be getting up earlier. "Just a second!" she said, dressing frantically. She didn't have a bra on – or underwear, for that matter – but Kanye'd seen her in way worse.

"Hang on, B! We -"

She flung the door open and realized why Kanye had wanted her to wait: Jay was with him.

All of a sudden, the conversation she'd overheard came flooding back. All she could do was stare, feeling caught – pinned, almost. She knew too much about him, or he knew too much about her, or -

"Figured you'd want lunch," Jay said, with a smirk that didn't quite manage to be authentic.

Beyoncé was just as bad. "I! I – yes. Just -" Bra. Bra. "Just one second," she said, and slammed the door in their faces.

At least the thick wood meant she couldn't hear it if either of them laughed. She got further dressed as quickly as she could, pulling a robe over herself for good measure before she opened the door. "So what's up?"

"Tell you at lunch," Jay said, turning and walking away.

He was too abrupt. Had he realized she'd eavesdropped last night? Damn it – she always gave away more than she wanted to. God only knew what exactly he knew about her now.

"Hey, B, don't worry. It's cool," Kanye said quietly, staying at her side until they got to the kitchen. She wished she could be comforted.

It was obvious they'd been waiting for her, which got her back up even more: a plate of eggs and toast, heaped high, sat next to cereal and a mug of coffee. Jay motioned to the chair. "Go nuts."

She smiled a little, sitting down. "Though you said it was lunch."

Jay sat down at a place with a huge sandwich. "I did."

"Funny." But the eggs were delicious, and – she swallowed them and took a bite of the toast – the toast was, too. And he hadn't tried to feed her pancakes, which was nice. She wondered if Kanye had told him about her eating habits. Plenty of meat, but no sugar; it was the regimen her old Watcher had set for her, and she kept it still, as a weird security blanket more than anything else.

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Jay said, "So I'm guessing you'll want to get rid of Rasputin sooner instead of later."

"It would be nice," Beyoncé said. "Rihanna'll need to train hard. Kanye can oversee it."

"We talked about that," Jay said. "You wanna let us in on the strategy, though?"

Beyoncé gritted her teeth, trying not to get distracted. She'd downed half the mug of coffee already, and her sense memory was coming back with a vengeance. She knew exactly how his lips felt, how hard he could press against her with his fingers...how wet he could make her.

And she wanted to feel it again. She wanted to feel more than that, if she was being completely honest with herself.

"You okay, B?"

She licked her lips, coming back to herself. Both Jay and Kanye were looking at her like they expected her to pass out. "I – yeah, I'm good." She tried to smile. "We don't have much of a strategy yet. Do we know anything we didn't know last night?"

"Nope. Guess you could go out, case the neighborhood, ask around." Jay shrugged. "At least, that's what Buffy said you should do."

"Buffy's great, but I'm not a little white girl." She couldn't keep herself from saying it with an all too familiar defensiveness. Stupid, she told herself, but she couldn't change her tone. "People won't want to talk to me right away."

"Of course they will," Kanye said. "You're great. It's obvious."

It was a nice try, but he didn't sound half as convinced as he usually did when he tried to boost Beyoncé's ego. "Yeah, you know you're a liar," she said, smiling to soften the blow. "I'll try, but we need to think of other things."

"I can send Rihanna out," Jay said. "Girl's got an eye like a bloodhound's nose, y'know? She might be able to spot where they're nesting."

"Do they even have bloodhounds in Brooklyn?"

"Not the point."

"Maybe to you." Now her smile was wider, and – God help her – genuine. "Or is Brooklyn too hard for hunting dogs?"

"Fuck you," he said, laughing. "It's a damn figure of speech."

"Did I miss something?" Rihanna said from the doorway.

"Just your mentor being a tough guy," Beyoncé said. "So – you ready to find some vampires?"

||

When the sun began to set, they were still looking.

"This is boring," Rihanna said. "No, scratch that – this is beyond boring. This is...corpse-ing."

"That's not a word," Beyoncé said.

She had a feeling that behind the giant sunglasses – part of a disguise that Beyoncé had been surprised Rihanna needed – Rihanna was rolling her eyes. "Sure, whatever. Where the hell are they, B?"

Cemeteries had been a dead end, and in this hyper-upscale part of the city there were hardly any warehouses. The few that existed were pristine. They'd found no signs of habitation in vacant houses for sale, and even the goddamned park shelters were free of suckers.

But people were dying every fucking night, and Rasputin was gearing up for something big. They were missing something. "It just doesn't add up," Beyoncé said, not for the first time.

"We'll find them," Rihanna said. "I mean – we have to, right? Unless they've moved on."

"They came here for a reason," Beyoncé said. Hunting Slayers was still a sport with vampires, even if it was less important now that there were tons of them. "We need to figure out exactly why."

"Oh, hey," Rihanna said, and jumped five feet in the air, grabbing a tree branch and swinging into the tree.

Beyoncé pressed her lips together. Her silence was rewarded when, ten minutes later, Rihanna tossed a vampire down onto the ground.

She landed in a perfect crouch on top of him. "We could ask him."

"We could." Beyoncé put her boot – a little impractical, but damn worth it – on the vamp's throat. "Hi," she said pleasantly.

He snarled wordlessly.

"Not too friendly," Rihanna said, sitting down. "I'm comfortable. We can wait."

"I know you can talk," Beyoncé said. "Come on, seriously? I'm a Slayer. Tell me what you want, and you might not get a practical demonstration of what that means."

The vampire rolled his eyes. Well, okay; he might be an idiot, but he wasn't a coward. "Or," she said, increasing the pressure, "I could spend all night pulling you apart bit by bit, then drag you back home, let you heal during the day, and do it again." She pressed down a little harder. "Your choice."

He glared at her. "Fine. Get the fuck off me, and I'll talk."

She pulled back, but only just. "You don't need to breathe," she said when he took a huge breath.

"Still -" He coughed.

"You don't need to do that either," Rihanna said.

He glared at her. "Still new."

"How long?" Beyoncé said. If Rasputin was turning a lot of people -

"Two years, all right? So it's taken me awhile." He stuck his lip out in what was unmistakably a pout. "What do you want?"

"We know about Rasputin," Beyoncé said.

The vampire actually looked scared. "Aw man, you gotta be kidding me."

"Not so much." Beyoncé made her smile as ugly as she could. "So maybe you should tell us the details of his plan."

"Naw, can't do that."

She pressed down harder, and her heel pinched his skin, taking a chunk out of the side of his neck. Blood sprayed everywhere as he yelled. "Now," she said, making her voice as cold as she could manage, "why don't you tell me about Rasputin's plans?"

For a second, a precious goddamn second, she thought he was going to break. But in the end he shook his head and gibbered, "I don't know a thing! I swear!"

"Useless," she said, and staked him.

When she looked over at Rihanna, she was staring at Beyoncé woodenly. "Too rough for you?" Beyoncé said, her voice a dare.

Rihanna shook her head mutely.

"Right," Beyoncé said. She felt almost ugly, but she'd done nothing wrong; this was just how it was, sometimes. "Let's keep going, then."

They dusted ten suckers before the end of the night. All of them had known about Rasputin's presence; all of them had refused to talk. When they got back to Jay's, Beyoncé felt ready to put her fist through the wall. Something was happening, something big was happening, and she was on the verge of letting it pass her by. Failure, especially failure after Buffy had just visited, could not be an option.

And when she got back to her room, Jay was lurking in the shadows.

"I can hear you breathing," she said, pulling her shirt off. She'd made the snap decision to show off, because fuck it: she was tired. Tired of the vampires, tired of this insane sexual tension, and tired of her own neuroticism that kept her from flirting. Hell, maybe Kanye's praise was rubbing in, and her ego was getting bigger.

"Bad night?"

"Horrible." She turned to him, aware that her movements were sharp enough to highlight the Slayer magic and not caring. "Get out."

He took a step forward. Christ, she thought, staring at him, he was so fucking ugly. And she wanted to throw him down and fuck him until neither of them could talk.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Fuck it. "No," Beyoncé said, and took the five steps forward needed to grab his shirt and yank him to her, kissing him hard.

He moaned into the kiss, pushing back against her. She moved her hands from his shirt to his arms, holding them back so he couldn't touch her. The memory of the night was coursing through her: the skills, the sharp coolness of the night air, the feeling of the stake entering flesh. It made her want to keep fighting.

And hey, she wasn't naïve. She knew exactly what she was going to do with all that energy.

"Get down on the floor," she said. "Actually – no." She held out a hand; Jay stopped. "On the bed," she said. "Hands over your head. Don't move them. I swear to fucking God, if you move them I will throw you out."

He looked tense, but not even remotely afraid. Good. She didn't want him afraid. She wanted him hard, ready, and –

She tore off his clothes. That made him inhale sharply. "You can afford them," she said, and pushed off her pants.

He held completely, perfectly still as she sank down onto him.

Fuck, it felt good. She bit her lip until she tasted blood, closing her eyes and moving. Her hands found their own way to his chest, nails scraping his skin, fingers feeling for spots that made his back arch. Her lip stung when she ran her tongue over it again, and she pressed her tongue into the spot, licking the blood.

"Fuck, B," Jay said.

His voice was quiet, almost careful. She'd have been lying if she said it didn't thrill her to know that he was being just a little cautious right now.

"If you come before I'm done, I'll throw you out the window," she said, and started moving.

Time became a blur. It was easy to ride him, to play with her clit and run her hands all over herself until she came – and then, when she saw the way Jay was holding himself completely still, to do it again. She didn't stop until her body was exhausted, until the urge to keep fighting had gone.

Sweating, gasping, she leaned down over him, sliding her hands up his arms to hold his wrists. She kissed him, biting his lower lip.

"Now," she said.

He closed his eyes, every single muscle tensing – and came in her, shaking, his breath coming in gasps and moans.

When he relaxed she moved off him.

"Don't you even fuckin' think about leaving," he said when she pulled away.

She was disgusting and growing more aware of it by the second. But she knew something was going on here, and –

If she was being honest with herself, it wasn't something she wanted to miss.

"All right," she said. "But you can only stay for a few, you hear me? Just a few."

"Sure." Jay ran his hand down her arm. "Long enough to catch my breath."

She closed her eyes for a second, taking a deep, grounding breath. His hand had moved to her wrists, and he was massaging them so fucking gently...

It was all too predictable when she fell asleep.

||

Her head was pounding when she woke up the next morning. She moaned and sat up, massaging her temples. The pain was bad enough that she didn't realize someone was sleeping next to her until she tried to spread her aching legs and her foot ran straight into Jay.

She froze, but it was too late: he'd already woken up.

"Hi," he said, smiling lazily and reaching out for her.

She jumped away – and fell off the bed.

"Uh, B?" He got up and walked over to her, painfully obviously trying not to laugh. "You okay?"

"Aside from a series of incredibly bad choices last night, yeah, I'm fine." God, she could still feel him pushing his fingers into her, kissing her...

"Hey." He offered her a hand. "You seemed to like it just fine."

More than just fine. Christ, just remembering how his hands had felt had her pressing her thighs together against further sensation.

No. "I've got things to do." She shrugged. "Adrenaline gets even the best of us, you know?"

It was true, but not the whole truth; she didn't expect him to respond with anything but the quick shrug and grin he gave her. "Sure. Slayers can't get tied down, right?"

So very, very much no. Beyoncé smiled brightly. "You got it."

"Any chance of me changing your mind?"

"Probably not." Beyoncé went for the world's worst, most obvious subject change. "So let's let Rihanna know we're not dead, okay?"

Jay-z's smile said he knew exactly what she was doing. Embarrassingly, he humored her anyway. "Sure. Let's."

It wasn't until she got to the kitchen that she realized it wasn't actually time for breakfast: it was past noon. Damn it. She'd never been good at sleeping comfortably with people; being a Slayer meant having the kind of instincts normally reserved for soldiers and cops. As a rule, she slept lightly.

Apparently, good sex really was like a drug. She frowned and went to the fridge, grabbing lunchmeat and cheese.

"No mayo?" Jay said. He was drinking coffee, leaning against a counter.

"I don't like it," she said, just barely stopping herself from dropping the food.

She was insanely shaken up. Somehow, the fact that the sex had been so good made it seem like an even worse idea in retrospect. She'd felt the build-up; she'd known it was coming. If Kanye had been in his right mind about Jay, he probably would have advised against it. Well, maybe. Okay, probably not. But –

But damn it, Kanye wasn't there to be her relationship advisor. If she'd known it was a bad idea – and she had – then she should have admitted it to herself and damn well not done it. Instead she'd ditched all common sense because instinct told her to just go for it. That was so fucking stupid: instinct always told her to just go for it. She shouldn't have been the Slayer with Jay.

"B?"

She realized belatedly that she was clutching the lunch meat so hard she'd crushed the entire container. "Oh. Um." She laughed nervously. "Sorry."

"'s cool. There's more where that came from." The look Jay gave her was...mature. How old was he, anyway? And why was she acting immature enough to notice?

She frowned in response. "We're not having that talk."

"If you were anyone else I'd say you were scared."

"If you were anyone else I'd say you were needy."

That got a smirk from him. "Two-shay," he said, his pronunciation twisting the word out of all recognition.

This room was way, way too small. "Right, okay. I'm taking this -" she lifted the sandwich fixings – "and going to train."

And she bolted.

Kanye, damn him, found her a few minutes later, sitting on a pommel horse and tearing into her sandwich, the loaf of bread and extra meat and cheese on the mats. "Oh, man, B. You gotta be kidding me."

She glared. "Did you talk to Jay?"

"Didn't need to." He clambered up onto the pommel horse. "You two are pretty transparent."

She shook her head. "I shouldn't have done anything with him, much less..."

"What'd you do?" Kanye propped his chin on his hands, staring at her intently. "It might help if you tell me everything."

"You're disgusting," she said, without the slightest bit of surprise.

"I didn't mean it like that. Well, not much." He touched her knee, the movement more tentative than he'd been in months. "But come on, B. You know all that shit your old Watcher told you is just, you know. Shit. Right?"

She was more than familiar, now, with the way memories could wash over her with the slightest provocation. Her old Watcher had controlled her down to the hair, promised her that if she obeyed his methods, if she listened, then she'd live – at least for a little while.

Forming attachments leads to death, Slayer. You must fight alone, as is prophesied.

"It's hard to shake," she said finally. "You remember, in the barber shop..."

When she'd tried to tell him getting his hair cut at the same place created unnecessary and dangerous attachments, he'd lost his shit laughing at her. Then he'd taken a few hours to think about exactly what she was saying, and what it meant about how she lived – and the day had ended with him attaching himself to her and refusing to leave her alone.

"Yeah," he said. "I know. You're like a kid learning to walk, with relationships. But Jay...he's got a thing for you, and he knows you've got freaky Slayer issues. You could do worse."

She could do a lot worse, but that wasn't really the point. "I have to solve the Rasputin thing and make sure Rihanna does okay," she said. "Then maybe I'll let myself think about, you know..."

"Your personal life?"

"Basically."

Kanye rolled his eyes. He looked ready to say something completely out of line – but his phone rang, the hook of Jay's song making them both jump.

"Lemme have it," he said when he answered.

If she'd bothered to listen hard she could have heard the conversation, but watching was more interesting. She'd been around him enough in the past year that she could note and read every facial tic. He was talking to one of the higher-ups, judging by his frown; his eyebrows told her that they had bad news. His tapping finger said he was talking to a Brit.

He confirmed it when he hung up. "We've got trouble."

"Hit me."

"The Legion's been working with covens all over the world for awhile now. They've known for awhile something big is brewing."

"Yeah, I remember. They know more about it?"

"You could say that." Kanye moved to sit cross-legged, balancing precariously. Beyoncé had to fight the urge to tilt him over. "They've pinpointed the location. It's here in New York."

A chill washed over her. "Isn't there a demon bar downtown? It has a portal, right?"

"That wouldn't do it. We're talkin' the black hole of energy draining, here. They're pretty sure it's what they've been looking for."

"It's something Rasputin's doing," she said, stomach sinking. "How the hell is he managing it?"

"Fucked if I know. They seem pretty pissed that we aren't already on it, though."

Irrational irritation pricked her. "I have tried to find out, you know."

"No one's blaming you, B." Kanye thumped his thighs with his fists. It was his most obvious nervous tell. "The coven thinks it's a Hellmouth."

She felt like her skin was going to freeze over. "No."

"They sounded sure. They sounded scared."

"What else did they say?"

"I hung up on them." Kanye shrugged. "I can only take so much bad news at once."

That made her smile a bit. "Of course you did."

"We're gonna have to stop it. We can't have a Hellmouth in New York. That'd be beyond a disaster."

"On the plus side, it's not like New Yorkers would notice." Beyoncé tried and failed to smile. "You know, since it's such a mean damn city."

"Having it rampaging with demons would make it worse."

"You're so comforting," she said. "Honestly, I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Yeah, yeah. So. What's the plan?"

Aside from curling up under her bed and never moving..."We've already searched all the obvious places for Rasputin's cronies. Does the coven have any way to pinpoint where in New York the Hellmouth might be opening?"

Kanye shook his head. "But I'm guessing you must've missed something, if the number of vamps you and Rihanna've been dusting is any hint. It's gotta be close to here, or on the property."

That would be convenient. Almost too convenient, really.

"Uh-oh. I don't like the look on your face, B."

"It makes sense. Get the Slayer to defeat a bunch of vamps trying to open a Hellmouth, use that to convince the Council he's the right man to open up an American branch."

"He wouldn't do that. There's no way he'd risk it."

"Are you saying that because you really believe it, or are you saying that because you want to believe it?"

"I love you, but girl, you could just admit you're scared as fuck to stick around and keep it up with him. He's smart. There's no way he'd risk opening a Hellmouth just for fuckin' leverage."

He was right, and she knew damn good and well he was – but the contrary part of her, the part that would take almost any excuse to push Jay away, leapt at this opportunity. "He might be smart, but that doesn't mean he's rational. Everyone makes mistakes now and then."

"Beyoncé." Kanye crossed his arms, looking her in the eye. "You know he's not involved with this. Come on. Neither of us are neutral on him, but we still gotta do our jobs."

And, his tone said, you are acting like a complete lunatic. Hard to argue that point. She closed her eyes briefly, trying to think. "We scoured aboveground already, so we need to start searching everywhere below. Sewers, tunnels...we've got to find the bastards within a few days. If the coven suddenly was able to figure out the location, then they're probably close to finishing the job."

Kanye nodded. "And you know what happens when a Hellmouth opens."

"Off the chart demonic activity. The Council'd probably want me to stay."

"You Watcher didn't tell you? Goddamn."

That scared look he had could only mean one thing. "Apocalypse."

"Damn right. Well, kind of. The world won't end, but the whole city'll be leveled. It takes a lot of power to make a portal happen. And it'll be a real portal, not the dormant kind in Cleveland. A door, not just a hotspot."

"Great." She turned her head from side to side, popping her neck. "We'll figure out a search pattern later. Right now I need to train."

"Right." He stayed on the pommel horse, staring at her.

She swatted his head. "That means out, Kanye."

"Oh! Yeah." He scrambled to leave, falling down hard on the mats and stumbling up. "We'll do fine, you know. We always do. You'll do great!"

And just like that, his morale had recovered. She laughed, almost in spite of herself. "Of course I will," she said, and flipped off the pommel, running for the bars and catching them easily. Kanye's applause almost made her believe she was telling the truth.

Even with her uncertainty, she lost herself in the adrenaline rush quickly enough. Apocalypses were scary as hell, but it wasn't like they were rare. They weren't even remotely unusual, actually. She could manage it. She and Kanye would figure out what to do. They'd teach Rihanna in the process.

And maybe – maybe – Jay, too.

||

She barely noticed when Rihanna came in and started throwing knives on the other end of the room; she was engrossed in weights, then gymnastics, and then cardio without pausing for breath. It wasn't until she hopped off the elliptical to stretch that Rihanna said, "We love this city, you know."

She nodded, staring into space. "I do know."

"And we'd do anything to protect it."

She didn't want Rihanna to know the meaning of 'anything'. "Yeah, of course."

"Dying. Torture. Centuries in a hell dimension."

"You won't have to go through that."

"Because we're going to stop Rasputin from opening a Hellmouth. All of us." Rihanna moved until she was directly in front of Beyoncé, looking her in the eye. "I'm not just gonna let you blow us off, you know."

"Kanye got to you," Beyoncé said heavily.

Rihanna laughed. "Nope. I just guessed. Come on, you don't buy all that lone wolf crap, can you? It's dangerous as fuck. And unhealthy, too, unless definitely dying young makes you feel better."

"You don't have any experience with this kind of thing."

"I love New York. Jay loves it more. And both of us care about each other and our other friends." Rihanna reached out slowly, clapping a hand on Beyoncé's shoulder. "We're going to do this, okay? Don't shut us out."

"And what if one of you dies?" Beyoncé took a deep breath to keep from yelling. "I don't want you to see how much you have to sacrifice yet."

"How do you think you'll stop it? Beyoncé, I have to do this. I have to help. I came to terms with being a Slayer before you even came here. I know it's dangerous."

"You don't know what you're talking about," Beyoncé said harshly.

Rihanna's glare was just as sharp. "Bullshit. I might not be as experienced as you, but that doesn't make me stupid. Are you seriously going to try to tell me that you think it's in my best interest to sit on my ass while you tackle the Hellmouth alone? After you tell me about destiny and you tell Jay he can't fight me being what I am?"

Beyoncé opened her mouth to reply, but she couldn't make herself say it. She remembered being strictly controlled, and hating it, too well. She couldn't force that on another Slayer.

Finally she settled for, "It'll hurt you both."

"Yeah. Duh." Rihanna smiled a bit. "We'll make it out alive."

"I'm tempted to make Jay stay here. He doesn't know the first thing about fighting demons."

"He won't do it. Give him a crossbow or something, and he'll stay back and let us do the real work. But there's no way he'll let me do it without him." Rihanna gave her a thoughtful look. "I don't think he'd let you either, really."

"Let's not go there." Beyoncé spaced for a second, trying to remember the last time she'd had to deal with an organized plan like Rasputin's. "I already told Kanye we need to search the area," she said. "The mansion first, and then farther out. Underground, all of it – we covered the surface already. We have to do it fast. If we don't find the spot where they're planning to open the Hellmouth, we're screwed."

"Why's it got to be the Hellmouth site? Can't we just hunt them down, kill 'em one by one? "

"No. It takes weeks of ceremony and dozens of human sacrifices to open a Hellmouth. Once the magic takes hold, we'll have to stop it where it's forming. Bury the whole goddamn project. Otherwise there'll be enough residue for anyone to come along and finish the process."

"Oh, fun."

"These kinds of conspiracies are the worst part of our job." And the one Slayers had to do most often, since there was always a clown or five thinking they could bring about the end of the world. "But it should be easy enough, once we find the site of the Hellmouth. Just tedious."

"You really think we can take on Rasputin like that?"

Beyoncé shrugged. "It's that or have our asses handed to us and die in the portal. We don't have the luxury of pulling our punches."

Rihanna bit her lip; Beyoncé steeled herself for what was coming next. She knew this part, the give-and-take of being a new Slayer. The plan was a vague one, and it was easy to think there was another way, one that involved less risk, fewer dangerous chances taken, a more neatly plotted course. Sooner or later, though, Rihanna would realize that this was what her life had to be like: there was no dependable, methodical way to slay demons. "Can't we take some time to plan? Draw up a system, make sure we know what we're doing?"

"Every second that we waste is a second Rasputin has to keep working. Being underground means he can work on it pretty much constantly. We have to find him. Planning won't do anything except psyche us up for when we actually meet him."

Rihanna looked ready to keep arguing, but after a moment, she sighed. "Okay, okay. Fine. When do we start the search?"

Beyoncé glanced at the clock: it was just past three. "Now," she said, and left the practice room.

"Okay," she said as she walked. "We should be able to cover a lot of ground before sunset. We'll need to start patrolling once it gets dark. If we get lucky, we'll be able to find someone who can be...persuaded to give us directions to the Hellmouth site."

"That sounds nice and sinister." Rihanna pulled the front door open and followed Beyoncé outside. "What're we looking for, exactly?"

"Any kind of entrance to underground. Holes, tunnels, sewers." Beyoncé paused. "Honestly, sewers are probably our best bet. Do you know where the nearest tunnel is?"

"There's one on the grounds. Here, follow me."

The sewer was under a willow tree, of all things. It wasn't the healthiest tree she'd ever seen; not that she knew much about growing things, of course, but she was pretty sure the leaves weren't supposed to be shot through with yellow.

Oh, well. Not her business if Jay's gardener didn't know how to do her job. With one arm, she wrenched off the screwed-down sewer cover, tossing it a few feet away. "After you."

Rihanna boosted herself down with impressive ease. "It's clean," she said. "Is it supposed to be clean?"

"You say that like you think I have extensive experience sewer-diving." Beyoncé crawled down after Rihanna. The ladder really was clean – and she had, in fact, crawled around sewers before. Was it a rich person thing, hiring people to make sure everything down to the sewers were immaculate?

"Of course you do," Rihanna said. "Ugh. Ready for the sludge?"

"Always," Beyoncé said. "I should have warned you about how glamorous our occupation is. You might have worn nicer shoes."

"Very funny."

Beyoncé put her feet down in the muck. "Aren't I? Okay. We're looking for any signs of vampiric habitation. That means footprints, bodies, anything. If we get close to any vampires, you should be able to feel it. One of the perks of being a Slayer."

"Like spidey sense?"

"Close enough. So – let's get going."

"Which way should we head?"

"South," Beyoncé said. "Towards the city."

Rihanna just looked at her blankly. They'd have to work on that, Beyoncé thought. "Left."

"Oh, right." Rihanna took off, traipsing through the muck without the slightest care.

She'd be way better at the gross stuff than Beyoncé had been at her age. The Legion should form a slime demon-slaying division or something. The thought made her grin a bit.

"Oh God," Rihanna said, recoiling so sharply she banged into Beyoncé.

Beyoncé looked up – and barely kept her own cool. A body was hanging from the top of the sewer, a young girl in the later stages of decomposition. "Don't breathe through your nose," Beyoncé said.

"Not planning on starting," Rihanna said. "So, our vampires must be nearby."

"Maybe." She really didn't want to do this now, but...it was necessary. Rihanna needed to have the skills to slay on her own, including the unpleasant ones. "Okay. Now I want you to tell me what the body tells us about the vampires living in the sewers."

"Are you kidding?"

"It'd be nice, wouldn't it? This is the shit that's in the official training books."

Rihanna shuddered. "Right. Um, she's been up there awhile. Obviously. And no one's found the body, which means the vamps have control of this part of the sewers. They've found a way to make sure no one comes down here."

"Probably by paying people off," Beyoncé said. "The more sophisticated the gang, the less likely they are to just kill to accomplish their goals. What else?"

"There's more?"

"There are no signs of actual nesting, which means the vampires are controlling more territory than they need. That means that, even if we haven't found Rasputin, we've found an organized gang, probably with a coherent plan."

"Wait," Rihanna said. "How do we know it's vampires?"

Damn, she was good. "As far as you know, we don't," Beyoncé said. "I was wondering if you'd pick up on that. The girl's neck has been snapped, by the looks of it – but look at her feet and legs." Bite marks all over her. She'd been partially drained, probably while she was still alive.

"Oh," Rihanna said faintly. "I...oh."

"Mostly it's easy to kill vamps and not think about it much, but the ones with plans are evil fuckers."

"How often do you meet one with a plan?"

Good point. "Every, I don't know, six months or so."

Rihanna's smile was wry and too damn old for her. "Right. Should we keep going?"

Beyoncé shook her head. "To be honest, the odds of there being two gangs around here are pretty slim. We've found our guys. I've got to go back and talk to Kanye."

"Why? You know they're here, and it's daytime. We could kill them now."

"Without a plan? Not so much. And Kanye would kill me if I didn't tell him I was planning on taking on Rasputin before I actually did it." She paused to think about it. "Well, he'd try, anyway."

The joke wasn't that funny, but it shattered the tension between them, and Rihanna laughed so hard she ended up with sludge on her nose.

||

"Goddamn, do you stink," Kanye said when he met them at the door.

"Doesn't this place have servants? Can't we – oh, thank you," Beyoncé said when Kanye handed her a towel.

"None of the actual, like, cleaning people will want to be around you right now, since you stink so bad. Just head to the nearest bathroom and shower." He waggled his eyebrows. "Together, if you want."

"Can it," Beyoncé said, and headed for a hallway that she thought might have a bathroom. Maybe.

"This way," Rihanna said. "Hey, Kanye, do you think you and Jay could take naked pictures together? It's for B's spank bank."

They headed down the hall to the sounds of Kanye's squawking. "Well done," Beyoncé said. "I haven't heard him squeak like that in ages."

"At the thought of being naked with Jay, or you getting off to it?"

"Boner at the first, trauma at the second. Poor guy."

Rihanna grinned and opened the bathroom door. "You first."

"You have sludge on your nose."

"You have it in your hair," Rihanna said. "Which, you know, not to be blunt, is longer than mine. And looks like a horror show."

Beyoncé rolled her eyes, but she wasn't dumb enough to turn down first dibs on hot water and obnoxiously expensive bath soap. It didn't occur to her that Jay probably had an obnoxious number of showers and endless hot water until she'd washed half the sludge off. Rihanna...must have wanted to know exactly where she'd be. She was scheming again. God damn it.

She took her time toweling herself down and wrapping the huge, fluffy robe around her, but Jay was leaning against the wall opposite the door when she opened it.

"Hey," he said, and moved from the wall to standing too close to her.

She didn't bother hiding her irritation. "I told you –"

"No, you didn't. We're not gonna have this talk, remember?"

She was going to kill him. "That's not what I meant."

"Really." He raised his eyebrows. She wanted to punch him. And fuck him. And, on a purely practical level, she'd have liked to be able to move right then.

Luckily, she was used to dealing with deer in the headlights syndrome. She pushed through it and pushed him hard. His body hit the wall with a thunk and she stepped forward, lifting him up as she kissed him.

"You've got a thing for that," he said when she pulled away. "Pushing me around."

She didn't bother to answer. She had bigger problems, like how she was wet and seconds away from just reaching down and –

Actually, fuck it. That was the best idea she'd had all day.

She backed up until she felt the tub against her legs. Its ledge was almost a yard deep, of course; it wouldn't be Jay's mansion if everything wasn't obnoxiously overdone.

"You're kidding me," Jay said.

She opened her robe and slid a hand down her stomach, pressing a single finger against her clit. She licked her lips when she saw Jay swallow, his eyes moving all over her. He sounded hoarse when he said, "Alright, then."

It was easy to get herself off, though she was a little worried about toppling backwards into the tub. But Christ, she couldn't even worry about that all that much, she was so fucking turned on just from the way Jay was looking at her. It was fine if she touched herself, she told herself as she rubbed a finger around her clit, sliding it down until she could feel her folds, getting herself messy and slick.

She had to fight the urge to go faster. When her body reacted like this she could go from zero to blinding orgasm in minutes, but she wanted to draw this out.

So she brought her finger up to her breasts, tracing her nipples with two fingers.

Jay's breathing was getting harsher. "Fuck," he said. "You're gonna have to shower again."

She smiled and pinched her nipples, one after the other, not bothering to hide the way her hips bucked. "Come on," she said. "You want to touch me. Do it."

He moved closer and ran his fingers over her hands, not quite touching her breasts. "This could be easy, you know."

"Do you really think now is the time for this conversation?"

"Hey." He leaned forward and kissed her. It was soft, pliant. What the fuck was he doing?

"I'm not playing here," he said, moving one of his hands over to cup her shoulder, tracing tiny circles on her skin. "I'm talking about this. You and me. Come on."

She had no idea what he was saying, or even if he had any idea. So she didn't answer, concentrating instead on how he was touching her. It was gentle, but in a weird way, like he was doing it as much not to hurt himself as not to hurt her.

It made her shiver, moving her hips. "Faster," she said, but he shook his head.

"Here," he said, and –

She closed her eyes when he kneeled. Fuck.

He kissed her thighs first, then moved to her cunt, licking long and slow. It was the wrong pressure, the wrong rhythm, and somehow it made Beyoncé's breath catch anyway.

She gave in to instinct and put her hand on his head, pressing just the slightest bit. "Keep going."

And so he did. She couldn't even think as his tongue traced her clit, giving her just enough to make her arch her back and press her hips up, but not enough to make her come.

Her thoughts dissolved as he kept moving, his tongue hitting exactly the right places, his hands skimming over her skin like he couldn't touch her enough. She had to stay grounded enough to stay upright, but her head was spinning, her breath coming in pants. He brought her close and eased off, over and over again until she barely knew which way was up.

And then, so fucking gently, he sucked her clit and pressed a finger into her.

The noise she made when she came was just flat out embarrassing. She barely noticed when he moved back up just seconds later, kissing her and jerking himself off.

But the second she dropped her hand and touched his dick, he came with a groan, forehead resting against hers.

They were both silent then,panting, Beyoncé holding onto the side of the tub for dear life.

"This doesn't change anything," she finally said, but she couldn't pull her head away from him.

"You know that means jack between us, right? I've known you for, what, a week?"

"Believe it or not, I don't actually need you to define my relationships for me."

"Oh, I can believe that easy," Jay said. "But you don't want a relationship, so why does it matter?"

He was turning her words around on her. She bristled – not even because it pissed her off, but because she was straight-up embarrassed by how touchy this was driving her to be. "So what, are you saying you want a relationship? Because we've only known each other for a week, remember?" She made her tone as caustic as possible.

Jay reacted, his smirk turning ugly. "You're the boss, Slayer."

That wasn't what she'd been looking for; she lashed out again. "That's all you have to say? What's wrong with you?"

"Hey, I'm not the one who can't have a relationship without making a mess."

They were both being beyond petty, past immature – "Yeah? Yet somehow, I'm not the one throwing my weight around because I'm older and wiser. That means jack in my world."

Then the whole thing fell apart. She remembered the Legion and snorted; Jay responded with a laugh; and her hand brushed his wrist, closing around it.

"So," she said. The tension had diffused as quickly as it had risen.

"We could try it," Jay said. "Come on, you've done stupider things."

Wasn't that the truth. "All right," she said. "All right, fine. But I'm leaving you here when we go looking for Rasputin."

Jay shook his head. "Not gonna happen, and I'm not saying that for you."

"Look, I know you love Rihanna, but it's going to be dangerous. You'll be a liability."

"I can't just let her get into this shit alone."

"You don't have a choice," Beyoncé said. "You try to go with us, I'll stop you. Got it?"

For a second she thought Jay was going to do something thoroughly stupid like hitting her. But the moment passed, and he nodded and held out his hand. To shake, Beyoncé thought, and reached out to grip his.

But he pulled her a little closer, his fingers sliding through hers. She moved with him, partly out of instinct and partly because she really couldn't imagine doing anything else.

There weren't really any words for this kind of thing, she knew. Being involved with Slayers tended to end in death, and Jay apparently enjoyed collecting them. And Beyoncé had never really had the kind of relationship involving hand-holding, or having sex repeatedly, or...

"B?"

"What?"

"You're two seconds away from breaking my fingers. Take a deep breath."

"I'm breathing just fine," she said, but she loosened her grip, forcing herself to keep looking ahead. She was pretty sure she hadn't always been a train wreck at dating. Once upon a time, she'd been good with guys. Of course, now she was better with vampires, demons, and –

"B."

"You know, maybe we should just not," she said, and opened her hand.

But he kept holding on to her hand. It got more awkward by the second, so finally she loosened her fingers and moved them around his again.

They walked into the study like that – and then Beyoncé tripped over her own feet and fell over, because Rihanna was sitting on Jay's desk and Kanye was bent over between her legs.

"Nah," Kanye said. "Don't worry about it. That's normal. B has it too! You're both awesome."

Beyoncé glanced over at Jay. And if she thought the mental images burning through her brain were bad, the ones going through Jay's had to be worse. "Ye," she said, "You should probably tell us what you're doing before Jay tries to kill you. Because I'm not sure I'd actually try to stop him."

It wasn't just her imagination that made her suspect they'd done this on purpose: Rihanna's smile was too easy when she said, "Lean back, Kanye."

Kanye obeyed. He looked gleeful, but he'd looked gleeful for a million reasons in the past, only some of them having to do with eating women out.

"I'm healing weirdly," Rihanna said. "See?" She pointed to a cut on her inner thigh.

Beyoncé could feel Jay tense. "How'd that happen?"

"Fell on a rock when I was out a few nights ago. It's healing from the bottom up."

"You mean from the inside out?" Beyoncé said.

"Sure, that," Rihanna said. "Kanye was just checking it out for me. Right before you walked in he was bitching about not having a microscope, I swear to God."

"And then he stopped because you two felt like freaking us out," Beyoncé said.

Rihanna's smile was so innocent she half expected to see dimples pop out. "Of course not. Why would we do that?"

"I can't even kill Ye," Jay said. "I know it was your idea, you goddamn..."

It was pretty endearing the way he struggled to find an appropriate condemnation. "Right, okay," Rihanna said, looking amused. "So what's the plan, here?"

Beyoncé led them over to the couch near the desk; when she sat down, Jay tightened his hold a little and sat so their sides were touching. That was that, she thought, fighting down the grin threatening to surface.

"Aww," Rihanna said. "I hope the sex is good."

"I bet it's amazing," Kanye said, looking a little glazed.

Fortunately, Kanye speculating on her sexual prowess was nothing new. "We're attacking during the night."

"What?" Rihanna said. "That doesn't make any sense."

"We can't fight them in the sewer," Beyoncé said. "Seriously, lesson number...whatever this is: don't try to fight vamps in enclosed spaces. It never, ever works. Especially not in sewers."

"Well, granted," Rihanna said. "But during the day -"

"If the sun's up, they won't go aboveground no matter what we do to them," Beyoncé said.

"...Oh. Duh."

"You're new. Now – how should we get them out of the sewers?"

Rihanna swung her legs as she thought. "We can't send anything after them. So we could -"

"Why not?" Kanye said.

"What?"

"Why couldn't we send someone after them?" Kanye was leaning back now, looking at Rihanna with the kind of focus that Beyoncé could remember from her first few months with him. She still got it, sometimes. "Every time you decide something like that, you gotta know exactly why you're saying it. Or thinking, whatever."

"There's no one – no demon, or anything – we could control that'd be enough to chase a team of organized vampires out of their creepy sewer home," Rihanna said after only a second's thought. "And drawing them out wouldn't work, pretty much for the same reason. We could offer them a Slayer, maybe, but they'd realize it was a trap. And no group like that is going to go crazy for some human bait, even if we could find people who'd volunteer."

"Good," Kanye said. "So what can you think of?"

"Fire."

Damn. She was good.

"You're almost as good as B!" Kanye bounced back and jumped up. "Fire! It'll make them leave, and then we can kill them!"

"Whoa, easy," Beyoncé said. "We're not done."

"We – oh, right."

"Right." It was a hell of a grim thought, but she pushed through anyway. "We need to be ready to deal with the fact that Rasputin will stay behind to complete the ritual. If he's got enough know-how to open a Hellmouth, he'll know enough to hold regular fire away from it."

"So what, do we need to get some mage-fire between now and tonight?" Kanye said. "Because I know a guy who knows a dimension-hopping demon who knows a dragon."

"Your step-uncle isn't going to make the flight from L.A. just to bring us some bottled fire," Beyoncé said. "He hates me, remember?"

Kanye slumped. "Oh. Right. But he'd do it if I asked him! If I told him it was for the fate of the world!"

"Sure he would," Beyoncé said. "No, we just need someone to conjure regular fire and push it in. It's not hard; fire's pretty basic magic."

"I can do it," Jay said.

It wasn't exactly a surprise, but the flash of anger she felt was. "No."

"B –"

"No," she said. "You're not going to be putting – I mean, you're not going to be making yourself a target like that." You're not going to be putting yourself in danger like that. Somewhere her old Watcher's ghost wanted to skin her alive and didn't know why.

"Yes, I will be." Jay's hand tightened around hers. "Is that all we need to plan?"

She took a deep breath. She could create a scene when they were alone. "Rihanna, you and Kanye are going to deal with the vampires leaving the sewer. Their exit point will be the spot in Jay's yard. I'll handle Rasputin. And – yeah. For the next ten hours, that's it. Get some sleep, guys."

Rihanna looked between Beyoncé and Jay, pursing her lips. She looked protective, but of which one of them, Beyoncé wasn't sure. "Fine," she said after a minute. "Try not to kill each other, though."

They sat still on the couch, still holding hands, until Kanye closed the door behind his enthusiastic, "You guys can work it out! I believe in you!". Then Beyoncé pulled her hand out of Jay's and threw a punch –

That she pulled, so he dodged it, grabbing her legs and taking her down to the floor with him.

She didn't bother trying to fight him, mostly because she didn't want to end up accidentally breaking something. She let him pin her, and didn't move when he stayed above her.

His legs were shaking a little; she wondered if he'd noticed.

"You might die down there.," Jay said. "If he opens the Hellmouth –"

"If that happens, we'll all die, so it's kind of a moot point."

"Don't tell me I can't do the fire. I've fucked around with magic before, B. I'm not some stupid kid you have to protect."

"I could break your bones without even thinking about it," Beyoncé said. "I could go crazy and kill half the state – Slayers have done that kind of thing before. I could hurt you. If this keeps up, when you die, it'll be because of what I am."

"How long've you been writing that speech in your head?"

Rihanna would kill her if she punched him for real. She stayed still. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Jay looked furious for a second, but finally he sat back. "This whole martyr thing, it's part of being a Slayer, isn't it?"

"English, please."

"Oh, cut the crap. You know what I mean."

"I do," Beyoncé said, "but I think you're full of shit. It's not a martyr thing. It's the facts. Do you have any fucking clue what you're dealing with, with me? With Rihanna?"

"I've tried to –"

"No, you haven't." She couldn't just sit there. She stood and paced the length of the room before sitting down in the chair Kanye had vacated. That helped a little, but not as much as she wished it would. "You have no clue," she said. "You think you do. Everyone always does. They think that they can come in, and say things they think we've never heard before, and try to make our lives make sense in a normal way – Jay, it doesn't work. Do you think I'd be doing all this if it was that easy to change?"

She expected him to just shake his head, or call her an idiot. Instead he said, "Yeah. Yeah, I kind of do."

"...what?"

"You 're scared. Which, you know, you oughta be, between the Watcher you had and the death you've seen. Y'all are heroes. You can't throw that away, so instead you try to keep it from touching anyone else."

"There's no such thing as a natural hero. We're like this because we have to be."

"Sure. But the magic didn't pick you for just any reason. You're a fuckin' hero, even if you didn't want to be. And so, what – you're scared of people you love dying. That's normal. You don't have to be a hero about that and push us away."

"You're wrong," she said.

"You agreed to try this thing. You know I'm not."

"Yeah, and honestly, I'm reconsidering that now."

"No, you're not."

No, she wasn't, but she was getting damn tired of him reading her like she was the world's most boring book. "It's just – it's frustrating, all right? Making the decision, adjusting to this. You ought to have respect for that, at least."

He actually looked surprised. "I have respect for pretty much everything you do, B."

She'd watched him spin a hundred different insanely calculated lines; that wasn't one of them. Damn it. She wasn't sure if she couldn't wait for the time when she wasn't this drawn to him, or if she was dreading it. "I'm a live fucking wire lately," she said ruefully. "And not in the fun way."

That got an honest to God smile from him. "We all are. You think I normally argue like a twelve-year-old?"

She pretended to give it thought. "Well, maybe."

"Yeah, yeah." He was cautious when he approached, and didn't take her hand when he said, "Come on, let's get some damn food. Tonight's gonna be fucking terrible."

She rolled her eyes and grabbed her hand. "Now we can go," she said, and led them out.

They ended up eating soup across from each other. For a few minutes there was the awkward silence that Beyoncé was actually starting to get used to – the one that meant they were trying to feel each other out and totally failing not to be obvious about it. As long as it went two ways, she was fine with being obvious.

Finally Jay said, "Guess we could play footsie, or something."

"Sure, and then we could go see a movie and neck. Or I could get a date with the quarterback, and you could fly into a jealous rage."

Jay snorted. "Right. I'm gonna have to practice the fire before we go down there."

"Come to the workout room. Rihanna and I will be going over things soon."

"Didn't hear you plan that."

"She'll be nervous," Beyoncé said. "It's practically a requirement for this kind of thing. She'll be there, believe me."

"How many of these have you done? Ends of the world?"

The million-dollar question. "Five apocalypses," Beyoncé said. "Which is actually a pretty low number for a Slayer as old as me."

Jay winced. "Damn. So why?"

"Who knows? I've done a lot more general slaying, though. Just traveling around, killing vamps." Sometimes Beyoncé wondered if her old Watcher had deliberately kept her away from the bigger stuff, not trusting her and not wanting to lose the Council's tenuous hold on one of their only Slayers – but those kinds of questions were a fast track to Crazytown, and she knew it.

"So you're a lean, mean, vamp-killing machine." Jay waggled his eyebrows. "I like it."

Beyoncé slurped the soup, sticking her tongue out. "Sure you do. So. What's your experience with magic?"

"I opened a portal once, but I'd meant to go to Chicago and ended up in Canada."

She snorted so hard she ended up with soup flying out of her nose. After she mopped it up she said, "What?"

"Classy, B. I was just practicing. You know, stupid youth and all that."

"Is there anything you did when you were younger that wasn't stupid?"

"Made millions as a rapper. Still doing that, actually."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm impressed and so on. But can you do things that actually, you know. Work?"

"Guess we'll find out, huh?"

This was horrible planning, she thought. Why the fuck couldn't they ever end up stopping an apocalypse on time, with things that actually made sense? "Sounds good. I'm going to head up to my room to rest a little. I'll see you in a few."

But Jay stood up with her. "Hey," he said, and caught her arm, pulling her close.

The kiss was soft and hot and freaked Beyoncé right the hell out. "I, uh. Thanks," she said.

He raised his eyebrows. "Uh-huh. See you."

She waited until she'd gotten to her room to smack her head against the wall. If her mother could see her now, she'd laugh her ass off. She hadn't been this awkward when she'd lost her virginity. Hell, she hadn't been this awkward when she'd found out that the guy she'd been sleeping with was actually a shapeshifting seal demon. It was either a really good sign, or the worst one ever.

"You know, if you make a dent in the plaster you're gonna have to explain it."

She turned to Kanye. "Plaster? This is a mansion. It's probably wood. Obnoxiously high-quality wood."

"Which would totally be easier to explain, am I right?" He hopped up on the bed. "Come on, B, talk to me. What's eating you?"

"The usual," she said, "with a heavy dose of 'what the hell am I doing'. Ye –"

"I know, I know, your heart beats for him and you're freakin' out about it."

"Have you been reading Regencies again?"

"Maybe." Kanye cocked his head. "Come on, sit down. We'll talk it out."

"How do you know it's that simple?"

"Do I go out of my way to have the touchy-feely talks for simple shit? Come on, B. Give me some credit, here."

"This isn't what I thought we'd be doing, you know. This was supposed to be a simple trip."

"You of all people oughta know –"

"Life doesn't end the way I think it will. I know, I know." Beyoncé shook her head. "But honestly, is it asking too much for it to sometimes end how I'd like?"

"Probably. It's not an ending, anyway. You trying to say you want it to be? Happily ever after? Pfft, please."

Oh, fuck. "I don't –" She groaned. "Why are you so good at this? Fuck you, seriously."

"Hey, come on. You know I'll support you no matter what."

"I don't really want this to be a 'no matter what'."

"And we're right back to what you want."

Sometimes Beyoncé thought she needed a therapist. Which begged the question, "Do Watchers get, like, therapy training?"

"The Legions' do. We don't." Kanye reached out and slowly moved his hand along her back, moving like he thought she was going to try to punch him. Well – that wasn't a completely unfair suspicion. "You want my advice?"

"I never do. You give it anyway."

"There's my girl. Look, don't worry about it for now. You'll figure it out after you stop Rasputin, when you're not stressing about the end of the world."

"You know this how?"

"'cause you're you."

Coming from anyone else it would have been an empty sentiment, but the confidence in Kanye's voice made it matter almost to an absurd degree. Especially since – "Hey. Do you – I mean." She frowned to herself, trying to force the words out. "Your life is all about me. Don't you get lonely?"

"Sure. But that's the job." Kanye elbowed her gently. "You've got a worse one, anyway. And a lonelier one."

He had a point. "Alright," she said. "I'm napping. Wake me up in a few hours, cool? And make sure Rihanna takes breaks from the practice room."

"Slayers. Y'all are all the same." He squeezed her arm and left, shutting the door gently behind him.

She didn't close the blinds; she wanted to feel the sunshine as she fell asleep. She woke up every day with the knowledge that she might die, but of course today was worse than usual. If she didn't come back out of that sewer, she wanted to go out still feeling the warmth of the day.

||

She woke up just before Kanye knocked. "I'm up," she called, rolling out of bed and tucking her hair into a scarf.

"Creepy," Kanye said. "I'll be in the practice room."

She walked there briskly, stretching her arms and kneading her neck as she moved. She needed to be loose, calm, ready. She needed –

To forget about how much she had to lose. To forget that Kanye wasn't the only person she cared about anymore.

It was a pretty tall order, all things considered.

Rihanna was balanced on one hand when she entered the room. "Hey," she said, not turning around. "You ever used a portable crossbow?"

That made her smile. "Most crossbows tend to be portable."

Kanye tossed her a short, thick chunk of wood. It looked like a police baton on steroids. "Check it out."

Her hands slid along it easily. She could practically feel the Slayer magic hum in approval as she caught the catch that made it spring to its full shape.

"Damn," she said, aiming the thing at a target across the room. It shot beautifully; the arrow embedded itself in the center of the target. "Here," she said, tossing it to Rihanna. "We'll do hand to hand in a few. Right now, plan out how exactly you're gonna carry your weapons."

Rihanna examined the crossbow. "How many weapons do you think I'll need?"

"As many stakes as you can carry. They're your main weapon; without one, you're dead." Soon or later Rihanna would learn what it felt like to be weaponless with a vampire at her throat, but today was not going to be that day. "We're going in for a full-on assault. That means we're dusting all of them."

"Not that that's a bad thing, but is this tactically important somehow?" Rihanna said.

Beyoncé nodded. "Honestly, at this point it's a reputation thing. You're a new Slayer and I've kept out of most of the big fights. We're going to send the message that neither of us is gonna be fucked with. And it'll help set up the American Watcher's Council, too."

"Hell yeah!" Kanye bounced up and down. "You tell 'em, B!"

The look Rihanna gave him was equal parts tolerant and amused. It was a look Beyoncé recognized simply because she'd perfected it months ago. "Glad to see we've got goals in common. What converted you, anyway? It wasn't sex with Jay."

"You're right, it wasn't," Beyoncé said – and left it at that.

They worked for hours, never hard enough to really tire themselves out, but hard enough that she could feel the slow burn building in her muscles alongside her anticipation of the evening.

"Does it get any easier?" Rihanna said as they put the extra equipment away, rubbing her biceps.

"Honestly? Not really," Beyoncé said. "Bring your weapons – we're going to go out the front door when the sun sets." Might as well make a statement in case anyone was watching.

"Jay'll be waiting in the kitchen," Rihanna said.

"How do you know?"

Rihanna shrugged. "Just do."

She'd take it. Kanye was moving behind her with an all-too-familiar tense look on his face. It was weird, walking with him, both of them hiding the worst possibilities of this kind of attack from Rihanna and Jay. They were protecting the other two in a way that simultaneously felt natural and dangerous.

Part of her, she thought, part of this, would always be just her and Kanye. Till the literal end of the world, or one of their deaths. That was just how Watchers and Slayers worked.

Now, if she could just survive this, maybe then she'd be able to figure out how Slayers and other people worked, too.

||

Rihanna, it turned out, wasn't one for drawn-out goodbyes. "Let's get the ball rolling," she said, grabbing Kanye's arm and turning to leave Beyoncé and Jay at the beginning of the sewer.

Kanye waved goodbye. "Knock 'em undead, B! You can do it!"

"How long you think he's been saving that one up?" Jay said, jamming candles into the ground.

"Probably since he started at the Council," Beyoncé said. "Need any help?"

"Nah. Stretch or something. This won't be that hard. I'm only doing the long ritual because we need a shitload of fire."

Beyoncé took the cover off the sewer, sitting down on the grass cross-legged. "Why don't you do this stuff full-time?"

"Got a record company," Jay said. "And last I heard, magic don't pay the bills."

"Depends on what kind of magic-worker you are."

"Uh-huh." Jay cracked his knuckles. "Well, here's a little bit of nothing."

The ritual was boring; Beyoncé paid attention for a few minutes and then turned away, pushing herself up into a one-handed handstand. She could feel the currents of air moving around her, the rhythm of the earth beneath her, the ebb and flow of her own power.

She knew some Slayers who ignored the spiritual stuff. The general result was that they couldn't sense a weapon coming at them with their eyes closed and ears plugged, but could lift a truck if they needed to. To each her own.

"There we go," Jay said, and fire started streaming from his hands.

Beyoncé hopped to her feet, watching the fire arc in the air and dive down the sewer. It was a hell of a lot more controlled than she'd been expecting. "Well done."

"I'm not all talk." He smirked. "As you should know."

"Funny," she said. "How long do we need to wait before it's safe to go down?"

"Nothing'll hold the heat once it's passed, so whenever. Just don't touch the shit if you catch up with it."

"Rihanna –"

"Exit's a few miles down. She's got maybe two minutes, and then they'll fight."

"I'm fighting the urge to run down there and protect them."

"You can't," Jay said. "You know it, I know it."

The bitch of it was, he was right: she did know it. "See you in a few, then," she said, and eased herself down into the sewer.

It was bravado. She liked working alone, sure, but shit like this was pretty much the only time she started seriously thinking of joining the Legion. Having an extra Slayer or two at her back would really come in handy right about now.

The tunnels had been scorched dry. It was a hell of a lot less gross, but eerie all the same. "Come on, Rasputin," she muttered, picking up her pace. "Where are you?"

She got her answer when she rounded a bend in the pipes and walked straight into an evil villain's den.

Honestly, that was the only way to think about it. The earth around the pipes had been removed so that the room was roughly circular. Red velvet was hanging from every valve and fixture in the place; a few pipes dripped slowly, adding to the sinister feel. All the furniture was black, and there was a fire burning in a pit at the center of the room.

Above the pit was a shriveled, black-haired vampire. "Rasputin, I'm guessing," she said. "Don't you think this room is a little too clichéd?"

"Child, I invented the clichés," he snarled.

"Everyone says that." She pulled out a stake. "Come on, let's finish this."

"You can no longer stop it. The signs have been laid, the lines drawn. The Hellmouth will open, and suck this world into darkness."

"Sure," Beyoncé said. "But I'll stake you first." She threw herself into a flip, landing in front of him and dealing him a kick to the jaw.

He didn't move.

Rolling with surprises was part of the job. She ducked back before he had a chance to hit her and pulled a knife out, moving back in and letting her muscles take over.

She was an expert with the knife. It was out of her hands in two seconds, and he was unscathed.

"You cannot stop me," he said. "I will kill you. Your blood will fuel the gateway."

"Not today," she said, and feinted left –

Kicked right –

And sent him flying backwards.

The flames turned green and tripled in height, tongues licking out and setting some of the velvet on fire. She darted away before they had a chance to touch her, advancing on Rasputin. "You see? We're not weak. We've grown, we've changed."

His laugh sounded like grinding bones. "Can't fight a Hellmouth, girl."

And he – he didn't quite move. He slithered, faster than her eyes could track, pinning her against a pipe and wrapping a withered hand around her neck.

She kicked up, missed – reached out with a hand he pinned easily. "This is the end," he hissed, and started speaking.

It was Russian, she'd bet, but right now wasn't the time for a linguistics study. She kept struggling, fighting the pressure she could feel closing her windpipe from inside, freezing her blood in her veins. Like hell was she going to die from a two-bit historical vamp's magic.

"B!"

Jay, on the other hand, very well might. If she didn't kill him first.

Rasputin's attention wasn't diverted by the shout. "Silence," he said, and waved a hand. Jay fell to his knees, mouth working and no sound coming out.

And Beyoncé felt like someone was sticking needles into every square inch of skin she had.

She flashed back to Kanye – Kanye and Rihanna, fighting dozens of vamps on their own. Kanye had saved her more than once, had run in after her when nothing and no one should have compelled him to risk his safety. And now Kanye thought she was on the verge of having a new life.

She was not going to die here.

It took everything she had to reach past the pain and feel the streams of his magic. She could almost taste them, the power flowing between him and the fire, to Jay, into her.

So she did the only thing she could think of, and reared forward, biting thin air.

It worked. The power broke and she fell to the ground. Rasputin roared in fury, raising his arms. But it was too late: she launched herself upwards and dug her thumbs into his eye sockets.

His eyeballs were gone in a few disgusting seconds, and he fell to his knees and screamed – but suddenly the fire sent out a pulse that knocked her to the ground again and sent Jay flying backwards into the tangle of pipes, hitting them with a sickening crunch.

If she'd been physically torn in half it couldn't possibly have hurt as much. She forced herself to turn her back on him, rushing at Rasputin with everything she had in her.

A knife barely grazing his hair – his nails digging into her skin – his screech when she buried the knife into his empty right eye socket –

And his power faltered again, giving her the second she needed to stake him.

That should've been it, but it just fucking figured that today's apocalypse wouldn't be averted that easily. She didn't have a chance to run and grab Jay before the dust that should have been Rasputin's last contribution to the earth swirled up and into the green inferno.

Fabulous. How the hell was she supposed to fight a magical fire?

Water dripped onto her head. She looked up at the huge pipes above her.

Well – it couldn't hurt, and anyway Jay wasn't conscious to mock her if she failed. She jumped up, grabbing the biggest pipe and yanking it.

Water sprayed everywhere. She yelled from exertion of bending the metal until she could direct the stream at the fire, and yelled again when molten drops of something hit her skin.

But the fire was going down. It was her height, then waist height, then nothing but a few glowing embers.

Of course, they were glowing despite having been doused in gallons of water, and she could see Jay in the corner of her vision, minutes away from drowning. She walked over to the pit and stomped on them with all the strength she could muster. The concrete cracked; more pipes squeaked as they rubbed against each other. She didn't care. She was fucking well going to end this.

When she stepped away, the fire was dead. She took that as her signal to run to Jay, throw him over her shoulders, and take off at a dead run back out of the sewers. She had to get him to a hospital, she had to find Rihanna and Kanye and make sure they were okay. She had –

She had to breathe, damn it. She climbed up the ladder with one hand, the other holding Jay to her. When she got aboveground she threw him on the ground and leapt to her feet, searching for Kanye and Rihanna. Kanye was her best bet for helping Jay, if – when he returned.

He was fine, she thought as she cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, "Ye! Get your ass down here!"

He had to be fine. If for no other reason than she'd be fucked if she was going to waste all her damn time on someone special and then have him up and die on her.

"Kanye!"

"I'm here, I'm here!" He was running headlong, all but tripping over his feet in his urgency to get to her. "B! You're okay! What happened to Jay! Is he - "

"Fuck," Rihanna said, coming to a halt next to Kanye. "Oh God. Oh God. He's...he has to be okay, B. He's okay, right?"

"I don't know," Beyoncé said. She wanted to be comforting, but she knew too well that every victory came with losses. And the loss wouldn't just be Rihanna's. She closed her eyes, hating herself for the weakness that had her swallowing hard to keep her voice steady. "He followed me into the sewers. He was knocked out."

Kanye had knelt, all traces of happiness gone from his expression. He was checking Jay's pulse, moving his fingers over him. "Magical?"

"Yeah. Rasputin," she said. "But he just threw him against a wall."

Kanye shook his head. "That wouldn't be enough to put him in a coma."

Rihanna inhaled sharply, but she didn't cry – or even cry out, the way Beyoncé would have, the way Beyoncé had, when she was that age.

She didn't want Rihanna to have that kind of self awareness. Damn it, she didn't want Rihanna to have to handle things like a full-grown Slayer yet. She'd have time enough to grow into the role.

"We need to get him inside," Kanye said. "I don't know if I can help. But I sure as hell can't do it out here."

"I'll carry him," Rihanna said.

"No," Beyoncé said.

For a split second she thought Rihanna was going to punch her. "I can carry one guy."

"I want to help," Beyoncé said. She met Rihanna's eyes. "Please."

"Get his ankles," Rihanna said, not looking at her. Did she blame Beyoncé? Was it right to?

"Hey, B," Kanye said quietly, putting a hand on her shoulder.

She looked at him and, as easily as breathing, he anchored her. "Not now," she said. "Got it." She grabbed his ankles, lifting him and walking with Rihanna towards the house.

Kanye walked beside them, silent. One of his hands was hovering above Jay. If he knew any magic that worked without ritual, Beyoncé wasn't aware of it. She was pretty sure none of them wanted to let him go right now.

They carried him straight to the enormous dining room table. "Run to my room," Kanye said without looking up. "Get the lime green bag with the starburst print and my neon blue shoes. And seriously, run."

Beyoncé took off before Rihanna had a chance to so much as twitch. "Put the shoes on his chest," Kanye said when she got back down.

"The fuck?" Beyoncé said, but she obeyed.

"Y'all should start singing now."

It was Rihanna's turn to look at Kanye like he'd lost it. "What."

"Come on, please? Sing with B! She's a great singer!"

So Rihanna started humming – pretty decently, not that it mattered right now. Beyoncé followed suit.

And then suddenly the air was glowing. Christ, she hated magic. Her entire right arm twitched as she fisted her hand.

Kanye held out his hands. He'd pulled a bunch of stones out of his bag and had lit a candle; it cast weird shadows on him as he made hand motions over the shoes on Jay's chest. "B, I know you want to hit things, but just hold off for like two seconds, okay? And keep singing." He closed his eyes.

The magic was clumsy. The light wavered, and Kanye's breath was harsh as he worked. But it would work, Beyoncé thought. It had to work. It –

Jay coughed, tilted his head, and said, "Those have got to be the ugliest fuckin' shoes I've ever seen."

"Oh, good," Beyoncé said, and left the table to punch a hole in the wall.

Everything else could wait. Right now, she was just going to breathe.

||

A day and a half later she was back in the dining room, staring at the hole she'd made.

She hadn't talked to Jay since then. It wasn't accurate to say she was scared, exactly, but she was uneasy. The post-fight adrenaline had finally worn off and she'd slept for twelve hours. Since then she'd been alone, because she needed to be.

Kanye, as always, got it. She didn't know if he was actively keeping people away from her room, but she wouldn't have been surprised.

But finally she was ready to leave. She gravitated towards the dining room almost accidentally. Jay was fine; she wasn't brooding over anything that had happened in here. It was just weird knowing this whole thing was almost over. The Legion was sending a Watcher for Rihanna; Beyoncé and Kanye would be moving out within a week.

She fisted her hand again and pressed it, gently, into the hole in the wood.

Thing was, she didn't want to leave. Not right away, at least. And not...not without Jay.

"So I heard a rumor you saved my life."

She didn't jump. Barely. "You heard wrong," she said, not turning around.

"Well, you know, collectively. They're not hiding from me, though."

He was deliberately making himself sound lazy, uncaring. It didn't grate on her nerves like it would've a week ago, but she still didn't turn around.

She wasn't sure why it was important that she not. Except, of course, her ever-present worry that one more week wasn't going to be nearly enough.

"Still scared? I was hoping an apocalypse would shape things up in that direction."

"Guess you don't know me that well, then."

"B." Impatient now. "Come on. I just got done almost dying. Could we cut the shit?"

Well then. He'd asked, she thought, and turned around. "You didn't do what I said."

"The fuck?"

"You came down into the sewer even though you knew, you fucking knew, I wasn't expecting you down there. And I didn't want you down there. You're a liability, you got that?" She took a step forward – and he backed up.

"I couldn't just leave you there," he said. "Rihanna had Kanye. You were alone."

"I was doing fine," she said. Her voice sounded eerily calm even to her own ears. "I was handling it abso-fucking-lutely fine, and I didn't need help."

"He had you by the throat! You could've died!"

"I could die every goddamn time I leave the house!" She clenched her hands into fists. Hitting him wouldn't solve a damn thing. "We can't have anything if you don't get that! I get up, I go to slay, I could die at any time. I'm gonna die young. Do you seriously think Kanye would've let me go down there on my own if he didn't think I could handle it? That's his job." She shook her head, disappointment suddenly overwhelming the anger. "It's not yours. And I can't be with someone who doesn't understand that."

His expression was completely opaque. For all that she'd seen him in pretty much every kind of mood possible, she couldn't guess what the hell was going on in his mind right now.

"So that's how it is, huh?" he said finally.

"That's how it has to be," she said. "This is what you signed up for. Sorry."

This, she thought, was the dramatic end scene. This was where he walked out, and she kept doing her job alone, because that was how Slayers were supposed to operate. This was where –

This was where he let a breath out and nodded. "All right. Yeah – all right."

She blinked. "What?"

"Punch me next time I do it. When I wake up from the coma. I'll try not to." He shrugged. "Not gonna be easy, but fucked if I'll let you use me as an excuse to run away from a relationship."

"I might punch you this time," she said as exhilaration rose in her.

"Just c'mere first." He reached out – how had she gotten so close? – and caught her hand, pulling her close.

She pushed him back. "I'm not going to change. I can't."

"Yeah," he said. "Don't think I want you to."

She grabbed him and kissed him hard. Thank fucking God – they didn't need to talk anymore.

||

Rihanna and Kanye pretty obviously noticed how things had changed. Rihanna just smirked; Kanye enthusiastically told them about how great their relationship was until Beyoncé said, "Okay, so – seriously, you've gotta calm down. You're gonna hurt yourself."

"You guys are great!" Kanye bounced back on his heels. "When's the wedding!"

Beyoncé buried her face in her hands. "I give," she said. "Do what you want, Kanye. I promise, we'll make you flower girl."

"Yessss." Kanye pumped his fist in the air. "Hear that, Rihanna? I'm gonna be the motherfucking flower girl!"

"Uh-huh," Rihanna said, not looking away from the Wii. "Congratulations. Really."

"Oh, by the way," Kanye said, coming to sit next to Beyoncé, "the Legion's new Watcher'll be here soon."

"For me?" Rihanna said.

"Yeah." Kanye bumped Beyoncé playfully. "His name's Lupe. We'll have a bigger family, it'll be awesome."

Beyoncé rolled her eyes. "Careful. You might get so excited you pee yourself."

"Maybe!" Kanye said.

"Think he'll be any good?" Rihanna said.

"He'd better be," Jay said, coming in to plop down on the couch on Beyoncé's other side and kiss her temple, "or I'll fuckin' kill him."

"I'm pretty sure I'd do it first," Rihanna said. "Damn it!" On the screen, her racecar crashed.

"Shouldn't your super reflexes be helping with that?" Jay said.

"Shouldn't you be off managing your record label?" Rihanna shot back.

Jay grinned. "Nah."

Beyoncé leaned into him contentedly. "I trust the Legion," she said. "Whoever they send'll be good."

"He'd better not make either of y'all do anything you don't want to, is all I'm saying."

"Oh, he'll torture Rihanna till she's up to scratch – but that's nothing new." Kanye loved playing the personal trainer with Beyoncé. "And according to the Legion, Rasputin failed at opening a portal, but there's still instability. Not quite a Hellmouth, but enough to justify us hanging around for awhile."

"Well, baby, I'll make sure I don't leave you hanging." Jay leered at her.

She elbowed him. "That was terrible."

"And scarring," Rihanna said.

"I think it's great!" Kanye said. "Healthy relationships for everyone!"

Beyoncé rolled her eyes, but she returned his smile. She knew he was dead serious. "What about you, Ye?"

Kanye waved a hand. "I'm too young and hot to settle down just yet."

Beyoncé was ready to mock the hell out of him when a knock sounded at the door. "Come in," she called.

A young, handsome guy stuck his head in. "Uh, hi," he said. "I'm Lupe. The new Watcher? The guy at the door sent me in."

Beyoncé glanced at Kanye. His jaw had dropped; Rihanna just looked amused. "Hey," she said, waving. "I'm Rihanna. Your Slayer."

"Awesome." Lupe came in completely. His hands were in his pockets. He couldn't have looked more chill if he tried. "I'm looking forward to working with you."

Beyoncé smiled. "Yeah," she said, reaching down to twine her fingers with Jay's. "We are, too."