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A Different Battle

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Jack stared at the woman in front of him, completely unable to form a coherent thought. Well, he wasn't even sure he could call her a woman. She couldn't be old enough to even drink yet, and she was so petit that she seemed even younger than he was sure she was. And yet this girl had just appeared out of nowhere and saved his life.

That was a bit of an exaggeration too, he thought, as he was confidant that he could have eventually taken out the man who had attacked him, bum leg and all.

Of course, the fact that that man was now a small pile of ash was another thing that he was going to need to wrap his brain around.

"You really shouldn't be walking alone this late at night," the girl said, her back still to the Master Chief. There was a dull weariness in her voice that didn't belong in a girl so young. "With your cane and that blazing white uniform, you're like a walking 'bite me' add."

"I could say the same of you, young lady." His eyes alighted on her crème colored sweater. "What are you doing out on the streets this late? You can't be more than seventeen or eighteen."

She offered him a mirthless laugh and looked back over her shoulder, catching his eyes with a piercing green gaze. "Actually, I'm twenty-three, but I guess it's better than looking five years older than I am."

Twenty-three? This slip of a girl? James supposed O'Neil had spoiled him for female fighters - he expected them all to look brutally militaristic, but instead he was seeing wavy blonde hair, a full figure, and soft features that looked almost criminally young, if he ignored the tiredness clouding her eyes.

"So what was that thing?" Jack finally asked, deciding that it was a safer topic of conversation that the age of his companion. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know the answer, but the words were out of his mouth before he could sensor them.

"You don't wanna know, trust me," the blonde replied.

"Don't tell me what I do or don't want to know, little girl!" he yelled, immediately forgetting his own reluctance. "I am Master Chief John James Urgayle, and you will answer my question right now."

The girl's eyes narrowed and her tone changed from weary and bored to furious and powerful in an instant. "Fine. I'm Buffy, a vampire slayer. That was a vampire, and I slayed it."

"And if you don't get your head out of your ass and thank her, she might just let it eat you next time." Another young girl stepped out of the shadows and stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at him.

"Dawn," Buffy held up a warning hand.

"What?"

"Remind me later not to let you hang out with Faith or Kennedy anymore. I don't like how much you've been cursing recently."

"That was a vampire?" Jack repeated. The two girls glared at him - Buffy clearly having forgotten that he was there and Dawn still annoyed.

"That was an actual, honest-to-God vampire?"

"I'm not sure how much God has to do with anything," Buffy replied a bit derisively, "but yes, that was an actual, undead, bloodsucking vampire."

"Dawnie, are you out here?" Two more girls - a redhead supporting a tipsy brunette - appeared at the entrance to the alleyway. "Oh!" the redhead stopped short when she saw Jack.

"I'm here, Willow, I'm fine." Dawn replied. "I'm just watching Buffy save this guy from being vampire chow."

"Vamps? Lemme at 'em!" the brunette practically fell over herself as she reached behind her back for something.

"Woah, no! No, Kennedy, the vampires are all gone now." The redhead, Jack thought she had been called Willow, practically fell over herself, but she managed to keep both herself and Kennedy upright and she pulled the other girl's hand into her own, keeping her from repeating the move.

"So if it's dead, then can we go home please? I need to paint my nails." Dawn punctuated her comment with a fake yawn and nudged Buffy's shoulder.

"Yeah, sure. Let's go have a nail painting party."

Jack couldn't quite identify Buffy's tone - it wasn't sarcastic, but it didn't seem sincere either. It was almost like boredom, like she couldn't be excited by any prospects the others might present. Jack had heard that tone, coming from soldiers who had been fighting for far too long, until they just couldn't feel anything anymore. Jack didn't like the idea of a girl so young and pretty having that voice.

Come to think of it, he didn't like the idea of hearing O'Neil ever speaking in that voice either. It just wasn't natural for that tired, jaded voice to come out of such a pretty package. Jack looked up again, meaning to ask more about vampires and slayers, but to his shock, all four girls were gone.

As rapidly as he could, he made his way to the edge of the alleyway and looked quickly both ways down the street. A little ways away, captured under the orange glow of a streetlight, were the four of them, walking two by two. They were all laughing and looked like they couldn't possibly have a care in the world, but Jack knew differently. They were soldiers, just as O'Neil was; only they weren't making any headlines.

As he walked the rest of the way home, carefully aware of his surroundings this time, Jack thought about the four girls. And he wondered how many more young women like Buffy were fighting in the shadows of the world.