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The Undead, The Dead and the Ones Who Want to Die

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Sunnydale, 1997. 10:13 PM.

Any sentient grain of dust that happened to be in the East Hallway of the first floor of Sunnydale High (Motto: "Enter all ye who seek knowledge") would have heard the loud crash that sounded through the hallways when local senior year student Peter David Vice threw a medium-sized rock through one of the windows, making it shatter in a million pieces that scattered across the floor. The aforementioned grain of dust would also have heard it when Vice and his companion, a seemingly young, non-student lady, carefully passed through the now wide open hole in the wall, giggling and whispering to each other.

“We’ll get caught!” is what the lady said.

“Don’t worry about it, baby,” is what Vice answered.

“Are you sure there’s no one here?” the lady asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Vice confirmed. “Not a soul around, except for me and you.”

The lady smiled widely. “Hmm, don’t be so sure about that,” she said, before her face disfigured horribly to accommodate long canines, a bumpy new volume in the brow region and a predator glare in bright yellow eyes. Vice barely had time to scream in terror before his companion sank her teeth in the soft flesh of his neck and the world soon went dark.


She glanced at the tall building by her side, wondering once more how likely was it for the ground to open and swallow her whole. I mean, they were in the Hellmouth now, right? It was totally plausible. And maybe it wouldn’t be the most pleasant experience, but it’d certainly be better than the first day in a new school, where everyone knew each other already and all friend groups were formed and she was sure to be an outcast until graduation.

Not that it would make a difference if she’d started out in kindergarten. It certainly didn’t in her old school.

“Tara, you know you can’t stay in the car forever.”

Tara took her eyes off the building and looked at her mom, putting on her best pleading look. “Can’t I, though?”

Her mom chuckled lightly, her smile softening. “Yes, and then we’ll live off of sunlight, like plants.”

Tara looked down, disappointed, despair taking over her.

“Look sweetie, I know it’s hard.” She reached over to tuck a lock of her daughter’s hair behind her ear. “New beginnings are hard. I get that. But I promise it’ll get easier later, alright? I just need you to endure just a little more and then you’ll see, things will start getting easy.”

“Really?” Tara side-eyed her incredulously.

“Really,” her mom replied emphatically. “You are gonna make lots of friends and you’ll fit in just fine, and .” She paused meaningfully. “You’ll be safe here. We ’ll be safe. Okay?”

Tara looked up again.

“Okay.”

Tara’s mom smiled. “Come here.” She pulled Tara closer, hugging her tightly. They stood like this for several seconds. “I love you, kid,” she said finally.

“I love you too,” came Tara’s muffled answer.

“Now,” her mom said, breaking apart the hug. “Just promise me you’ll get through this day, okay? Just, go in there and attend your classes and when you get out, we’ll do something together, okay? We’ll go anywhere you want.”

“Can we go to the zoo?” she asked innocently.

“If there’s one here, sure.”

“Oh.”

“Come on, now.” Her mom kissed her forehead before reaching over and pressing the button to unlock the car doors. “Go on, sweetie. There are people in there just dying to meet you who just don’t know that yet.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked Tara.

Her mom winked playfully.

“Magic.”


He felt his own grip on the books he was holding precariously over his belly start to falter, and tried to desperately keep them in place without slowing down his fast paced walk. He didn’t want to end up dropping his brand new babies and have those troglodyte jocks stepping all over them. No way.

He was so focused on his books that he stopped being careful not to bump into anyone, and, as his bad luck demanded, did just that. Luck also provided it was the least convenient person it could have been.

“Faith,” Andrew breathed out, nervous.

Faith turned to look at him, poison in her eyes. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. You again.”

Andrew started to desperately collect the books that had fallen from his hands from the crash, but dropped them again when a hand grappled at the front of his shirt and pulled him up in a fast, disorienting movement.

“How many times do I gotta tell you this, you little bitch? Stay the Hell away from me.”

“Please don’t punch me,” he blurted out, visibly terrified.

Faith grumbled. “I’m in a good mood.” She loosened her grip on his shirt, letting him fall on his knees. “Don’t let me see your face again.” She turned to leave for a moment, but then turned back to give a good kick on the volumes Andrew was carrying. They slid off in erratic trajectories along the hallway and under the treading of the students.

“No!” Andrew shouted, running towards each of his belongings to retrieve them, trying and failing not to have his hands stepped on. Only then Faith went on her merry way, satisfied.

Kneeling to collect the fourth book, Andrew tried to choke back the tears that threatened to start leaking from his eyes. He didn’t need to be any further humiliated.

“Here,” he heard a soft voice speaking above him. When he looked up, there was a girl with soft features and a shy smile holding up his last book. He took it from her hands, slowly rising to his feet and looking down, his face burning.

“Thanks.”

“I-I saw— I saw what that girl did, to you,” she said slowly. “Are you okay?”

For a few instants, Andrew just looked at this new girl in shock. Shock eventually became warmth as it dawned on him that for the first time, someone who wasn’t also one of Faith’s victim’s had been compassionate with him about the treatment she gave him. Warmth didn’t take long, he noted, to turn into the tears he had been holding back.

He started crying in the middle of the hallway.

“Um.” The girl shifted uncomfortably. “I-I’m sorry I— Did I— Did I say som— Did I say something… wrong?”

“No, it’s okay,” Andrew sniffled. “It’s just that… no one’s ever asked me if I’m okay.”

“O-Oh,” she replied simply. “Are you—” she stopped abruptly, shaking her head. Apparently, she was going to repeat her question, before realizing the answer was quite obvious.

“What’s your name?” she asked instead.

“Andrew.” He wiped his nose with his sleeve. “You?”

“I’m Tara, I’m… I’m new here,” she answered. Then: “You’re the first person I talk to here.”

Andrew felt his heart swelling up. “That’s so cool! So I’m like, your first new friend!”

Tara cringed slightly at the volume of his voice, but said nothing about it. “I guess.” She smiled shyly.

“Where are you from?” he asked eagerly.

“I’m, um, Idaho,” she stuttered.

“Oh, sweet! Did your family like, grow potatoes and all?”

“Not— not really. Hey, weren’t you— weren’t you in a hurry?” she said, changing the topic. “You looked like it. Like you were. In a hurry.”

Andrew gasped. “Right! I forgot! I was looking for my friend Jonathan to show him these!” He held up the books in his hands so Tara could see the cover of the one in the front.

Tara frowned, trying to make sense of the title. “Dungeon Master Option: High-Level Campaigns,” she started reading aloud. “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons?”

“Isn’t it awesome?!” Andrew burst. “I got all these babies for a bargain from some guys who didn’t play anymore. This is gonna improve our campaigns so much!”

Tara stared at him blankly.

“Wait, you don’t know what Dungeons & Dragons is?” Andrew asked in shock.

Tara shrugged apologetically. “I’m not really… ‘In’ with the mainstream, you know? So, what is it?”

Andrew smiled smugly. “Only the coolest, most awesome tabletop game ever!”

“...What?”

“I’ll show you,” Andrew promised. Then something clicked and he glanced at his wristwatch with some struggle. “I mean, later. Now we gotta head to class. What’s your first period?”

“Um.” Tara reached into her messenger bag and pulled out a piece of paper. “I have…” her shoulders sagged. “Computer Science. Miss Calendar.”

“Hey, that’s my first period too!”  He smiled brightly. “Come on, I’ll take you there.” That said, Andrew grabbed Tara’s wrist and pulled her in direction of the classroom, not noticing how hard she cringed with the motion.


She could hear the students starting to flood the hall from her desk in the computer lab. She glanced at the clock and then at the door, just waiting for the students to start joining her with a contagious lack of enthusiasm.

“Hey.”

Jenny squawked, startled by the unexpected presence. She looked at the figure that had materialized in front of her out of nowhere and groaned.

“Oh, it’s just you.” She picked at the bridge of her nose.

“Did I startle you?” Willow asked apologetically.

“No, I yelled out of personal amusement,” Jenny replied sarcastically, then got up from her seat and walked up to the window to shut the blinds. “You must have an important reason to be here in the middle of the day.”

“Well.” Willow shuffled uncomfortably. “I do. At least I think I do.”

Jenny looked at her blankly.

“I think something’s coming. Something bad. I’m not sure what but it’s got my spider sense tingling.”

Jenny raised an eyebrow. “Your what?”

“It’s a… Nevermind.”

“Well, color me surprised,” Jenny said simply. “This town is on top of a Hellmouth, Willow. ‘Something bad’s coming’ just means we’re on the right place.”

“No, I know, but... I’ve been having… Nightmares. Different, nightmares.”

Jenny looked at her curiously. “How different?”

Willow shuffled nervously, walking up to where Jenny was standing and opening a slight entrance in the blinds, being careful not to be touched by the sun. “It wasn’t a memory. It felt like a… like an omen, almost. Also, I’m fairly sure I was being chased.” She looked out through the window, seeming to be looking for something in particular.

Jenny frowned, pensive. “I mean,” she said. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. Just because you had a weird dream doesn’t make you a mouthpiece—”

Willow’s attention suddenly shifted.  “Who’s that?” she interrupted.

“Who’s who?” Jenny turned to see what Willow was looking at, and her eyes fell on a student standing in the schoolyard, seeming anxious and lost.

“I don’t know,” Jenny answered. “Why? What about her?”

Willow looked back at her as if she had grown a second head. “Janna, there’s magic coming off of that girl in waves. Strong magic. Like, the kind you suck out of its user and it’s enough for you to wipe out a block. Or, you know, get high for like a week.” She drifted off when she noticed the glare Jenny was throwing in her direction.

“I mean,” Willow coughed out, rectifying her statement. “Not that I would do that. Not anymore. Hey, got a soul now, remember?”

“Yeah, I would remember,” Jenny said.. “Since I’m the one who put it in there.”

“I’ve been feeling that energy since I got to the campus,” Willow went on. “It’s bugging me. I think it means trouble.”

Jenny narrowed her eyes. “...Really.”

“What.”

Jenny shrugged. “I just mean, are you sure that’s why you’re interested? You know, isn’t there any other less, let’s say, heroic reason?”

Willow stared at Jenny blankly until it clicked on her what she meant.

“Ew!” she exclaimed. “Janna, that’s gross! You really think I would…?!”

“Hey, I didn’t say you would anything.” She raised her hands defensively. “I was just asking. Just asking.”

Willow huffed. “Look, I trust my gut, alright?”

“Gross.”

“I think we should look into it.”

Jenny pressed her lips together. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

“Wait, really?” asked Willow cheerfully, then noticing her reaction was inappropriate corrected herself, repeating, this time in a grim voice: “Wait. really?”

“Yes, but that’s not what we’re supposed to be putting our energy into right now. There’s a reason we’re— I mean, there’s a reason I’m here. You’re here because… I don’t know, you’re like my big fanged puppy I guess.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Right, the Slayer. How you gonna find her?”

“You know there’s a database of all the students, right.”

Pause.

“Oh. Right.”

“Now we just gotta hope that when we find her, she’s not gonna be too tough a nut to crack.”

“Now there’s wishful thinking.”

Jenny shrugged. “One can dream.”


“Miss Lehane!” the words came accompanied by a loud bang on her desk.

Faith sat bolt upright with a startle. “I’m listening! I’m listening,” she blurted out as her eyes adjusted to the light.

Her teacher, whatever the hell was he called, sighed. “What was the last thing I said?”

Faith put on a thinking face, looking like she was actively trying to remember when in reality she was trying her hardest not to give in to her impulse of saying ‘eat a bag of dicks’. “Uuuh…”

“Pay. Attention,” her teacher said finally through gritted teeth, before proceeding with his lecture. The ‘bag of dicks’ impulse was getting overwhelming.

As she rubbed her eyes, the last drops of sleep leaving her body, Faith found herself remembering the last bits of her dream.

Man, had it been fucked up.

She didn’t remember much. Most of it was already fading, and she could only make out a couple flashes. What she did make out, however, was bone-chilling: vaguely human-shaped creatures with severely deformed faces and bodies. Images of some of these creatures - the more human looking - sinking their teeth into the skin of random people, all screaming or too terrified to scream at all. A big, uglier looking-one walking in Faith’s direction, laughing maniacally. Death. Lots of it. Lots and lots of it.

Fucked up.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the interference sound from the classroom speakers.

“Attention all students and school employees,” announced the disembodied voice of Principal Flutie. “ There’s been an incident in the locker room and the all school activities are suspended effectively starting right now for investigation. Do not feel alarmed by the presence of police in the hallways. That will be all.

Most of the students’ immediate reaction was to break into loud cheering. The teacher attempted to give a few last instructions regarding homework before giving up and start collecting his things to leave himself. A few students turned to each other, wondering out loud what could have happened to require police involvement.

Faith, with her complete lack of interest, just picked up her untouched backpack and left.

Chapter Text

With the end of the announcement, as the students around her started getting up to leave, Tara stood still in her place, looking up at the speakers in a mix of curiosity and apprehension.

“Hey,” Andrew called in the terminal right next to hers. “What do you think that’s all about?”

Tara pressed her lips tightly, concerned. “I don’t know… Is that a thing that happens frequently around here?”

Andrew thought about her question for a moment. “Hmm, no? Yes? What’s the right answer?”

Tara stared at him blankly.

“It’s just that I’ve lived here my whole life,” he explained. “I don’t know what’s really… normal frequency or not for that stuff.”

Tara glanced at the flow of students worriedly. “Maybe it’s nothing serious,” she said, completely convinced of the opposite.

“Yeah…” Andrew trailed off. “Hey!” he exclaimed suddenly. “If we don’t have any classes today, that means more time to play RPG! Do you want to join me and my buddies?”

Tara looked at him, seriously considering his proposal. On one hand, that’d mean spending the day with complete strangers, probably all of them nerdy boys who’d never interacted with a girl their own age before, and would have the time of their lives trying to figure out how to do that, which would come at the cost of her comfort. On the other hand, hey, a new group of friends, presumably.

“Sure,” she decided. “Why not?”

Andrew’s face lit up as he launched himself in an excited ramble about how she would have so much fun and it would be great for the group since they were in dire need of a druid, whatever did that mean. As they got up and walked to the front door, Tara heard Miss Calendar’s voice behind her:

“Miss Maclay, one moment, I need to have a word with you.”

Tara felt her heart skip a beat. Rationally, she knew she couldn’t be in trouble. She’d done nothing wrong. She didn’t even have the time to do anything at all, let alone something that would have gotten her in trouble. Her anxiety, unfortunately, decided to ignore that fact altogether.

“I’ll just wait for you in the hallway,” announced Andrew simply, leaving her alone in the room with Ms. Calendar.

Tara turned to face her teacher, trying not to freak out too much.

“Yes?” she said, with the smallest voice she could have possibly conjured and kicking herself mentally for it.

Ms. Calendar, who seemed to be dividing her attention between Tara and some papers in her desk, must have noticed the apprehensive tone in Tara’s voice. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble or anything,” she said. “I just wanna have a chat.”

“Okay,” Tara said, not without some suspicion, approaching the desk.

“So.” Ms. Calendar took her eyes off the papers on her desk to look openly at Tara. “First of all, welcome to Sunnydale. I’m very happy to have you joining us.”

“Thank you.”

“You moved here with your mom, yes?”

Tara frowned, taken aback by the question.

“Yes.”

“And it’s just the two of you?”

Tara tensed up.

“Yes.”

Ms. Calendar nodded slowly, seeming to absorb the information, making Tara increasingly nervous.

“Don’t be nervous, I just like to know a little more about all my students. You guys are like,” she paused, trying to think of an appropriate term. “Not exactly my children but… pretty close to that.”

“Right.”

“Is there any particular reason you guys decided to move here?”

Tara’s reaction to the question was immediate and violent. She was powerless against the series of images that went through her mind, forcing her to relive in a fraction of a second the worst memories she had from formative years. In each of these images, even as fast as they were, she could make out a single person every time: her father. Parts of him. His face. His bloodshot eyes. His breath, reeking of alcohol.

His fists.

Her whole body jerked back as she struggled to maintain her balance, her breathing getting increasingly shallow. Her heart rate went up in a hundred beats per minute in almost a single instant, and she struggled to make out — well, anything. Anything about what she was hearing, touching or (barely) seeing.

Ms. Calendar got up from her seat in a quick movement, worry taking over her features. “Tara?” she called, reaching over. “Are you—?”

Tara took a large step back, trying to get as far away from her teacher as possible, although she wouldn’t be able to precise why, and almost falling in the process.

“I-I-I-I— I-I n-ne— I need— ” she barely managed to utter out, before holding tightly to her messenger bag and sprinting out the door, stumbling in everything in her way and leaving Ms. Calendar alone and astonished, wondering what had she said wrong.


 

Andrew saw his new friend sprinting out of the classroom and threw a worried look in her direction.

“What happened?” he asked, approaching her carefully.

Tara shook her head, her back turned to him. “Let's just go,” she pleaded, and Andrew thought he could hear hints of crying in her voice.

“Are you okay?” He asked, concerned.

“Andrew.” She turned to him, her face red from crying, her tone completely serious. “Please.”

He stared at his friend, unsure of what to do.

“Okay,” he said, finally, and together they walked side by side to where they would meet with his friends.


 

Jenny turned off the last terminal in the room, cursing the goddamned student that couldn't have had the decency of turning it off on their own, and reaching for the keys to lock the room.

“So, how did it go?”

Jenny gasped, dropping her keys.

“Willow!” she reprimanded the vampire once again. “What did I say?”

“Not to… come unannounced?” she guessed.

“For starters, yeah.” Jenny huffed, bending over to retrieve her keys. “How did what go.”

“Oh, you know,” Willow said in a forcibly casual tone. “With the new kid. Did you like, talk to her?”

“Don’t even start.” Jenny grumbled. “I tried to get something from her like you wanted me to and all I’ve managed to do was traumatize her forever.”

Willow narrowed her eyes. “What? What did you say?”

Jenny shook her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Got a name. Tara Maclay.” She raised her eyebrows. “Does it give you any boogie vibes?”

“It’s a start,” Willow replied, ignoring Jenny’s sarcasm.

Jenny stared at Willow with suspicion. “Why do you care so much about the new girl?”

“What? I've told you.” Willow’s tone was strangely defensive. “Strong magic means major player. I'm just trying to keep up with the game.”

“You and your weird metaphors.” Jenny rolled her eyes. “We got more important things to deal with than your… Player. How did you even get in here with the police around?”

“I'm sneaky,” Willow said simply, then frowned, puzzled. “Why is the police here?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Jenny answered with determination.

“What about the, um, other thing?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Look, Willow, I told you what I think. I’ll give you this: if you want to ‘investigate’ that kid, from now on, you’ll have to do it by yourself.”

“Why the air quotes.”

“You know why.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “As you will,” she said, turning to leave.

“Where are you going?” Jenny shouted after her.

“I'm sure you can deal with the police thing on your own. I'm gonna take care of the issue at hand.”

Jenny huffed. “Willow?”

The vampire turned her head to look at Jenny.

“You’re blushing.”

Willow’s eyes widened and she quickly brought her hand up to feel her own face, but felt no warmth.

“Ha!” she exclaimed, pointing an accusatory finger at Jenny. “Vampires don’t have blood circulation. Nice try, though.”

“Made you check it,” Jenny retorted, her face contorting in a smug grin.

Defeated, Willow had to settle for flipping off her friend before leaving.


 

Faith was headed to the exit when she spotted a familiar face just across the hallway. Her face twisted in a wicked grin.

“Hey, Steve Rogers!” She called.

Riley turned his attention away from his mates to look at Faith, his expression turning grim instantly.

“Faith,” he answered as she approached.

“What's kicking, superstar? Heard you guys scored big on the last game.”

“We didn't,” one of Riley's friends, whatever his name was, spoke up. “We lost.”

“Yeah, I was lying. I didn't really hear anything about it and I don't care either.” Faith looked around at the group, noticing the heavy atmosphere among them.

“Jeez guys, what's with the long faces?” she chuckled. “Did someone die or something?”

The whole group looked at her gravely.

Riley cleared his throat. “Actually, Faith,” he said. “That's… exactly what happened.”

Faith's grin vanished instantly. “Wait, really?”

“We found Pete stuffed in a locker in the locker room. Dead.” Another one of Riley's stone-faced friends said.

“Pete… you mean that guy who— you know, that dude… No, I got no idea who that is.”

“Faith,” Riley said, his voice shaking. “Why don't you just. Go home.”

Faith stared at Riley for a moment, debating whether she should deliver a snarky reply or not.

“Maybe I will,” she said finally, walking in direction of the front exit, and then in the last moment making a turn in the next corridor.


 

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

Tara just nodded weakly. “I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, well, if you feel not good anymore you should tell me! I’m… not sure what I’d do but I’d be glad to help! However I can…”

Tara stopped listening to Andrew’s pointless ramble when a couple of kids passed by them in the hallway and a certain string of words catched her attention.

“...I heard it was the captain’s body , Pete Vice…”

“God, that’s horrible.”

“Ew, dude! In the locker room?”

Tara watched the group as they walked away, trying to register the words she had just heard, and coming to the conclusion that they weren’t very good, probably.

“...a body?”

“What?” Andrew interrupted his ramble. “You said something?”

A deep crease formed in Tara’s forehead. “Andrew, can I ask you something?”

“Yeah?”

“Is it very common for students to turn up… Dead, here?”

She waited for the answer and when it didn’t come, she looked at Andrew and found him with an inappropriately excited expression.

“Andrew…?”

“Oh my God, Tara do you know what this means?!” He exclaimed loudly, making her flinch.

“Um, no? Yes? Means about what?”

“You don’t understand.” She expected him to explain it, but instead he kneeled down and pulled his backpack from behind him, then proceeded to rummage through the contents.

“I… Clearly don’t.”

“Here!” He pulled a notebook from inside the backpack and got up to his feet. “I’ve been registering every kind of unexplained phenomenon that happens in this town ever since...” he paused. “When was it? Well, anyway, it’s been a long time. Look!” He placed the notebook in Tara’s hands, who hesitantly started leafing through its contents.

And it was quite some content, alright. Crude sketches of strange creatures and several yellow sticky notes attached to the pages. A piece of Scotch tape held what looked like an animal claw to one of the pages. An arrow coming out from its right side pointed at the following note: not similar to any native animal species in California. A Polaroid picture of an obscured figure had been taped into another page, with the word “Vampire (???)” scribbled under it.

“That’s… Wow.”

“Cool, right? I think there’s something special about this town. Something… wacky.”

“...Really.”

“Look, I know it sounds crazy but. I think this town is like, a cryptid hotspot. There is something here, something that attracts them here. I don’t know what it is but I know it’s there. I know it!”

Tara stared at her new friend for a few seconds, unsure of what to say. On one hand, the idea that she had to hide her knowledge of the supernatural, because apparently people in this town were stupid enough not to notice and would make a fuzz of it if they knew, was rather exhausting, and it sounded relieving that she could talk about it with at least one person that wasn’t her mom. On the other hand, she was starting to get the unnerving impression that Andrew was not exactly the most discreet person, and she wasn’t sure if it wouldn’t be a better idea to play dumb and pretend what he was telling her made no sense.

Then again, she was never that great of a liar.

“Andrew...” she started, but was immediately interrupted.

“I think— no, I know there’s something cryptic at work here. I am absolutely positive of it.”

“Andrew, I really don’t think.” She paused, trying to come up with more neutral words. “I don’t think you got this whole… Cryptid thing quite right. I don’t think there’s anything supernatural about a kid dying.”

“That’s because you don’t have a sixth sense like me,” he replied smugly.

Boy, you don’t even know, she thought, annoyed by his assumption, but unable to correct him.

“Well, what do you suggest we do about this cryptid problem?” She asked and then immediately regretted it.

“I wanna investigate it.”

Tara blinked.

“You’re not serious.”

au contraire, mon ami. I, in fact, could not be more serious.”

“We can’t just, walk into a crime scene, it’s a crime scene . With cops. They won’t let us in.” She realized she had said “we”, when she should have said “you”, a little too late.

“So, what you’re saying is,” Andrew concluded. “If I find a way to put us in there, you’ll come with me?”

Tara opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to let out a reason, just one reason, why she was not going to do that. Unfortunately, Andrew’s pleading eyes got the best of her, and she finally said:

“Fine.”

Andrew whooped in celebration.

“Hell yeah! I promise I’m gonna make it worth the while. I’m gonna prove to you I’m right.”

“If you say so,” she took off after him, since he had already started down the hall even though he didn’t even know the body was in the men’s locker room. Suddenly, she stopped on her tracks and looked around, feeling that someone was watching her. She looked thoroughly over the hallway, and, finding nothing, went on in the direction adventure was calling, as much as she wished she could just hang up.


 

Watching as the pair of teenagers left for their little investigation, Willow let her head drop over the wall behind her, sighing.

“Damn it,” she cursed. “Damn it all to hell.”


 

In Jenny’s opinion, it was concerning that she broke into the crime scene that easily.

True, it may not have been as easy for other people, who didn’t know how to prepare sleeping spells that lasted anywhere ranging from 3 to 5 hours, depending on the affected person and the concentration levels of the powder, but still. Police officers working right over the Hellmouth? On a town that was a like a 24/7 convention for magic users? They should know better.

Didn’t matter anymore. She was here, ready to get to work.

She snapped on a pair of rubber gloves and walked over to the sheet that covered Vice’s body. Upon raising it slightly and inspecting his neck, she found what she feared the most.

“Vampire.” She sighed. “Okay. Guess we’ll have to do this.”

Reaching for the bag she had brought, she pulled out a decent sized axe, and folded the sheet to end just under the boy’s neck.

For a few moments, she just stared at the lifeless body of what once was the, no doubt obnoxious, mean and disrespectful, as they all were, captain of the football team. She couldn’t bring herself to just cut off his head already, and passed a harsh judgement on herself for it. You’re getting real soft there, she told herself.

“Okay, buddy, look,” she told the corpse, as if it made a difference. “I don’t wanna do this either, alright? But it’s the way it’s gotta be. I’m sorry, but I have no way of knowing you’re not gonna get up and decide to make some more kids be like you.”

She told herself that several times, until it was perfectly internalized. He’s a potential threat. I’ve got to cut the head. I’ve got to cut the head. Need to cut the head. Just cut the head.

“Okay.” She exhaled. “Let’s do this.”

Bringing the axe up until it was above her head, ready to bring it down on a swift movement until—

“What the hell are you doing.”

Jenny squawked and dropped the axe. Turning around, she found the owner of the voice: a young girl, a student no doubt, sporting a leather jacket, dark makeup and a general punky vibe.

“For the love of— What are you doing here?” asked Jenny, exasperated.

“I was gonna ask you the same,” the girl retorted. “Did you do that with those cops out there? Why do you have an axe? What the hell?”

“I can explain everything,” Jenny said, fully aware she could not explain a single thing.

“...Right.” the girl paused. “Are you one of those people who have some weird kinks involving corpses?”

“What?! No!”

“Hey, don’t yell at me for going for the most likely theory. Ain’t nothing folks are more willing to do dumb shit for than to get off. I would know.”

“What does that—- Nevermind, I don’t want to know. You have to leave.”

“No, you know what? I wanna know what you gonna do with that kid. If you’re not using that to get off like, honestly, dude, I’m on a dead end. Starting to think you’re just really fucked up and I should slap those cops awake to do something about it.”

Jenny gulped. “Look. I promise. There is a perfectly good reason why I’m here— ”

“I told you I could get us in!” Both of them turned to look in the direction of the voice, coming from the boy entering the room and talking to someone just behind him. Soon as he set foot in the room, he stopped dead in his tracks, the easy smile on his face vanishing as soon as his eyes fell on the girl.

“You didn’t even do anything, Andrew,” the girl just behind him said, as she joined them inside the room and stopped just beside him, but fixing her eyes on Jenny instead.

For a moment or two, the room fell on a dead silence, as each of them looked at each other with shocked expressions. The girl by Jenny’s side was the first to speak up, her mind seeming to switch gears concerningly quickly.

“What the fuck did I say to you just this morning, you freak?” she shouted at the boy, Andrew. “I said I didn’t wanna see you again today. Are you fucking retarded or what?”

Jenny was about to scold her, but then she looked over at the new girl girl - Tara, she remembered - and found a terrifyingly familiar expression in her face. Something in the other’s words had pulled a switch in her, the same one Jenny accidentally pulled just a few hours ago in her classroom, and Tara was reacting quite poorly to it.

“Tara?” she called, not certain if the girl had heard her. The other teenagers turned their attention to her, Andrew assuming a concerned look.

“Tara, are you…?” Andrew tried to reach for her, but she got away from him abruptly, falling into a sitting position and then proceeding to crawl away into the corner. She curled up into herself, hugging her knees and hiding away her face. The rest of the group just stared for a while, all of them unsure of what to do.

“The hell’s wrong with her?” Punky girl spoke up first again.

“Don’t talk about my friend like this! This is your fault!” Andrew accused.

“My fault? Champ, I’ve never even seen your girl until like, 20 seconds ago. If anything— ”

“She’s not ‘my girl’”, Andrew protested, blushing deeply.

“Whatever. If anything you— Actually that makes sense. Everybody knows your type is not, well, any girl.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what I mean, dumbfuck.”

“Oh my God, can’t you two just shut up for just one second?!” Jenny blurted out. She had kneeled in front of Tara and was trying to calm her down.

“Tara, hey,” she called. “It’s okay. Things are gonna be okay. You’re not in any danger, no one’s trying to hurt you. Okay?”

Tara didn’t move, but her trembling seemed to reduce.

“Was it the screaming? We can stop screaming. No one’s gonna scream anymore, okay? Was it anything she said? She won’t talk anymore, ever.”

“I’m right here.”

“Unfortunately,” Jenny replied, without taking her eyes off Tara. She waited, seeing if she was gonna show any signs of a reaction. Finally, came the words:

“I don’t want her to say that word again,” she said, her voice so small that Jenny had to make an effort to hear it.

“What word, Tara?”

At that, Tara raised her head, looking at the other girl from the corner of her eyes. “That word.” she paused. “Retard.”

Jenny threw a glare at the girl, hoping to make the message clear through this gesture alone, then turned at Tara again and re-assumed her gentle tone.

“It’s okay, she won’t say it anymore. Okay?”

Tara nodded hesitantly.

“Good. You’re safe here, Tara,” Jenny offered a kind smile. “No one wants to hurt you here.”

“Yeah, listen to her, little piggie,” Jenny heard a new voice behind her, sending a chill down her spine. She didn’t know the voice, but she knew exactly who it was. She turned around and damn her if it wasn’t the very own Peter Vice, standing in the middle of the room, in front of those other, now very horrified, kids.

“No one wants to hurt you, ya hear that? Oh well.” His face twisted into the dreadful scowl of a vampire. “Except me, of course.”


 

Screams.

Willow jumped to her feet as soon as the sound reached her ears. She had stayed just outside the locker rooms, sure the teenagers she had been following would notice if she followed them inside. But now, the present sound made an alarm soar in Willow’s head.

Janna, her brain screamed at her, repeating it several times. She allowed herself a moment to contemplate that, and add an extra I’m not a puppy for good measure, then rushed into the room.


 

Shit was going down. Hard.

Faith could barely make sense of what was going on. On one moment, she was just foolin’ around, just wanted to see a corpse and that’s it. Then she came in to see that crazy-ass teacher about to cut off the dude’s head, then those damned nerds came in to ruin everything and now dead guy was back up and— and attacking the crazy lady?!

She didn’t know what to do. By her side, Andrew was screaming. Like, really screaming, like, shit, won’t that dude ever stop screaming? Her eyes focused on Andrew's friend, Tara, who had jumped up and pulled something from her messenger bag— was that a piece of wood? She seemed to actually have a purpose for that but whatever it was, she was too paralyzed to do it.

“Kids!” she heard the weird lady shouting, as she tried to keep Vice’s brand new sharp teeth away from her neck. “Get the— Hell—- out of here!”

Faith should have done that. She would’ve done that. Screw the others, by now she should be far, far away from here, running as fast as she could. Then why the Hell wasn’t she doing that?

Suddenly, Faith felt a sudden surge of strength course through her. Just like that, she suddenly knew what to do. In a single, swift movement, she covered the distance between her and Tara, grabbing the piece of wood from her trembling hands and sinking it straight into Vice’s back. The once-a-teenager contorted himself, letting out a painful cry before exploding in a cloud of dust.

Faith stared at the pile of dust left behind by Vice, completely astonished. Andrew had stopped screaming, she noticed, and the lady, who she supposed was a teacher or something, looked at her with an unsettling look of amazement.

The door then opened violently, making Faith, and everyone else, turn to look at who had just come in: a senior-year looking girl brandishing a sword with murder in her eyes.

“Alright, sucker, let’s give you a little taste of...” she trailed off, looking around at the bewildered teenagers and teacher and the pile of dust and the crime scene and the— well, everything. She slowly lowered her sword, confusion stamped on her face.

“What the hell?”

Chapter Text

Nothing made sense anymore.

Willow tried to clarify what was going on there, starting by who were each of these kids. Her goal however took a backseat to everyone shouting at each other incomprehensibly, apparently.

“Oh, my God, you’re her!” Janna exclaimed.

“What? The hell you’re talking about? Who the hell are you?” retorted one of the girls, the one in a leather jacket and dark lipstick.

“Oh God, that was a real vampire,” the other girl, the one Willow had taken a - exclusively professional - interest in, Tara, said in shock.

“You knew vampires were real!” the boy exclaimed. “You had a stake with you! Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“I— I…”

“You’re the Slayer! You knew you had to slay that vampire!”

“I ain’t no goddamn Slayer or whatever, I don’t even know what that thing was!”

“A vampire!” the other three replied in unison. “Wait, you’re the Slayer?!” followed Tara’s question.

“I’m not!”

“What’s a Slayer?”

“Are you serious?”

They proceeded to keep shouting at the same time, their voices joining together to form a hellish cacophony.

Enough! ” Willow shouted loud enough to be heard above the choir of voices. The sound ceased immediately. “Okay.” She rubbed her temples, trying not to lose her cool. “Let me get this straight. You.” She pointed at the girl in leather jacket, Faith, as she remembered the Slayer was called. “Are the new Slayer.”

“I’m not— ”

“You,” Willow ignored Faith and proceeded, pointing at Tara. “Are the new kid, and you’re a witch of some sort.”

“How do you—- ”

“And you.” She pointed at the boy. “Who the Hell are you?”

“I’m Andrew.”

“And?”

“...rew.”

Willow’s pointing hand closed into a fist. “Not helping, kid.”

“Hold on a minute, right there,” Tara spoke up, taking a step forward. “Who are you?

Willow went mute. First, because she and apparently the other two teens realized that was actually a very pertinent question, and they both turned to face her promptly. Second because, now that she was looking at her way closer she realized, damn, that girl was very pretty wasn’t she? Hey, was it getting hot there or… No, don’t be stupid Willow, you don’t even feel temperature that way anymore. Get a grip.

“I’m Willow,” she said simply. Soon as she realized it might not be enough, she added: “I’m a friend of Janna.”

Pause.

“Who?”

“Miss Calendar.”

The teens turned to face Janna.

“You’re friends with a student?” asked Tara, curiously.

“Guess I am,” she replied, throwing Willow a look that always made Willow feel stupid, because it was exactly what it meant.

“Right. That’s what I am. A student.”

“Why do you own a sword?”Andrew observed brightly.

“Even better, why does her friend own an axe? And what the Hell is a Slayer?” Faith asked.

“Guys?” called Tara.

“What?” the rest of the group answered.

“Shouldn’t we be asking why a vampire would rise in the middle of the day?”

A heavy silence followed. Damn, that was a good question.

“We should leave before the cops wake up,” Janna proposed.

“Good call,” Willow said. They all left, feeling that the series of events of that afternoon would leave a long-lasting effect on their lives.


 

They soon figured why the vampire rose so early.

Or at least Tara, and also probably Miss Calendar and Willow and maybe Andrew did, as soon as they realized that for some reason, it was already nighttime.

At roughly 2PM, in California.

Faith, however, who did not know anything about vampires, and was certainly still shocked and confused by the previous events in the locker room, had a much simpler questioning:

“What the fuck just happened.”

They were now standing in Miss Calendar’s classroom, still absorbing the events that had just happened.

“What you just saw was a vampire,” Miss Calendar’s friend, the senior year girl that went by Willow, spoke up. “Yes, they’re real, and yes, they’re very very bad news.”

“This is so amazing,” Andrew said suddenly, completely wonderstruck. Willow looked at him like he had just said he was about to go pull out worms from the mud and eat them.

“Uh, no, that’s bad. Like I just said.”

“Willow’s right,” Miss Calendar said. “But that’s not the worst of it. As Tara pointed out, this vampire rose way earlier than expected, and by the looks of it, it’s because it’s already dark out there.

“Right,” Faith said, not really buying anything that was being said. “So that means…?”

“That means something really really wrong is going on,” answered Willow. “And we need to figure out what it is.”

“Isn’t that normal here?” asked Tara. “I mean, this is a Hellmouth. Isn’t that just the kind of thing that happens here?”

Willow looked at her with a mix of admiration and curiosity.

“You know about Hellmouths.”

“Well, I just.” Tara averted her gaze, blushing. “I read a lot about these things.”

“Hold on a second,” Andrew said, seeming to have snapped out of his amazement trance. “What’s a Hellmouth?”

“It’s a convergence point for demonic and supernatural activity,” answered Jenny. “Think of it as a, let’s say, a 24-hour club where all demons are VIP.”

Andrew turned to Tara, looking both angry and hurt. “You knew about the hotspot. You knew all of it and you decided to pretend you didn’t. You lied to me.”

Tara gulped. “Look, Andrew, I...”

“Okay, no, hold the fuck up right there,” Faith interrupted. “You folks can’t be actually serious about this. I mean.” She let out a chuckle, which to Tara sounded extremely distressed. “Really? Demons? Vampires? You’re talking like any of this shit actually exists.”

Willow and Miss Calendar both looked at Faith with concern. Tara could understand why. The girl was clearly spiraling.

“It’s normal for folks to freak out and try to deny what they’ve seen the first time they see a demon,” Willow reasoned. “It’s okay, it’s natural. I’m actually surprised it’s not all three of you that are freaking out.”

“I’m not fucking freaking out,” Faith replied, clearly freaked out. “I don’t know any of you. I don’t trust any of you. Hell, as far as I know, this is all some elaborate prank just to fuck with me.” Faith looked around, scanning the room. “Where are the cameras? Uh?” Then suddenly she stopped and glared at Andrew, murder in her eyes. “You did this.”

“What?”

“Yeah, you wanted payback didn’t you, half-pint?” She charged in his direction, but before she could strangle Andrew with her bare hands, Willow put herself in her way and physically held her back.

“Hey, hey, hey,” she said. “None of that is necessary. The kid didn’t plan a thing. No one planned this, Faith.”

Faith resisted Willow’s grip for a few more seconds before giving up.

“Okay, guys,” called Miss Calendar. “Clearly, a lot happened and you all must be tired and confused. I think the best option is that you three go home and get some rest. We can deal with the vampire situation tomorrow.”

“‘We’?” questioned Faith. “‘We’, who? What do I care about your fucked up vampires or whatever the hell you’re on?”

“Faith...” Miss Calendar said, in a tired voice.

“No. Fuck all of this. I’m getting the hell out of here and I’m not coming back. So long, losers.” With these solemn words, Faith turned her back to the room, flipped everyone off and left.

A heavy silence followed.

“Well,” Miss Calendar said. “That was promising.”

“I should go,” said Andrew. His excitement from before had completely faded and left in its place just bitter anger. “I have to update my cryptid journal.” He glared at Tara. “Alone.”

“Andrew, please, wait…”

He didn’t wait. Andrew left without looking back.

Tara looked at the door by which her friend had just left, feeling like the worst person in the world. He was right, she knew that. She should have told him, instead of pretending she thought he was completely out of it. Now she might have just lost the one friend she would ever manage to have in high school, maybe ever.

“Sorry about your friend,” Tara heard Willow’s voice behind her, in a surprisingly soft tone.

Tara didn’t know what to answer, so she didn’t say anything.

“You know you shouldn’t, um,” Willow said, looking impossibly awkward. “You shouldn’t walk home alone in the dark. Not in this town. Do you want me to, uh, you want me to walk you home?”

She looked at the other teenager in confusion, not sure she had heard her words correctly.

“I’m sorry, what?”

Willow seemed to shrink - even more - at that. “I just, I mean, you shouldn’t— you shouldn’t wander off in the dark alone around here. You never know what’s lurking about so… Figure you’d like company?”

Tara stared at her for a few seconds without reaction. From the corner of her eye she could see Miss Calendar gesticulating wildly at Willow, looking angry, and stopping when she noticed Tara saw her.

“Uuh.” Tara paused, considering the offering. “Okay.”

Willow’s face lit up, her lips twisting into a goofy grin, which was coming off as - well, several things, to Tara, including weird, shady and adorable, all at the same time.

“Good! Good,” she said. “So we should, uh, we should go, then.”

Tara nodded with some uncertainty, and together they left the classroom despite Miss Calendar’s death glare reserved for Willow, of which reason Tara could not start to understand.


 

It really was dark, which, surprisingly, was unsurprising.

The walk home was, in Tara’s opinion, dreadfully awkward. After spending the day with Andrew, with whom she didn’t have to say a word because he was guaranteed to fill in the silence at any time, she hadn’t been prepared to be with someone who was about as talkative as herself.

Truth be told, so far Tara was considering it to be a good idea that she accepted Willow’s offer, seeing now that it would have been less than pleasant to face any of the lurking creatures of Sunnydale alone, were this the case. At the same time, something about that girl still didn’t sit right with her. She didn’t know exactly why, but it probably had something to do with the fact that the first impression she got from her was that she was ready to cut someone in half with a sword, that she actually owned.

Or, well, it could be something else.

She shook her head, trying not to think about that . That, of course, referred to her second impressions of Willow, that she was probably the most gorgeous girl she had ever seen and that her initial woman-in-command attitude was, to put it simply, hot.

Regardless of what made Willow look intimidating to Tara, that contributed to increase her shyness and prevent her from attempting to break that awfully awkward silence.

“So, uh.” Willow spoke up suddenly, trying to break the tension. “You’re new here. Right?”

“Right,” Tara answered accordingly.

Willow nodded at nothing in particular, probably formulating where to go from there.

“I am too. New, here, I mean.”

Tara looked at her in surprise.

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah, I, I got here a few days before you, I think.” She kicked a rock out of the way. “Still adjusting. Didn’t even get everything out of the boxes yet.”

Tara smiled, feeling herself warming up a bit more to this eerily strange girl. “Oh, so you… you moved here to get closer to the Hellmouth? On purpose?”

Willow looked at her, returning her smile. “I was gonna ask you the same thing.”

That made her feel nervous suddenly, so she just shrugged, trying to not let out much. “We just. Figured the mystical energy would be… useful.”

“Huh. That’s an interesting way to see it.”

Tara’s smile grew, and she silently thanked Willow for not pushing the subject. “So you and Miss Calendar, moved here together?”

Willow looked surprised at that, so she added:

“You mentioned you guys were friends so, since you’re new here, I just, I figured. Is she something of yours? I don’t know, like, an aunt or something?”

Willow seemed at a loss for a moment.

“I think… I think friend is what covers it better. Let’s just say that we have a history together. It’s kind of complicated.”

Tara’s brows knit together in concern, and she failed in stopping her own mouth from saying:

“A history as in, romantic history?” She realized what she had said a second too late.

“What?” Willow practically yelled, taken aback. Immediately after, she started laughing. “No, no, God forbid. That’d be, oh my God, that’d be insane.”

Tara felt her face getting hot like a furnace. If she looked like she felt, it meant she probably looked red enough to make a car stop.

“Yeah, no, that’d be.” Willow shook her head. Her laughing had turned into a few rare giggles. “The age gap would be pretty big.”

Tara nodded, still utterly embarrassed for even suggesting that.

“Besides,” Willow continued, a playful tone in her voice. “She’s not my type.”

Tara almost tripped over herself at that. She has a type? As in, a type for girls? As in, she likes girls? As in… As in it doesn’t matter to you, get a grip already.

“And what would be your type, exactly?” she asked, suddenly feeling bold, and regretted that immediately.

Willow didn’t seem offended, though. She seemed to consider the question for a while.

Against her own will, Tara’s mind immediately started playing the scene she wished would happen: Willow looking at her dead in the eye and saying: You . Then right after that she would just kiss her fiercely, Tara would gladly return it and they’d just start making out in the middle of the street. She shut it down as soon as she saw her mind was going to more adventurous places.

“I like… The mean ones.”

Tara raised an eyebrow.

“Really?”

“Yep,” Willow confirmed. “Mean girls and bossy girls, that’s my type.”

Girls.

She said girls.

She likes girls, 100% confirmed.

“Right,” Tara said, trying to prevent any of her feelings to come out and doing a good job, in her opinion.

“What about you?”

“What about me, what?” Tara answered, knowing fully well what was about her.

“What’s your type?” Willow wiggled her eyebrows playfully.

Tara bit her lower lip, trying desperately to answer something that clarified absolutely nothing.

“I don’t— I don’t really— I don’t have one.”

“Right,” was all Willow said.

After that, they kind of just went back to painfully awkward silence. Tara tried in one occasion to ask Willow about her classes, or about her life back where she had moved from, but that caused Willow to go strangely dodgy, so she decided to leave it.

“We’re here,” she announced, once they got to her house.

“Oh.” Willow looked from the front door to Tara, back at the front door, not knowing what to do next. “I guess I, uh, I see you tomorrow?”

Tara nodded, smiling. She had been too busy worrying about how much of a disaster she was being and only now completely realizing how much of a dork her companion was.

“Sure.”

“Okay, so.” Willow pointed behind her with her thumb. “I think I’m just gonna. Go, then.”

“Yeah.”

She didn’t go, and they stood still for almost ten seconds like that.

“Are you sure you should go home alone in the dark?” Tara asked. “Are you gonna be safe?”

Willow smiled.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. I promise.”

Tara nodded.

“Right.”

“Okay I. Guess I’m leaving now.”

“Yeah, I’ll just. Be here, waiting for my mom. She’s still at work.” She immediately realized there was no reason why Willow would want or need to know that.

“You want me to stay here, wait with you?” she offered, to Tara’s surprise.

“No, it’s fine, you can go.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

She didn’t go. In fact, she waited until Tara had unlocked her door, entered the house and closed it again before actually leaving.


 

“You guys will never believe what happened.”

Andrew rushed into the living room and threw his backpack over the couch. He looked at his parents, that hadn’t stopped their conversation to pay him any attention.

“Hey!”

They looked at him, falling silent.

“Doesn’t anyone wanna know why I’m home early?”

“Tucker already told us,” his dad told him simply. “Although we’d figure you’d stay behind playing that… game of yours, with your friends.”

“Okay, but did he tell you why did we get released earlier?”

“I don’t know, some kind of incident?” his mother answered.

“Well, yeah! They found a dead student in the locker rooms!”

That seemed to finally get his parents’ full attention. His father looked at him incredulously, his mother made the cross sign.

“Dear Lord, Andrew,” his father said. “Do they know what he died of?”

“No, but.” He smiled smugly. “I do.”

His mother’s horror shifted to confusion.

“You do?”

He nodded emphatically. “It was a vampire!”

Both his parents groaned audibly.

“Not this again, Andrew,” his father reprimanded. “Have you no decency? Playing when a kid has died! Or did you make that up too?”

“I’m not making it up!” he protested. “It’s true! And it turned him into one of them! I saw it with my own two eyes! Me and my…” He paused. “Well, I went to check it out and there was this girl and this teacher there and the girl put a stake in his heart in like, 2 seconds!”

He looked from one of his parents to the other as he told his exciting tale, assessing that both had already stopped paying attention to him and going back to other activities they deemed more worthwhile.

Andrew huffed, stomping. “I’m gonna show you! I’ll show all of you!” he said before grabbing his backpack and storming off to his room. He slammed the door shut, and quickly retrieved his cryptid diary from the backpack. Sitting down on his desk and pushing everything else aside to make room for his diary, he picked a blank page and immediately started scribbling a single word at the top of the page.

Slayer.


 

“The Slayer?”

There was more than surprise in Tara’s mom’s voice. There was incredulity. As Tara was going over all that had happened over the day to her mom, right after she got home, that was what she decided to start with.

“I swear I’m telling the truth,” answered Tara. “She’s here and she’s real.”

“Well, yes, I knew she was real — or at least, I believed so. But, I mean, here? What are the odds?”

Tara shrugged. “I guess as big as anywhere else.”

Her mom seemed to consider her words for a moment, then decided to move on. “So, you met the Slayer. And then… Then what, again?”

“Oh, um, we just, knew that because we got attacked by a vampire and she—”

“Oh God! Are you okay?” Her mom moved from her stool to get closer to her, checking her for injuries.

“I-it’s okay. I’m fine,” Tara assured her. “Faith dusted it before it could hurt any of us.”

Her mom sighed, relieved, and rested her hands on Tara’s shoulders. “That’s good, that’s… That’s good. And does that mean you guys are friends now?”

“No… She wasn’t very nice, but. I did make friends.”

Her mom beamed at that. “Really?”

“There’s this boy, Andrew… He’s been making his own research on demons, all on his own. And one of the teachers, too, Miss Calendar.”

Tara’s mom raised an eyebrow. “Friends with the teacher again, uh? Some things stand the same.”

“Yeah, but…What I mean is, Miss Calendar seems to know a lot about this stuff too. And there’s this other student who’s really close to her, Willow, and she, um.” Tara prayed to whatever God she could think of that she wasn’t blushing. “She knows about it too. A-about, vampires and demons, I mean. About the Hellmouth.” She paused. “And I think they’re witches, too.”

Her mom’s brows knit together. “Are you sure?”

Tara shook her head. “I don’t know, I just, I feel it. I feel magic surrounding them.” Pause. “You think that could mean trouble? For us?”

“No, actually I think that might be very useful. We could use help to figure out what is going on on this… literal hellhole of a town.”

Tara snorted, until she processed the statement. “You mean we should… Go look into it?”

Her mom looked at her as if she had just asked a question with a very obvious answer. “If we can do something, we should do something, Tara.”

Tara nodded, lowering her head, a little ashamed of herself and already feeling nervous in anticipation about the whole thing. Her mom decided to change the subject.

“So, this friend of yours, Andrew…”

Tara looked up at her, confused.

“What about him?”

Her mother’s face twisted in a playful smile. “Is he cute?”

Tara groaned audibly and refused to answer any further questions for the rest of the night.


 

“I can’t believe you did that.”

Jenny’s reprimand of Willow’s actions came accompanied by a constant stressed pacing around the room. Willow didn’t answer to that. She knew it’d be considered interrupting, and over a decade of knowing Jenny granted her the wisdom not to, so she just took it stoically.

“No, honestly, let’s just review this day. First, you try to take our focus off of the Slayer to this mystery girl and claim it’s because she’s ‘probably important’. Then I ask you if you have any other reasons why you’d be interested, and you said no.” She paused her pacing with each sentence pointedly. “Then when I try to shut that down, you ignore everything I say and go around following her. And then, instead of staying here to find out just what the hell is going on, you decide to go on a night walk with her, just because.” She put her hands on her hips, assuming the perfect “grumpy teacher” pose. “Now, Willow, would you like to say something in your defense?”

Given the permission to speak at last, Willow considered her words carefully before saying:

“Okay… Maybe… Maybe I have a personal interest on Tara.”

“Oh, really.” Jenny shook her head. “You know what, forget that. Forget about that. This isn’t time for me to scold you for doing this again, it’s time for us to focus on the matter at hand.”

“Wait, wait, wait, what do you mean again?”

Jenny looked up to meet Willow’s glare, then less-than-discreetly coughed out the words “snake lady”, on which Willow immediately took offense.

“Oh, come on, that was one time!”

“Yeah, it was once… every other hour.”

“Okay, first of all, you don’t know that,” Willow accused. Jenny was sure that if she had any circulation, her face would be redder than her hair right now. “Second, I don’t see the parallels.”

“It’s about the fact you can’t make a decent dating choice. First you start going out with a literal cheating snake, and now you’re putting your moves on a teenager.” Willow went to protest, but Jenny immediately shushed her. “You know what just. Shut up. Not the time. First the most urgent problem, then we’ll talk about your new concerning interest.”

Willow huffed, but obliged regardless. “Fine. You got any theories?”

“I think I’m going with either ‘someone did this on purpose to mess with us’ or ‘some prophecy did this and the people who wanna mess with us were already waiting for it’. Which one you wanna look up first?”

“We have less prophecies than enemies. Let’s start there.”

“Good call. I’ll hit the databases, you hit, well, demons. See what you can get from them, what’s the word going around.”

“Do you think I’m gonna have to actually hit them?”

“You got any money?”

“No.”

“Then, yes.”

Willow agreed silently, somewhat reluctant.

“What about, you know…”

“What?”

“Faith? What are we gonna do about her?”

Jenny sighed, seriously considering the question. “We can’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to. We have to remember she’s never seen things like that before. She needs time to adjust. You remember how it was, the first time you saw a vampire.”

“Uuh.” Willow frowned. “Vaguely. I was busy, uh, dying.”

Jenny nodded slowly. “Right. Forgot about that.”

“But she’ll come around eventually, right?”

Jenny shrugged. “Honestly? I have no idea.”


Faith popped the cap of her beer bottle before flopping down on the couch and reaching for the remote to turn on the TV. It was airing some generic movie with folks with guns in a diner and boring colors. She reached for a bag of half-eaten Cheetos beside the couch and started munching them, just barely hearing the dialogue.

Rather than actually watching anything, Faith was doing something she didn’t find herself capable of doing: she was thinking. Thinking about the crazy day she’d just had. She had seen everything. Saw a weird teacher try to decapitate a dead body, saw the dead body just stop being dead all of a sudden and then…

And then she killed it dead back again. Pulverized. Gone for good.

She switched channels. Now there was one of those chick flicks she hated on, a group of stupid valley girls dancing to a Christmas song in skanky Santa outfits.

She looked at the clock on the wall. It was only 3PM, and yet it looked like it was 8 out there. Her hairbag of a dad wouldn’t be home until at least 11PM, but who knew. Dude might as well be dead in a ditch after losing a gamble. Faith wouldn’t doubt it.

She switched the channel again. A heavily tattooed lady was fighting a guy with a big scar on his face.

Would she even care if that had really happened? If her dad suddenly went missing for several days straight, would she even notice? She wasn’t sure of that. Her dad never even had anything to do with her life, ever. She knew he’d given up on her already.

Switch.

Not that it mattered. How good was the support of a drunkard? Wasn’t that just the reason her mom had left his sorry ass? Left her, too?

Switch.

As if she wanted anything with her mother, either. Just another drunkard, that one. Just another asshole that was only good to tell her how much of a failure she was.

Switch.

What would they say about this? About the fact she grabbed a piece of wood and just stabbed a guy with it like it was no biggie? Would they even say anything? Would they even care?

Switch.

Who even cared what she did or not with her life? Who cared what a good-for-nothing like her did? Who did she expect to care?

Switch.

Switch.

She kept pressing the ‘Switch Channel’ button endlessly, wishing desperately for something that would just grab her attention. That would finally distract her. That would make her just stop fucking thinking .

Switch.

Switch.

Faith let the remote fall in the coffee table in front of her and in a swift movement, turned around and punched the wall behind the couch as hard as she could, letting out a loud grunt. She felt the wall giving in under her fist, and when she removed it, it had formed a fist-shaped hole on the wall at least 3-inches deep.

Faith felt her knees start to tremble. She let herself fall on the couch again, a hard knot forming in her throat.

And then she cried.

And cried.

And cried.

Faith sobbed desperately, freely, both terrified someone would find her like this and begging for it to happen.

She lost track of time. She didn’t know how long she stayed like this, drenched in her own suffering, wallowing in self-pity. At some point, she ran out of tears to cry.

She chugged the rest of her beer before eventually passing out into a restless sleep, with the sound of the gunshots on the TV filling her dreams.