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The Prodigals

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Tom Franklin was just about to close up the shop when his strangest regular came in, ringing the bell over the door. She was about his son’s age and pretty, with black hair and black eyes. She was a little too thin, but every woman in Los Angeles was. And every week, just before closing, she bought a pint of pig’s blood from the shop.

“I was just about to lock up. You want the usual?” he asked her.

She nodded, pulling out a wallet from her purse. He went into the back to fill up the cup of blood. It wasn’t technically legal to sell animal blood, but he didn’t mind meeting the demand if it brought him a few extra dollars. And there seemed to be quite a market for it. He taped a lid on the plastic cup and brought it back to the front for her.

“So what are you making with this?” he asked her.

“Sângerete, it’s a blood sausage,” she said.

“Yeah, from Romania. That where you’re from?”

“My family,” she said. She handed over the cash to him and took the blood, before fading away into the neon lights and traffic sounds of the city.

***

Jenny wanted to pop the lid off and drink the blood straight out of the cup, but she restrained herself. It was cold, right out of the butcher’s fridge. She would wait until she got back to the apartment and could warm it up in the microwave. Besides, it probably wouldn’t be good to get caught drinking raw pig’s blood in the middle of the street.

The butcher’s shop and the apartment were in adjacent run-down neighborhoods. On her walk between the two, she always passed a park where the homeless kids tended to hang out. Though recently she hadn’t been seeing as many kids, and more older adults, muttering to themselves. She passed one of them, a gray haired woman with her arms wrapped around her chest.

“I’m no one. I’m no one,” said the woman.

Jenny kept walking. She got to the apartment building, checked the mail, and climbed up the dimly lit staircase. She could hear one of the neighbors blasting techno music.

Inside her apartment, she switched on the kitchen light and dropped the mail on the table. It was just bills and promotions, nothing personal. She spotted a piece of paper already lying on the table and picked it up. It read, “Come home to Family Home,” and had a little drawing of people hugging.

“You’re home,” said a voice. Jenny looked up to see Buffy, already in her pajamas, come into the kitchen. It was just past eight pm, but Buffy did have to get up brutally early to go work at the diner.

“Yeah, I just went out to get some dinner,” Jenny said, lifting her cup of blood.

“A man gave that to me on my way home from work,” said Buffy, pointing to the leaflet.

“The cult guy with the bad hair?” Jenny asked.

“That’s the one. His name’s Ken.”

“He smells bad.”

Buffy nodded a little.

“I ran into someone who knew me today,” Buffy said.

Jenny tried to keep her face impassive and said, “Really?”

“Yeah, you didn’t know her. She was a vampire groupie. But of course that all changed when she met a vampire for the first time.”

Buffy looked at Jenny and winced, realizing she may have insulted her. But Jenny just shrugged.

“Did you eat dinner?” Jenny asked.

“Yeah, I had a granola bar.”

“I’ll make you something.” Jenny had never been the greatest cook in the world, but now that she couldn’t eat real food she found herself missing it. And Buffy wasn’t too picky.

“Thanks, Jenny.”

“You’re welcome, Anne.” She had to remind herself that Buffy wasn’t Buffy in LA; she was Anne. Jenny wasn’t really Jenny either, so it worked out. They were just two fake lives, wishing the world would leave them alone.

***

The physical wounds from Angelus had healed quickly - remarkably so, almost inhumanly so in Giles’ case - but the emotional wounds, those would take some time. The end of the previous school year had been like a barrage of tragedy, one right after the other. Angel lost his soul. He turned Jenny into a vampire. Kendra died. Angel tortured Giles. Buffy killed Angel. She left. She and Jenny never came home.

Buffy’s absence at the first day of school dropped the spirits of every member of the Scooby gang. They didn’t realize that they were all holding on to the slightest shred of hope that she would show up and somehow that would make everything ok. They had coped over the summer, but coping was about all they could achieve. The kids had taken over patrolling and had become quite competent at it. They worried Giles, more than he could say. He didn’t think he could bear it if anything happened to any of them, even Xander. But all he could do was tell them again to be careful.

They’d had a memorial for Kendra early on the summer. Her body was sent home to Jamaica, but they wanted to honor her in Sunnydale, as well. She hadn’t been in their lives for long, but in just a short time she had proven how brave she was. And she died far too young.

Then Jenny had not returned when they at last managed to find an Orb of Thesulah and perform the ritual for her. They had used her real name, Janna Cervenak, and everything. Giles said that he thought she must have died in the mansion fight and had retreated to his house, not answering their calls for two days.

Now summer was over, and Buffy was still gone. Giles was following false lead after false lead, trying to find her, though as Xander put it, “he’ll find her when she wants to be found.” And she obviously did not.

***

Jenny ducked into the condemned building, following close behind Buffy. It was a common shelter for the homeless, being more protected than just being out on the street. Lily, the former vampire groupie from Buffy’s past, had lost her boyfriend Rickie, so Buffy and Jenny were searching for him at all the haunts where lost kids tended to end up. They had checked the nearby parks and shelters, and now they were searching the abandoned buildings. The boyfriend in question was a young, dark-haired man, but most of the people in this place looked at least over sixty. Buffy and Jenny went quietly down the hall and rounded the corner. Tucked away behind some rubble lay an old man with a bottle of drain cleaner by his head. Buffy went over and checked the pulse on his wrist, shaking her head when she couldn’t find it. Then she stopped, turning his arm a little to look at a red tattoo on his forearm. Jenny leaned forward to get a better look at it. It was half a heart, with the world “Lily” written within.

“Rickie?” said Buffy.

***

Buffy had let Lily wait for them in their apartment. When they entered, Lily practically leapt toward them, asking if they had found Rickie and offering more suggestions about where he might be.

“Lily, I think he’s dead,” said Buffy. Lily stopped moving.

“But…he can’t be. H-he takes care of me,” Lily said.

“I’m sorry,” said Jenny.

“We were gonna get a place. His cousin can get him a job at a car wash.”

“Lily, there’s something else. Th-the person I found was old. He looked about eighty,” said Buffy.

“Well, that’s not Rickie.” There was so much hope in Lily’s voice.

“I’m sure it was. He had the tattoo. But it was like something had drained the life out of him,” said Buffy.

“Do you mean like a vampire?” Lily asked.

“No,” said Jenny quickly. They thought it was best not to tell Lily what Jenny really was. Instead they had said that she was Buffy’s older cousin.

“Vampires don’t accelerate the aging process,” Buffy explained.

“I don’t understand. Maybe it’s not Ricky.”

“Lily, this is something you’re just going to have to deal with,” Buffy snapped.

“Buffy,” said Jenny.

“But he didn’t do anything wrong. Why did this happen to him?” asked Lily, growing more frantic. Jenny wondered if she should go comfort the girl, but then Lily turned to Buffy and asked, “Is it because of you?”

Buffy froze.

“You know about monsters and stuff. You could have brought this with you,” Lily said.

Jenny stepped forward, pushing herself between Buffy and the girl.

“She didn’t bring anything with her. We were just trying to help you. Now, I think it’s time for you to leave,” Jenny said, taking Lily by the arm and leading her to the door of the apartment. Once the girl was gone, she turned back to Buffy.

“It isn’t, you know? It’s not your fault,” said Jenny. Buffy looked at her and then rubbed at her nose, blinking hard. Jenny pretended not to notice.

“We, uh, we should try to figure out what is causing this,” said Buffy.

“Of course,” said Jenny.

They broke into the blood bank that Buffy had visited earlier that day with Lily. Buffy went to check the files in the main room and Jenny went to explore the back rooms. There were a few offices with nothing too interesting in them and a storeroom with the refrigerators of blood. Jenny opened one and took out a blood bag. The label read O positive. Her favorite had been B positive, but she liked O blood, too. She wondered if Buffy would be mad, but she still slipped the bag into her purse. She found two B bags and put them in, as well.

“What are you doing?” she heard from the other room. It wasn’t Buffy’s voice.

“Breaking into your office and going through your private files. Candidate for what?” came Buffy’s reply. Jenny slowly crept out from the back rooms, coming around behind a woman in a lab coat. Buffy had her back turned to both of them as she continued rummaging through the files.

“I’m calling the police,” said the woman, a nurse probably.

Buffy reached up and ripped the phone off the wall. Jenny moved up closer behind the nurse.

“Now, you’ve got a whole bunch of candidates here. I wonder if any of them are missing like Rickie. Gosh, I bet they are,” said Buffy turning around. She caught sight of Jenny and smiled a little.

“You’re getting yourself into a lot of trouble,” said the nurse.

“You should talk,” said Buffy, nodding toward Jenny. The nurse turned and saw Jenny’s vamp face. She shrieked and Jenny grabbed her to keep her from running, growling a little. Buffy walked calmly over to them.

“What are you doing with these kids?” she asked.

“Nothing. I just give them the names of the healthy ones,” said the nurse.

“Give them to who?” asked Buffy.

“To whom,” said Jenny. Buffy gave her a look and Jenny shrugged. She still had her teacher moments. Or maybe Rupert had rubbed off on her. No, she didn’t want to think about him right now.

“Family Home,” said the nurse. They were familiar with the name.

“Cult guy with the bad hair,” said Buffy.

Jenny released the trembling nurse and she and Buffy ran out the door. It didn’t take long for them to reach the place, as it was just a few blocks from the blood bank. Jenny, though youthful, could no longer pass as a teenager, so she waited outside while Buffy went in. She could hear Buffy muddle her way through a speech about wanting to get away from sin.

“Oh, I just suck at undercover,” Buffy said and whistled. Jenny ran inside where two men were facing Buffy. Jenny knocked one to the ground and Buffy pinned the other to the wall.

“Where’s Ken?” Buffy asked.

The man pointed down a hallway. Buffy slammed his head against the wall to knock him out.

“I’ll get Lily. You see if there are any others,” said Buffy, before taking off down the hall. Jenny ran the other way. She ran into another man, one who seemed a little more ready to fight. He swung at her head, but she ducked and socked him in the jaw. His skin wrinkled where she had hit him, like it was sliding out of place. She hit him again, in the eye this time. A flap of skin flopped down over his eye so he couldn’t see. He reached up and ripped the skin off his face, revealing a scabby and slimy demon face.

“Half-breed,” he snarled at her. She drove the heel of her hand into his nose and kicked him hard between the legs. He went down. Jenny liked the fancy moves that Buffy had taught her, but there was something satisfying about a classic kick to the nuts.

There was a scream from the direction where Buffy had gone. Jenny turned and ran towards the sound. She went into the room where it had come from, finding it empty. The room was made of stone and in the center was a little pool filled with what looked like black oil. Jenny moved forward to get a better look when a hand burst out of the pool. The hand looked human enough, so Jenny grabbed it and pulled up a skinny, dirty girl. Not a pool, then, a portal. She moved the girl gently to the side, just as another hand came through. This one was a young man, though just as scrawny. They kept coming, over a dozen people, including Lily, until at last Buffy’s blonde head emerged from the portal.

“What do we do about-” Lily began, pointing to the portal, but before she could finish, the oily substance was covered over in tiles that matched the sides of the pool.

“That was quick,” said Jenny.

“Time moved faster in that dimension. We were there for a few hours,” said Buffy.

“Naturally,” said Jenny, a little bewildered.

***

Jenny waited in the rental car for Buffy to say goodbye to Lily. The sun had just set, so they had plenty of time to make the drive before daylight. Jenny fidgeted nervously with the steering wheel. She knew this was inevitable, but she still didn’t quite feel ready. Buffy needed to go home, though. She knew that.

Buffy came out of the apartment building and got into the car beside her.

“You’re sure?” Jenny asked.

Buffy nodded. “Let’s go home,” she said.