“We shouldn’t go in!” Joan said to Alex just as Alex said the same to Joan. “We shouldn’t? We killed someone. You did? A vampire. Us too!”
“Stop it!” Dawn said “How did you learn to talk together like that, anyway?”
Alex and Joan looked down at her. “Well, with our minds blank of course we’re all thinking the same thing,” Alex said. He looked up at the hospital, trepidatious. “You really don’t think we should go in?”
“No,” Joan said. “The hospital isn’t going to solve our memory problems if it’s a spell. And Randy can’t go in. Maybe I shouldn’t, either.”
“Well, we just killed a bunch of vampires and a scary shark monster. Also, Randy’s a vampire.”
“It’s okay,” Randy said just as the others all stared at him in horror. “I don’t want to bite anyone. I think I’m special.”
“He thinks he has a soul,” Joan said with a bit of an eyeroll.
“Hey, it makes sense!” Randy said indignantly. “Why else would I be palling around with a superhero?”
“How do you know you were palling around with us?” asked Alex. “Maybe you were there to kill us.”
“If he wanted to kill us, he would have,” Joan said. “He can’t be evil, or he’d still be evil, right? A soul makes as much sense as anything.”
“Don’t vampires have souls?” Tara asked.
“I don’t think they do,” Willow said.
“Look. We should just go back to the magic shop and see what Anya and Rupert have come up with,” Joan said.
“But we’re human, right?” asked Dawn. “Shouldn’t we go in and see what they can do for us?”
“I don’t know,” Joan said. “If Randy wasn’t a vampire, I’d say yes, but… he is. And I’m different. I think now that the other vampires have been taken care of, we’re probably better off all staying together.”
“Okay,” said Willow.
Randy led them back to the magic shop, where Anya and Rupert were snuggled together over a book. The magic shop looked a mess. Whatever they’d done it hadn’t helped with their memories, and had apparently caused a lot of trouble. “No luck?” Joan asked.
“No luck,” said Rupert. “Reciting random spells is not going to get us back to normal. I think Anya and I proved that rather conclusively. It’s going to take systematic research to discover what happened to us. Why aren’t you at the hospital?”
“Randy’s a vampire!” Alex said breathlessly.
They quickly filled each other in on their adventures of the evening. By the time they’d all caught each other up, the sky outside was starting to brighten. Anya conscientiously put a sign on the door of the magic shop. Closed Due To Illness. “We aren’t in a position to sell anything to customers today,” she said.
“All right.” Joan strode forward and pulled the book out from underneath Rupert’s hand, leaving it open on the center of the table. “Look. I think it’s clear that whatever has happened, it’s not just going to solve itself. So until Rupert and Anya have time to do proper research, we’re going to have to sort this out by ourselves. Willow? Tara? Do your student IDs have an address on them?”
“For the school,” Tara said. “Nothing about where we live.”
“Oh, maybe we have dorms,” Willow said.
“My drivers license has an address.”
“Mine does, as well,” Rupert said.
“All right. Rupert, you should go home and find out what you can make sense of there. Is there a map of this town anywhere in this place?”
“I think I saw one,” Anya, said. “It’s all marked up with notes about various vampire nests, but it seemed to be this town.”
“All right. Let’s take a look at it.”
They pulled out the map and located the street with the magic shop on it. The college was pretty far away, but Alex’s apartment seemed to be within walking distance. “Alex, you and Willow and Tara go to your place. See what you can find out there. Anya? You don’t have ID, right?” Joan asked.
“I don’t think anyone should go alone. Can you go with Rupert?”
Anya smiled. “Of course I can.”
“What about us?” Dawn asked, indicating her and Randy.
“I think the three of us should stay here until we come up with something. Randy can’t leave, can you?”
Randy opened the door of the magic shop, cringed, and came back, his hands and face smoking a little. “Nope,” he said. “In fact, I think I’d better get in the back, away from the windows.” He retreated to the gym room at the back of the shop. He looked uncomfortable.
“Dawn? You and I will help Randy. There’s weapons back there, we should be ready if more vampires or something show up. Everyone set? All right. Let’s see what we can figure out.”
They all set off for their various destinations.
“I don’t have a key,” Rupert said.
“None of these keys fit this lock,” he said. The apartment building was quaint and well kept, but he didn’t recognize the arched doorway, or the garden outside, or any of it. “And the mail.” He picked up the mail in the box by the door. “Look, this isn’t my name.”
“Well, that’s absurd,” Anya said. “We have to live somewhere.” She knocked boldly on the door. “Hello! Anybody in there!” She pounded steadily. “Open up!”
A rustling on the other side of the door revealed itself to be a man in a bathrobe. “It’s seven AM,” he said with irritation. “What on earth do you want?”
“I want my apartment back,” Anya said rudely.
“I’m sorry, sir, there seems to be some kind of mix up,” Rupert said. “My ID said that this was my apartment. I’m… um… having some memory difficulties. You know how it is, hard night out.” He showed the man his ID.
The frown on the man’s face cleared. “Oh, you. You were the tenant before me, weren’t you? I’d heard you’d gone back to England.”
Rupert touched the ticket in his pocket and sighed. The mystery was becoming slowly clearer. He had already missed his flight.
“When did you move here?” Anya asked suspiciously.
“More than two months ago,” he said. “Here, your mail was supposed to be forwarded to this address.” He rummaged in a drawer in a table by the door. “Some place called the Magic Box?”
“We’ve been there. Thank you anyway. Have a pleasant day,” Rupert said.
Anya sighed as they trudged back toward the Magic Box. “Well, darn it! I wanted a shower. I’m covered in bunny snot, I’m sure one of them sneezed on me. I wanted a shower and some fresh clothes and some sex before we went back to the others.”
Rupert choked. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” Anya said. “I don’t think it’s very fair, your up and selling our apartment like this. Just because we’ve had a bit of a falling out doesn’t mean that leaving me homeless—”
“You don’t know that’s what happened,” Rupert said. “You are always so demanding and overbearing.”
“You don’t know what I’m like,” Anya said. “Besides, you’re a pompous know it all who doesn’t know how to support a woman’s needs.”
“You don’t know anything about me!” Rupert said.
“I know you never opened up,” Anya said. “That’s why we’re on the outs. You never try to understand me.”
“You’re being spectacularly unfair,” Rupert said.
“I just wanted a shower and some sex!” Anya cried out. She stopped walking. “That’s what’s not fair.” Her face crumpled and she started to cry.
Rupert was struck with unbidden tenderness. “There, there,” he said, gathering her into his arms. “There, there, darling, we’ll see it right. I-I love you.” He didn’t know if this was true, but it seemed the right thing to say.
“I love you, too,” Anya sniffled. She reached up and gave him a tear-thickened kiss. “Please don’t leave me,” she said again. “I feel so empty inside. I can’t take this emptiness without you.”
Now he felt something. A sympathy and compassion that he couldn’t deny. He knew what it was to feel empty, he was sure of it. More than just now, he was sure his soul knew despair. He couldn’t leave someone alone it it. “Never,” he whispered. “We’re in this together, dear. I promise you.”
They embraced, standing staunch beside each other in the crisp, clear morning air.
“Well, this is my place,” Alex said. “I seem to be into carpentry.”
“That is a nice set of tools,” Tara said, examining the tool rack on the wall.
“I live here!” Willow said. She came running out of the bedroom with a new dress in her hand. “Look, I live here. I found my closet.”
Tara sighed. “Oh.” She looked disappointed. “Well, at least you’re figured out, then.”
“Maybe we’ll find where you live when we get to the college,” Willow said. “In the meantime, you want to borrow some clean clothes? We have been crawling in a sewer.”
“That sounds really nice,” Tara said. She and Willow went into the bedroom while Alex went through his papers.
“Hey, guys?” he called out. “I think I have a car.”
“What?” Willow popped her head around the bedroom door. “What makes you say that?”
“I paid for a parking space. Here.”
“Well, that’s great. You can drive us to the college. Hey, Tara! Alex has a car!”
They went down to find it, Tara and Willow in fresh clothes, and Alex drove them to the college offices. “Hi,” Willow said when they got there. “We need new copies of our schedules, syllabi, professors.”
“And I don’t suppose you have my address on file?” Tara asked. “I need to find my dorm room.”
“What’s your name?” said the bored secretary.
“Tara… um….” She had to check her ID to remember her last name. “Tara Maclay.”
“Hm…. Nope. No current address on file. You had a dorm room last year, but you gave it up.”
“I gave it up? Why?”
“No idea. Here’s your schedule. And yours.”
“Hey, we have classes together,” Willow said.
Alex felt a little wistful. The two of them seemed so… in sync. He’d heard Willow in her whispered conversation to Dawn, when she said she felt kind of gay. He wondered if he was about to lose Willow. It would have felt like losing his best friend. More than just his girlfriend, he knew he loved her. It was so clear in the way he felt about her, her hair, her eyes, the way she laughed. He knew her.
An idea was tickling the back of his head, but it seemed so outrageous, so impossible, that he knew he couldn’t dare mention it to them. It was like a teenage boy’s fantasy. No, he was with Willow. He shouldn’t be thinking anything more.
Willow and Tara decided to check out a class they both shared. “Um, hi,” Tara said when they got there.
“Hey, guys,” said a girl none of them recognized. “What’s up?”
“Um… look,” Tara said. “Do you know us?”
“It’s a game,” Willow said quickly. “Pretend…. Oh, just pretend we both knocked our heads together and woke up with amnesia,” she said. “What would you tell us about us? Like… where we lived, and what we do?”
The girl laughed. “Is this like a scavenger hunt?” she asked.
“It’s to find out how well your friends really know you,” Tara said. “So… uh… where do I live?”
“Well, you two live together, don’t you?” the girl asked. “Aren’t you, like, together?”
The two girls’ eyes opened wide.
“Right,” Alex said suddenly, jumping forward. “Of course, thanks. You passed, you know them really well. Thanks uh… whatever your name is.”
“Emily,” she said. “Wait, don’t I get to ask them something about me?”
Alex dragged Willow and Tara away before they had to answer, ducking them behind an archway.
“What’s going on,” Willow said. “I thought I was with Alex.”
“I thought you were with Alex, too,” Tara said.
“I think—” Alex began.
“I mean, I knew I was attracted to you, but I thought…”
“Yeah, do you feel kinda gay? ‘Cause I do, too.”
“But you live with me,” Alex said.
“Oh… yeah,” Willow said. She looked up at Alex. “I… I mean you… we’re….” She swallowed. “You’re sweet and all, Alex, and I… I think I do feel something there, but… maybe we read too much into….”
“Your clothes in my closet?” Alex said.
Willow’s head sank. “Do you think I’m cheating on you?” she asked.
“No, I don’t. Look, I have a theory. Tell me if I’m crazy.” He paused, nervous, and then said. “You both live with me.”
“But there’s only one bed.”
“And one closet.”
“And we didn’t—you mean…?” Willow blushed, looked from Alex to Tara, and then blushed harder.
“I know it sounds crazy, but… it also sounds… kinda nice too… doesn’t it?”
Tara looked nervous. “I don’t know. I mean I do feel something for Willow, but…” She looked Alex. “Sorry. I got nothing.”
“Well… maybe that’s how it is,” Alex said. “I mean, maybe I just… watch you two.” Now he was blushing.
“No,” Willow said. “You and I are definitely together. But….” She looked over at Tara.
“I think we’re together, too,” Tara said softly, and she started blushing, also.
“It’s, uh… just a working theory. I mean, we don’t need to act on it or anything,” Alex said. “Just… if that’s what’s happening… well….”
“No, it makes sense,” Willow said. “And I’d much rather believe that than that I’m cheating on one of you. It is… kinda hot.” She giggled. Then Tara giggled, too, and Alex couldn’t help it. He wrapped his arms around both of their shoulders and kissed one then the other of them on their foreheads. All three of them laughed nervously and joyously in the hallway of the college.
“She’s asleep,” Joan said as she came down to the basement. “Thanks for getting her set up.”
“Hey, there was a gym mat, and a blanket, it made sense to me. She’s just a kid,” Randy said on the basement steps. “Kids need their sleep. She’d been up all night.”
“You have, too,” Joan said.
“I think I probably stay up all night, anyroad,” Randy said with a bit of a smirk. “Vampire, right?”
“Yeah.” She stopped and looked up at him. “You okay with that?”
“Well, I’m going to have to be, aren’t I?”
“You really didn’t know? I mean, you didn’t have any inkling at all that you weren’t human?”
“Was a bit busy, love. Did you know you were superhuman until you started working the muscles?”
“No,” she said. “But a vampire, I mean… heartbeat’s a thing, right? And that moving face fang thing, and don’t you have like super smelling stuff?”
“You don’t know your name, but you know all about vampires?”
“I don’t know what’s happened to us, but it’s some kind of selective memory loss. Who we are is gone. But we can still walk and talk and stuff, so… yeah. I think I still know all about vampires.”
Randy sniffed. “I can smell a lot. Didn’t occur to me that the rest of you couldn’t. Was too busy to look for a pulse.”
“Well, you have now.”
“Yep.” He held out his wrist for her. She thought she remembered how to check for a pulse. She touched his cool wrist. Nothing.
“Been playing with the fangs a bit, too,” he said. “They come up when I think about eating, and apparently when I’m angry. I can keep them down if I want to.”
“And bring them up, too?”
Randy’s face went still for a moment, and a second later he went all fangy. Joan’s heart beat a little faster. He shook it away again. “I prefer it like this,” he said, once he was back to normal. He stared into the distance. “I’m going to have to find some way to get blood.”
“Are you getting hungry?”
He scratched his eyebrow. “A bit,” he said. “Maybe I can hunt rats. I don’t want to hunt rats.” He looked over at Joan. “But I really don’t want to bite you, I swear.”
“It’s okay. I don’t think you’re our enemy.”
“You don’t feel like an enemy.”
“You ran from me.”
“The fangs startled me,” Joan said defensively. “Can you blame me?”
Randy wanted to feel indignant, but all he really felt was sad. “No.”
“At least you know what you are,” Joan said. “I have no idea what I am.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re a vampire. Anya’s a witch or something. Or is it Rupert who’s a wizard? Anyway, we know what your powers are. I’m a what? Bitten by a radioactive spider? Injected with super drugs? Born with mutant powers? What am I?”
“You’re something amazing, is what you are,” Randy said. “By the way. Thanks.”
Joan frowned. “For what?”
“Well, you’ve got us sorted this far. Better to have a leader.”
Joan laughed quietly, hopelessly. “Wow.”
“I’m faking it,” she said. “Can’t you tell?”
“You fake it well,” Randy said. “Besides, aren’t you the superhero?”
“You’re all magic with superpowers, too,” Joan said. “Who’s to say you aren’t the leader?”
“I think making the vampire with the soul the boss is bound to be a mistake. Wouldn’t he be corruptible?” He glanced at Joan. “Better to have someone with a strong hand to keep him in line.”
“Unless you’re stronger than me,” Joan said.
“That would be a laugh,” Randy said. “Here.” He got up off the steps and cleared some boxes off of a bench. “Let’s check.”
He set his arm up on the bench. “Arm wrestle?”
“Oh, you are so gonna get trounced.” She slid her hand up against his cool one and pushed her strength against his.
It was tense for a moment, but then she sort of figured out which muscles to use, and bam, it was over. Randy’s arm was slapped to the side of the bench.
“Ow.” Randy rubbed his arm. “Well, that settles it. You’re definitely the leader. Told you.”
“Okay, so I’m strong.”
“And a good fighter.”
“I wonder which one of us is better.”
They stared at each other in the dim basement light, looks of mischief on both their faces. A moment later they were pushing boxes and benches out of their way to make a small arena. “All right,” Randy said. “Torso and head. First three impacts wins.”
“If blood is drawn, time out,” Joan said. “We don’t know what smelling my blood would do to you.”
“And no fangs. Fangs come up, I’ll know you’ve lost control or something.”
“No killing me if I do?”
“Suppression techniques only.”
“Well, lay on,” Randy said.
“It means start fighting,” Randy said, letting his guard down. Joan got in the first punch, right to his nose. “Ow! That’s cheating!”
“I hadn’t started yet!”
“Yes you had, you said you had.”
“Fine!” Randy kept his hands up and made a few feints. Joan threw a few more punches, but he blocked them. Then he slid under her guard with an uppercut to the jaw.
“Ow!” She turned and kicked him, cutting right through his defenses to the torso.
The three blow rule was quickly thrown out the window. They threw punch after punch, kick after kick, circling around each other in the cellar, their senses each honed in on the other. They grabbed and wrestled, at several points checking to make sure it was all all right. “No throws,” Joan said after Randy had her in a grapple. “Not fair to ruin Rupert’s inventory.”
He threw her straight to the ground and laughed. Joan kicked his legs out from underneath him and surged to her feet.
“We really should be doing this in the gym,” Joan pointed out.
“Little bit’s asleep in there. At least now we know what the gym is for.”
“Gotta keep those skills honed.”
Randy flipped himself upright and they circled each other again. “Who’s winning?”
“The one with the least bruises,” she said.
“Well, I wasn’t planning on hurting you. Much.”
“You haven’t even come close to hurting me.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s that, then?” He darted a hand out and hit her again on a spot on her cheek he’d already hit once. A bruise was rising.
“That’s a mistake,” Joan said, grabbing his arm. She twisted it too far, threw him over her head, and went down with him, landing him on the ground. “And this is where I hit you in the face with a volley,” she added leaning over him, “and knock you completely down for the count.”
They were both breathing fast and hard, their bodies attuned perfectly to each other. Her breath smelled deliciously fragrant. Randy couldn’t help himself. His head leaned up for a kiss.
Joan pulled away, startled. “What….” She climbed off him.
“I’m sorry, I…”
“No, I get it.”
“There was a moment,” Randy said. “I had an impulse.”
“I get it,” she said again.
They felt very close.
“Do you think we… you and I, are we…?”
“I don’t know,” Joan said. “I mean… we probably… shouldn’t. You’re a vampire, I’m… not.”
“Right. You’re not. But… I mean, we are together.” He felt stupid. “I mean not together, we don’t know if we’re together, but we were together, in the shop, I mean. Together in this state together, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I’m sorry, I… I really did have an impulse.”
“Maybe we should… not rely on impulses,” Joan said.
Randy’s shoulders sagged. “What else have we got?” he asked. “I mean, you and Dawn decided you were sisters on the tiniest bit of banter. Who’s to say my impulses mean less than yours?”
“Dawn and me being sisters isn’t some kind of life-altering choice,” Joan said. “She’s still in high school. Someone needs to take charge of her, and it might as well be me.”
“Yeah, but you two...” He stopped. “High school!”
“What about it?”
“She’d still be in high school. How many schools are in this town? She’s got to be enrolled in one of them. They’d have her name and address, and her parents maybe.”
“I should look at the map,” Joan said.
They headed upstairs and found something called Litchfield High was the closest school to where they were. There was also something called Sunnydale High closer, but it was crossed off on the map with, “Mayor bits” written on it, which led Joan to believe it wasn’t active.
“I’ll call the school, see if there’s a Dawn registered and how much information they’ll give me over the phone. Thank you so much, Randy!” She hugged him tightly.
Randy closed his eyes as a thrill went through him at her touch. The fight had seemed perfectly normal, exciting but fairly typical. He figured he and Joan sparred a lot. But that hug had been electric. He wrapped his arms around her and embraced her in return, breathing in the scent of her hair.
He’d been mad not to realize what scents could do to him. She smelled like windsong and sunlight and Sunday lunch. Impulses or not, memory or not, Randy knew now. Whatever else he had been, he was madly in love with Joan.