Title: Goodbye is for the Birds
Feedback address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date in Calendar: 24 December 2009
Fandom: Wes Craven's Dracula II&III / Angel: the Series
Pairing: Elizabeth Blaine/Kate Lockley
Word Count: 12741
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW09
Disclaimer: The characters of Kate Lockley, Willow Rosenberg, and Kennedy the Vampire Slayer (Does she have a last name? I know they gave Faith one, but really? Poor Kennedy.) Buffy Summers, Faith Lehane, and Angel (and any other Jossverse peeps I’ve forgotten) belong to, of course, Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and a whole bunch of others who aren’t me. That’s right, they’re NOT MINE. Right. Added to that big ol’ heaping pile of “someone else’s stuff” is Elizabeth Blaine, who is a creation of Wes Craven. I promise I’m not harming them. Really, it’s all good, mostly clean fun.
Authenticity Disclaimer: While there may or may not be some real places mentioned, these places are wholly visualized in my head as the only part of Chicago I have ever seen in person was the airport. Anything else has been flashed by on my television, and that’s not really the best resource. So, therefore, if you live in the city, I hope you’ll forgive any errors of place I know I’ll make.
Author's Notes: This is the fifth story in a series of tales about the characters of Elizabeth Blaine (from Wes Craven's Dracula II&III) and Kate Lockley (from Angel: The Series) and as such, the borrowed characters belong to their original creators. All that is covered, of course, in the Disclaimer, but I thought I'd reiterate... also, readers can read the first four stories at passion and perfection or at my page, shay's playground (http://shaylynnrose.iwarp.com/buffy.htm). Resurrection is for the Unbelievers is the first in the series.
It will help you immensely if you’ve already read, Resurrection is for the Unbelievers, Mercy is for the Just, Ticket to Heaven, and Desire: Black on Black first.
I’d like to send a hearty thank you out to my beta, Commasplice, for making sure the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed and the girls got all the lovin’ they deserved ;).
I am always appreciative of anyone who takes the time to write, so please feel free to razz the writer: email@example.com
‘Shipper’s ahoy: Girls + Girls + sexy times = yay!
Goodbye is for the Birds
It wasn’t quite cocoa and fire in the hearth weather, but there was a definite chill sharpening the air that was breathed by the inhabitants of Chicago. Halloween was just around the corner, and all over town, decorations containing witches, goblins, ghoulies, and ghosts sprouted like bizarre bouquets of orange, black, and green flowers. Jack-o-lanterns adorned doorsteps and twinkling lights lined many a rooftop.
Yards bloomed with graveyards, haunted playgrounds, spider webs, and the latest, greatest in holiday gadgetry. Through it all, the citizens whose lives were lived in shadows – the homeless and the nonhumans whose faces could not stand up to mortal scrutiny, moved through their lives as if nothing had changed.
For the mortal world, Halloween was the one day of the year where the sight of monsters walking the streets was a common occurrence. That those monsters were little more than ordinary humans wearing costumes did nothing to curb the excitement growing in adult and child alike. This was the day where fear was fun and laughter the best way to conquer it.
On the flip side, for the vampires, the demons, and the other denizens whose origins were extra-planar, Halloween represented the one day of the year that they were best served by lying low. In times past, All Hallows had been a day of great feasting and joy, but now, in these modern times when human curiosity far outweighed their fears, it was best to keep mortal minds from considering that monsters were indeed, real.
It was mid afternoon on a mildly windy October day, and Kennedy was happily curled up on the couch in the apartment she shared with Willow Rosenberg, her lover of several years. The witch was in the other room, enjoying a weekly call back to Slayer Central, while Kennedy enjoyed the few minutes of nag-free time to enjoy the latest issue of Vogue.
Not that she minded the nagging. Kennedy understood that Willow had her crusades, and some were more a matter of principal than actual honor. Still, it was nice to just stare in wide-eyed wonderment at the latest and greatest of what the fashion houses of New York and Paris had to offer for the season.
“Oo, I want that, and that, and, oh yes, definitely that one,” the dark haired slayer muttered softly, tapping the pages with acquisitive glee.
“Baby, if you wear that, I swear I won’t kiss you for a week.” Perching herself on the arm of the couch, Willow ran her fingers through Kennedy’s hair and said, “You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Closing her eyes and purring contentedly, Kennedy murmured, “But it’s pure angora, honey.”
Slowly, Willow slouched over until her face was pressed next to her lover’s. “I know. Little baby bunnies, all cute and furry. Soft and silky and oh so pretty, right?”
Caught in the web of the witch’s slowly drawled words, Kennedy nodded dreamily and said, “Uh huh. Pretty bunnies.”
“Just like the bunnies at the pet store that you love to stroke and hug and cuddle – until wham!” Willow jerked away and made a chopping motion with her hand. “Off with their heads! It’s sweater time!”
Startled from her dreamlike state, Kennedy’s widened her eyes in momentary shock. Frowning sullenly, she said, “You take all the fun out of everything.”
Holding up one finger, Willow retorted, “Ah-ah, not everything. I would love if you wore this.” She allowed the finger to slowly settle on the page, indicating a different model. “I’ve got no problem with you and leather, baby. Just fur. Especially cutesy-wootsy baby bunny fur.”
The slayer sighed, tossed the magazine on the coffee table and stood up, shoving her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. “Leather, leather, leather. Between you, Kate and Elizabeth, we should buy a cattle ranch!”
Grinning, Willow reached out and hooked her fingers in the belt loops at Kennedy’s waist. “Hmm, maybe. I’ll do some research on cattle futures.”
“Oh God, I’ve created a monster,” Kennedy said, but allowed herself to be drawn in for a kiss. The one became two, and two became something that ended with them naked, breathless, and twined in each other’s arms on the couch.
The slayer sat and stretched sinuously while Willow just watched, a smile of lustful appreciation curving her lips. Kennedy rolled her eyes and said, “Okay, there is a definite lack of hydration going on here, so I’m off to scrounge. Can I bring something back for you?”
Snuggling down into the soft fabric of the couch cushions, Willow closed her eyes and said, “No, just bring yourself back here quickly. I’m gonna get cold otherwise.”
Kennedy bent over and gently kissed her lover. “No worries about that. Be right back.”
It took the slayer a bit longer than a minute to locate something aside from tap water, which she ruled out as, “Gross,” and coffee which would take too long to brew. At the bottom of a surprisingly bare refrigerator, she located a bottle of just under date apple juice.
Noticing a definite nip in the air as evening began to darken the windows, she stopped on the way back to the living room to grab a blanket from the linen closet. As she entered the warmly appointed living area, Kennedy paused to watch her lover. Clothes were strewn haphazardly across the room, and in the middle of the chaos, the island of creamy skin and scarlet hair that was her girlfriend rested in blissful repose, contemplating the lights of the city.
“You look pensive.”
Willow sat up, accepting the blanket and draping it over her lap. Shrugging, she said, “I am. Pen and sive, even. With a side order of thoughts, deep in them.”
The witch’s phraseology brought a smile to Kennedy’s lips. Lowering herself to the couch, she draped an arm around Willow’s shoulders and said, “About?”
Willow’s first response was a shrug, and then, she said, “Stuff. Promises.”
Turning the response over in her mind for a few minutes, Kennedy finally said, “Call to the ol’ Buff-Buff not go well?”
It was a shot in the dark, but, as was usual, the slayer’s aim wasn’t far off the mark.
Flinching slightly, Willow said, “No, no. It was good. Great even.” The expression on the redhead’s face was anything but happy.
Perplexed by the evasiveness of her lover’s words, Kennedy frowned and said, “Honey, I hate to break it to you, but if this is good, I really don’t want to see bad.”
The sigh that came from Willow then was long and filled with something that almost sounded like regret to the slayer. “They did it,” said the witch, as if that explained everything.
One of the slayer’s dark eyebrows rose. “Did what? Staked the very last vampire on Earth? Yippee doodle dandy! No more patrols for me.” She accompanied her words with half-hearted “rah-rah” motions with her free hand.
Willow chuckled softly and leaned her head against Kennedy’s shoulder. “No, nothing so grand. They just – figured out that they’re madly in love. Y’know, in a ‘kinda gay’ sort of way?”
For a moment, Kennedy fought the urge to burst into helpless gales of laughter. Instead, she let the words settle into her thoughts, including what Willow had said about promises. Coupled with the redhead’s general air of dejection, the slayer was finally able to get the sum of twelve from the unknown variables. Twelve, in this case, meant uprooting their very comfortable lives.
Nodding, Willow said, “Yeah, oh. And they want us to come home. Soon.”
Kennedy took a long breath. “Well, we did promise –“ She wanted to bite her own tongue for saying it, but if nothing else, the dark haired slayer was a woman of her word.
“I know. But…” Willow trailed off, tilted her head up and looked into her girlfriend’s face. The witch’s evergreen eyes glistened with the moisture of her tears. Frustration warred with joy on the redhead’s face. Half-hearted smiles came and went so fast that only someone with Kennedy’s slayer-gifts could have discerned them from the pout of sadness that plumped the redhead’s lower lip.
Leaning forward, Kenned pressed her forehead into Willow’s. “And, I bet there’s some big, brewin’ evil aboundin’ that they need our help with, right?”
Willow’s eyes closed and the smiles began to linger a bit longer. “Well, yeah, but –“
Softly, Kennedy kissed the witch. “But we like it here. It’s home now, right?” Wet tracks glistened on Willow’s cheeks when Kennedy pulled away. Gently, she wiped off the tears. “Home is where you are, Will. It’s where I am. We tether each other, remember?”
A soft, hiccupping sob rattled Willow’s chest. Kennedy drew her close, holding on until the witch relaxed and sighed softly.
“They miss m-uh-us,” she said, her voice roughed by her tears.
The tight, snarky smile that twisted Kennedy’s lips was all the indication that the slayer had caught the witch’s flub. “And we miss them too.” She stroked Willow’s back gently, momentarily marveling at how soft her lover’s skin always felt.
For a while, they sat, cuddled together, not speaking, just breathing and sinking into the comfort of each other’s arms. Then, Kennedy dropped a kiss on Willow’s forehead and said, “All right, we’ll go back. But-“
Willow tensed. “But?” She knew she was going to have step up with something big to equal the sacrifice Kennedy was making. Returning to the land of Rules and Regulations 101 was not something she knew her girlfriend was too keen to do anytime soon.
Standing to collect their clothes, Kennedy glanced up at Willow and tossed her a wry grin. “You get to tell Kate and Elizabeth we’re leaving!”
“I hate that they had to go.” Elizabeth’s eyes, usually a bright shade of green, had dulled to a flat grey as she watched the taillights of Willow and Kennedy’s car fade behind a veil of fog.
Slipping her arm around her lover’s waist, Kate gave the vampath a squeeze and said, “They can visit whenever they want, Doc. Their being here was always a temporary thing.”
Elizabeth snorted softly. “Right. Just until Buffy and Faith got their shit together.” Which I always assumed would be on the fifty-first of never! The vampath had never had the pleasure meeting either of the “core two” slayers, but she’d heard plenty of stories from both Kennedy and Kate. Willow was generally too reticent to speak ill of her friends, but Kennedy more than made up for her lover’s lack with tale after tale of, “Blondie and the Beast,” as she so colorfully described them.
Unaware of Elizabeth’s thoughts, Kate chuckled as a sardonic grin crept across her face. “You have to admit, Buffy proclaiming her love for Faith while standing in the middle of a slime-filled movie theater qualifies.”
Pulling out of her lover’s embrace, Elizabeth sighed and said, “Yeah, but I kinda got used to having our very own slayer and witch sidekicks. Whose gonna help me kick some serious demonic ass now?”
With an outraged glare, Kate gave the vampath a shove and said, “Hey! What am I, Betty Bystander?”
Contrition wasn’t one of Elizabeth Blaine’s better acts, but she did try to school her face into something approaching innocence. The vampath’s ruddy eyebrows lifted and arched inward. Her lusciously thick bottom lip rolled outward, and her verdant green eyes fluttered appealingly. The smile that curved her mouth was the very picture of purity.
Kate wanted so much to cup that face in her hands; to draw her love close and bruise her mouth in a fiery kiss that would leave no doubt as to Elizabeth’s true lack of innocence, but she dared not. They’d been a couple for too long to fall into the wild abandon of those new to the spell of lust. At the moment, they were still, “on duty,” having not yet clocked off and called the night done and while they worked, they tried very hard not to “play”. Kate had just asked a question, and as teasingly as it had been phrased, the underlying sentiment was something she wanted answered.
“I happen to know with absolute certainty that butter will, in fact, melt in that mouth of yours Elizabeth Blaine, so can the look and answer the question, Miss Too Bad for Your Britches.”
Tipping her head forward, Elizabeth held the pose for another twenty seconds before the buds of her fangs emerged, depressing the corners of her lips. Laughing softly, she let them sprout, the gleam of their whiteness competing with the wreaths of fog that blanketed the street. When that failed to draw more than a blandly cocked eyebrow from Kate, the vampath shook her head and then settled back against the cool brick of the building’s exterior.
“You know better than that, Dick.” With a shrug and a nod, she indicated the shoulder harness that the former cop never went without and said, “You are the one who can hit a moving vampire, in the dark, with three rounds before I’ve had a chance to remember to reach for a weapon.”
Elizabeth’s lack of ability with a gun wasn’t something that ever slowed her down, but it was fodder for a lot of discussion. Kate insisted she’d get better if she practiced; the vampath didn’t see the point. Her superhuman speed and strength, combined with a rather impressive skill with bladed weapons was all she’d needed so far to deal with the less savory of Chicago’s shadow-dwelling inhabitants.
“Practice,” said the other woman. Kate Lockley, former cop turned private investigator, shrugged nonchalantly and added, “The guys at the precinct let me use their range sometimes.”
Elizabeth grinned and said, “And you abuse the privilege whenever possible. Just like Kennedy and me, when Father Luke allowed us the chance to spar in one of the unused rooms at the church.” She sighed as her expression grew melancholy. “Damn. I’m going to miss them.”
Circular conversations weren’t anything new for the lovers. Everything always led back to the beginning for them; it was how they kept their lives from becoming stagnant. Each time around was a chance to explore a new path. This time, Kate allowed her heart to lead. Sidling up next to the vampath, she waited until a slim, leather clad arm lifted and settled across her shoulders and then she nestled her head against Elizabeth’s shoulder. In less than three heartbeats, their respirations merged, and they inhaled and exhaled as one. If she paused to check, Kate knew she’d find that their hearts were also beating in perfect harmony. It was just another strange side effect of the alien symbiote that kept Elizabeth alive. Linked at a level Kate didn’t often allow herself to contemplate, sometimes the benefits outweighed the disconcerting nature of it. Like now, when she could let the calm she felt wash over her lover and sooth Elizabeth’s aching heart.
“It’s going to be okay.” Kate wasn’t usually one to make flimflam happy dappy statements, but this time, she let her hopes have a chance to speak. “We had four great years with them, and now it’s time for them to go home.” Past time, really. Kate knew that for Willow especially, being away from the people she thought of as family had become quietly devastating. And Elizabeth’s hurting too much right now to see that. It sucked that no matter what decision Willow and Kennedy made regarding returning to Slayer Central, someone was going to get hurt.
This time, it was Elizabeth, and to a lesser extent, Kate, who felt the sting of loss as their friends moved away. Just as Elizabeth was close to Kennedy, so Kate had grown close to Willow, and even though the witch had barely spoken of the group she affectionately called the “Scoobies”, Kate had heard and felt the homesickness grow like ivy until it covered every conversation involving the slayer and her friends.
In the four years they’d worked with them, the witch and the slayer had only returned to Slayer Central once, and for weeks afterward, Willow moped around the office. Kate doubted that Kennedy had noticed – the young slayer had been far too thrilled to be back where she was the top vamp dusting dog. The witch’s melancholy hadn’t lasted long, and as the days had passed, it had vanished, leading to some of the best conversations Kate had ever had with the other woman.
I’ll miss her, but I’ve got her contact info and if I’ve got a question about something magickal, I can always text or email her. Another thought occurred to her. Hey, I know, I’ll call her every week. Touch base, that kind of thing – and, yeah, Tuesday would be good, because nothing ever happens on a Tuesday. Elizabeth would like it too. She can talk to Kennedy after I’m done with Willow. Or we can just call them separately, either way, we’ll stay in contact and it’ll almost be like they’re here. Lost in her musings, she soon forgot that they were supposed to go back inside and finish up some billing info for their last client.
Elizabeth’s cell rang. With a muttered curse, the vampath dug it out and glanced at the face. A second oath warmed the air. Flicking it open, she said, “It’s supposed to be a day off for all things demonic and disastrous, Dersk. Aren’t your little ghoulie cousins out playing trick-or-treat?” She depressed the speakerphone option before their half-demon assistant could reply.
“Oh sure, usually today’s the big party day, but someone forgot to mention that to whatever decided to snack on a couple of homeless kids.” Derskingorlus’ usually cheerful voice was subdued. In the background, the sound of sirens could be heard shrilling above the noise of passing traffic.
Kate felt her heartbeat kick up – when kids were involved, it was never pretty, and if Dersk said it was something demonic in nature, it definitely wasn’t rainbows and puppy dogs.
“Where are you?” Any softness had vanished from her voice, leaving only a razor sharp edge that had made rookies, suspects, and demons cower.
“About a block from Bohemian National. And bring the good stuff. Looks like a ghoul got the munchies.”
There really wasn’t much to do other than to grab their gear and head over to the cemetery. Both women clipped on Bluetooth earpieces and immediately, Elizabeth called Kate and said, “I’ll stop by Father Luke’s and get the rest of the kit. You go ahead and meet Dersk at the cemetery.”
Lifting one hand from the handlebars of her motorcycle, Kate signaled her agreement and then raced off into the fog.
Father Luke wasn’t in, but he’d given Elizabeth a key to his private quarters. Inside, there was a chest of drawers he’d filled with the kind of things that were likely to be required in a battle against the supernatural. From this, the vampath gathered a few essential supplies.
Holy water; Father Luke blessed the stuff by the liter because it was useful against an encyclopedia’s worth of creatures. Herbed salt; it wasn’t strictly something a Catholic priest would keep on hand, but Luke wasn’t completely traditional in his pious ways, and many of Willow’s spells required it. The silver bullets in Kate’s gun came from one of Angel’s connections, but the good father did keep on hand several silver bladed knives. There were also crucifixes in all shapes and sizes, including one that was made of pure gold and covered in row upon row of scripture. Elizabeth passed her hand over the velvet box it resided in, but decided they wouldn’t need what amounted to the supernatural version of a thermonuclear warhead for this job.
There were also an assortment of stakes, holy talismans, and pocket guides to demonic entities scattered through the drawers. A folded up piece of paper contained a list that had been compiled after one particularly messy session with extra-planar creatures – the group had been forced to come up with instructions on what worked best to get which type of ectoplasmic goop off various materials.
Elizabeth grimaced. Lockley and Associates’ dry cleaning bill alone would bankrupt a small nation if they hadn’t come up with half these solutions.
Before she left, the vampath recorded a quick message on a cassette player the priest kept on his kitchen counter.
“Hey, Luke, it’s me. You won’t be surprised to learn that my day off suddenly turned into time and half. Stopped by, but you’re off wherever. Needed a few things; we’ll see you Sunday for dinner, okay?”
The pop of the stop button was loud. Grinning as she set the device back on the counter, she muttered, “Gotta hand it to you, Kennedy, that really was the best damned idea.” It’d been the slayer who’d suggested getting Father Luke the recorder when they’d showed up for supplies and not been able to leave the blind priest a note once too often.
Willow had wanted to get a fancy modern mp3 data recorder, but Kate nixed the idea.
“With all the odd stuff we run into, don’t you think it’s best we go as low tech as possible?”
The witch hadn’t quite been convinced, but then Dersk had brought an amulet taken off the body of one very, very splatted evil wizard back to the office and it had promptly fried Willow’s prized MacBook Air. After that, she’d been all for low tech – much, much cheaper to replace a fried tape recorder than its higher priced, spiffier cousin.
Thinking of Willow and Kennedy only made the fact of their leaving that much more painful for Elizabeth. The vampath’s situation was unique – she was dead to everyone she’d ever known, so the family she’d managed to cobble together in the last four years was deeply important to her. Losing two members of that very small group felt like a piece of her heart was being cut away.
With a long sigh, she blew out a breath of air and said, “Nothing lasts forever, right?” The words did nothing to assuage the pang of grief that burned in her chest. “All right, Doc, get your butt in gear and go find out what’s ruining your day off.”
By the time Kate arrived at Bohemian National Cemetery, most of the emergency vehicles had gone. Parking the bike, she hung the “steal-me-not” charm Willow had given her as a parting gift from the rearview mirror and then locked the helmet to the rear seat. The investigator usually wasn’t fond of having magickal things so close to her, but now that Willow was gone, she’d have to adjust. Generally, talismans were more trouble than they were worth – nothing brought the less savory of Chicago’s nonhuman citizens running faster than something that reeked of magick. It was like putting out a buffet and then hanging neon signs all over it screaming, “Free food!”
However, in the case of this one charm, Kate was prepared to make an exception. The magick was passive, and less likely to draw attention. I just hate the fact that I need it at all. Usually, Willow handled the small, incidental magicks required to protect their belongings when they were on a scene. Grimacing, Kate gave her bike one last glance and then turned to head toward the cemetery entrance.
“Heya, Boss.” Derskingorlus appeared at her side as if he’d been conjured.
Having grown used to Dersk’s seemingly supernatural ability to arrive and depart undetected, Kate just cocked her head and said, “Well, what have we got?”
Dersk shrugged. “A whole lot of unhappy cops. Couple of local high school kids found what they thought was a Halloween decoration – only it wasn’t.” Nodding toward where caution tape festooned the area under some trees just inside the entrance to the cemetery, the half demon said, “Three bodies – street kids, probably. I didn’t see much. Maybe early teens. Not a mark on ‘em, but they were about as pasty white as you can get and not be pancake batter.” From the pocket of his bright orange Member’s Only jacket, he withdrew his prize possession – a brand new iPhone. “Got a couple of pics before the unis ran me off.” With a couple of taps, he brought up the images.
Kate took the phone and perused the shots. Pushing aside her first instincts – anger, at not being able to stop it and sadness at the senseless loss of life – she viewed them with the eye of a detective long used to exploring crime scenes. ‘Once a cop, always a cop’, wasn’t just a tired old phrase for her. Even after he’d retired, her father had kept to habits long ingrained from years on the force. It was no different for Kate.
“These weren’t street kids,” she said, after only a few clicks. “At least, they weren’t long term – could be fresh runaways, but I doubt it. I’m guessing they’re illegals.”
Dersk nodded, whipped out a notebook and scrawled a quick bit of text. “I’ll nose around tomorrow – see if anyone’s missing some newly-arrived family.” If no one claimed the bodies, they’d be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, and their families might never learn of their fate.
The cause of death wasn’t readily apparent – however, the waxen cast to their faces suggested something they’d seen before, and it boded ill for any plans the investigator might have had for giving out candy to trick-or-treaters. Handing Dersk back his phone, Kate pursed her lips and then said, “What do you think?”
He snorted and gave her look like she’d just asked a very stupid question. “I’m not an idiot, Boss. I told Doc to bring the good stuff because it looked like a ghoul had decided to have an early breakfast.” Unspoken was the fact that they’d cleaned out at least two nests of ghouls that summer, so the idea that a stray member of either was very possible.
Kate didn’t need to be reminded; she was already thinking back to those long, hot nights and the hellish nature of the battle that had been fought to cleanse an old house of the creatures. “Damn. We could really use Willow right about now. How’re we supposed to find its barrow?” For the first time, the investigator felt a slight twinge of regret at not fighting the witch’s plans to leave.
Biting one lip, Dersk shuffled his foot against the ground, kicking around a small scattering of pebbles.
One of Kate’s pale blonde eyebrows lifted as she drawled, “Yes? You got something to say, Snake boy?”
If Dersk had been in his demonic form his blush would have turned his teal scales an attractive shade of deep sea blue. In human form, it was just as scarlet as anyone else’s. Running a hand through the spiky orange crest of hair that topped his head, the half demon shrugged and said, “Well, before Willow left, I had her enchant a dowsing crystal for me.”
Kate leveled a mild glare at the youthful seeming man. Sighing, she said, “I don’t suppose it would do me any good to lecture you about using magick for personal gain, right?”
“A guy’s gotta eat!” He grinned, knowing that any irritation Kate might feel toward his rather misguided impetus behind gaining the dowsing crystal would be forgiven. Kennedy was right. It was better to do it, and ask forgiveness than not have it when it was needed. The slayer had also brought up the fact that Kate probably wouldn’t like the idea of Dersk having the charm, but then she’d grinned.
“I’d love to see her face when you whip it out and use it to find her keys.” Willow had giggled while the half demon had covered his face.
“Oh, by all the bright-eyed goddesses of my scaly forebears… that woman cannot remember to hang the damn things on the rack to save her life!”
Locating a demon wasn’t anywhere close to the slayer’s jokingly proposed scenario, but perhaps it wouldn’t matter. Heck, he might even get to keep the talisman after they’d sent the little soul-sucking beastie back to the nether plane.
Maybe. If he was really, really lucky.
Or if I just get the heck out of dodge before the clean up’s complete. I can always tell her I lost it, later.
Kate watched as the flickers of thought and emotion passed over her assistant’s face. She could probably guess what he was thinking, but at the moment there were more important things to consider. With a ghoul running about on Halloween, that meant that the creature could be tempted away from its barrow by a literal smorgasbord of food. All those innocent souls would shine like Fourth of July sparklers and be almost as impossible to resist as fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.
Hurry up, Doc. Let’s get this thing corralled before it hurts someone else.
It bothered her that this one day – the one time of the year that she’d come to expect to be demon-free – had been ruined not once, but twice. First, she’d had to watch good friends leave, and while that wasn’t horrible, it was depressing. Now, with a ghoul breaking the unwritten rule to leave the Feast of Samhain to the mortals, Kate wondered if she was ever going to be able to take a vacation. Sometimes she just wanted to turn her back on everything and take her lover off some place where the only thing between them was skin, breath, and warm sun. That, however, would never be; as long as she could stand between the mortal realm and that of Dersk’s less savory kin, she would do so. Any other choice was unthinkable.
Carry a grudge, much? The voice phrasing the silent question sounded a whole lot like Cordelia Chase, and that was a direction the investigator refused to explore. Kate would put up with a lot of things, but having the sound of Angel’s resident secretary-slash-vision having wannabe-actress in her head wasn’t one of them.
“Wait here for Elizabeth,” she said, startling Dersk from his thoughts. “I’m going to poke around a bit.”
There was no point in arguing with Kate’s choice. The half demon’s overly cautious nature might have kept him off the front lines, but Kate was the type who would rather grab the bull by the horns. Dersk didn’t pretend to understand all that drove his boss, but he did know that she refused to walk away from the ugly side of his world – not when doing so would mean that others might suffer.
Cocking a tight grin, Kate saluted the half demon with two fingers and said, “I always am.” Longingly, she glanced over at her bike, and the custom designed, bullet proof helmet still locked to the seat. It would be nice to have the extra protection, but with dusk not yet faded into to full night, it would look suspicious for her to go helmeted through a cemetery. As it was, she had yet to work up a reasonable story for her presence.
A couple of uniformed officers were stationed outside the taped barrier where the bodies had been discovered. Staying just beyond the, “suspicious activity” zone that every cop at a crime scene developed, Kate meandered her way up the drive and headed for what looked to be a likely area from which she could observe the scene.
Stationed among an odd grouping of headstones and monuments, she found a bench. After ascertaining that it was not another grave marker, Kate seated herself and adopted what she hoped was a properly solemn expression.
The cops eyed her for a bit, but the approach of a vehicle up the drive drew their attention away, allowing her to withdraw a set of binoculars from her jacket pocket. With quick, efficient flicks of her fingers, she zoomed in on the actual scene, looking for evidence of the ghoul’s presence. Annoyed by a lack of newly turned earth, glowing puddles of slime, or other physical manifestations of the malevolent being’s presence, she was about to focus on another section of the crime scene when her earpiece buzzed.
Tapping the button to activate it, she put on her best demeanor and said, “Lockley and Associates, Kate Lockley speaking.”
“Oh God, I love it when you get professional.” The low, smooth tone of Elizabeth Blaine’s voice never failed to send a frisson of desire coursing up Kate’s spine. “Please, do go on. Wow me with your ultra sexy spiel of service.”
Not quite able to keep from rolling her eyes, Kate said, “You’re so bad.”
Chuckling, the vampath said, “And you love me because of it.”
The soft, loving smile that curved Kate’s lips belied the stern expression she usually wore. “Where are you?”
“Look over by Dersk.”
The fog that had settled along the street had yet to completely obscure the sidewalk, but by dawn, no one would be able to see more than about three feet in any direction. Even so, tendrils and curls of the cottony grey vapor wreathed and flowed over the ground, giving the entire scene a mildly eerie air.
Kate aimed the binoculars up and out beyond the fence that surrounded the cemetery proper. Parked three spaces from Kate’s bike was the glittery, purple, gas guzzling Plymouth Duster that Elizabeth had christened, “The Monster Machine”. Leaning against the side, the vampath looked distinctly out of place for the upper class neighborhood.
Black leather trench coat, blood red hair pulled back in a severe pony tail, black jeans, and sun glasses so dark, they were just a hair off doing double duty as a blindfold all stood in stark contrast to Elizabeth’s ghostly pale skin. She looked like a model, or a celebrity, or a Goth who’d forgotten the rest of her costume.
Come to think of it, maybe she does fit in with the whole cemetery vibe.
Looking like a reject from an 80’s night at the local watering hole, Dersk’s vibrantly colored hair and jacket were a loud counterpoint to Elizabeth’s “Matrix” inspired appearance. Kate herself was ordinary. A simple riding jacket, plain blue jeans, and running shoes were her outfit du jour. Of course, the jacket was far from ordinary – it was lined with Kevlar plating in all the right places – just protection enough to keep her from getting more familiar than she wished with the local cemeteries.
Clothing, however, wasn’t important. What mattered now was finding the ghoul. With her gaze firmly focused on Elizabeth, she said, “I see you.”
“Luke wasn’t home.”
Kate winced. They needed to have as many tools in their arsenal as possible, to be able to stand up to the ghoul.
“Don’t worry, Dick. I got the stuff.”
“Damn, I keep forgetting how good your vision is.”
Elizabeth snickered. At the same time, she hefted a backpack and shook it in Kate’s direction.
“I can’t believe you’d think that I’d forget to get the critter kit.”
“Well, you are more the type to kill first and worry about ectoplasm later.”
The vampath’s snort was tinged with sadness as she said, “Not bad. Not quite as snarktastic as Kennedy, but you’ll do.”
“I’m so glad you think so,” Kate retorted dryly. “Okay, get in here you guys. It’s almost dark and I really don’t want to be ghoul hunting at midnight. Tell Dersk to walk as close as he can to the scene – hopefully the dowsing charm will pick up whatever mystical scent it needs.”
Elizabeth passed on the order, and Kate heard the half demon’s, cheerful, “You got it, Boss,” response just before she watched him amble into the cemetery.
“I’ll be there in a bit. I want to talk to some folks I saw hanging out across the way.”
“I doubt anyone saw anything. If they did, they wouldn’t have waited around to be hauled in for a possible fifty-one-fifty.”
“I think I spotted Dazz at the Starbucks. Not much scares that woman.”
Kate murmured a sound of agreement. “She does get around. Okay, but be quick.” The prostitute loved to talk, especially to her “Lizziebear”, but unless she’d had a really crappy take the previous day, she’d be off her head by now. Dazz liked to work what everyone else considered a “late shift” but what was, for her, normal hours. This put her on her feet from around nine p.m. to four a.m., but she didn’t like to work sober.
“Oh sugar, you can’t do this work cold. You gots to have a bit of warmth, and honey, this town is very, very cold at night.”
Given that she’d said that on an impossibly muggy summer night, Kate knew that Dazz hadn’t been talking about the weather.
“I’ll be at your side before you have a chance to miss me.” The click that signaled the end of the conversation was loud, but Kate barely registered it.
Suffused with a surfeit of super gooey mushiness at her lover’s sentiment, Kate went back to spying on the crime scene and waiting for Dersk to make his way over to her. The half demon was doing a credible job of looking like a teenager who was seeking a Halloween thrill. Slowly ambling along, he held up his phone, as if he were taking pictures.
Both officers watched him, though neither made a move to leave their post. However, their posture indicated that they also weren’t discounting the fact that he could be trouble. A veteran of this type of guard duty herself, Kate knew the signs, and as a precaution, she started thinking up a cover story should either of the two cops give her assistant trouble. Acting as if he were unaware of the potential trouble he could be in, Dersk continued to stroll past, stopping once to peer curiously at the taped off area of the crime scene.
Through the lenses of the binoculars, Kate watched as Dersk schooled his face into an expression of morbid curiosity. Slowly, timidly almost, he approached the swell of grass and trees that surrounded the cemetery sign. One of the cops stepped away from his position and met Dersk before he’d gotten within a foot of the caution tape.
They had a conversation; Kate could guess at the content as Dersk pulled out his wallet and showed the cop his ID and provided whatever cover story he’d invented. She contemplated wandering over to bail her assistant out, but it was obvious from the way the cop handed back the wallet with a bored expression on his face that the half demon’s story had eased any suspicion.
When Dersk finished speaking, the officer pointed in Kate’s direction, causing the half demon to nod furiously, and, with a slight backward wave, Dersk started to jog over to the bench. When he got there, he collapsed next to her and slumped forward, just like a surly teen might.
“Scold me,” he murmured softly.
“I told the uni I was supposed to meet my sister here twenty minutes ago. I’m late. So scold me. He’s looking.”
Leaning forward just slightly, Kate glanced over at the crime scene, and sure enough, both cops were now watching what was supposed to be a tardy family reunion.
“Damn it Dirk, I told you to meet me here at six-fifteen, not seven. You know I gotta work the late shift tonight.”
The sharp crack of Kate’s voice made Dersk wince. “Damn,” he whispered. “I’m glad I’m not really your brother.”
She smacked him on the arm. Seeing this, both cops turned away; one said something and the other laughed. Kate exhaled softly and Dersk grinned.
“Score one for us,” murmured the investigator.
“Oh please. They wouldn’t have cared if we’d have started making out.”
“No, but I would have.” Elizabeth’s sudden appearance caused both Kate and Dersk to flinch, and the latter let out a soft curse.
“Damn it, Doc, I hate it when you do that.” It wasn’t quite a whine, but it was a familiar refrain.
Draping herself over Kate and pressing a soft kiss on her lover’s cheek, Elizabeth turned, winked at Dersk and said, “I can’t help it if you’re deaf. Kate knew I was here, right, Dick?”
Before the investigator could reply, Dersk stuck his tongue out at them. “Yeah, yeah, you got the thinky-linky mojo goin’ on, I know. Still,” he said, pulling out a glittering crystal point that was wrapped in copper wire and hung from a chain. “I am the one with mega-monster findin’ mojo tonight.” It glittered in the dim light.
“You didn’t?” Kate shook her head disbelievingly.
“You bet I did! Cop A was busily scratching his nuts while Cop B was relieving his boredom by chewing my ‘ungrateful ass’ out.” Dersk chuckled and wound the chain into his fist until just a tiny bit of the stone peeked through. “It was child’s play to get my fist across the barrier and say the keyword.”
“Do I want to know?” Still draped over Kate, Elizabeth gave the half demon a mildly inquisitive glance.
“Not unless you want to get started right now.”
Straightening, she gestured toward the sprawling expanse of the cemetery and its environs. “Lead on, MacDuff.”
With a flourish, Dersk produced the crystal, let it dangle from his extended fingertips and closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he let it out and whispered, “Find what killed those kids.”
For a long while, nothing happened. The crystal remained suspended, hanging still.
“Are you sure you used the right word? None of that sounded like abraca-whatsis to me,” Elizabeth said sardonically.
“Shh. Just hold your fangs, Doc. I gave it a big order. Looking for evil demonic entities is a lot harder than locating a set of keys, you know.” Silently, the half demon prayed that the damn talisman worked as advertised. He hated the idea of failing in front of his bosses.
Derskingorlus might have been alive for a lot longer than either of the two humans next to him, but what he had in quantity could not be measured against the quality of their experiences. Kate Lockley and Elizabeth Blaine were the closest things he’d ever had to mentors and disappointing them would hurt. The few times it had happened had not been fun.
Not that either woman had ever been harsh to him, or even treated him any differently, but he knew. Another Ssilligorth would have tasted his shame, and for that reason, Dersk had been grateful that he was the only member of his kind within miles. Today, however, he would smell like roses to his kin, for just as soon as he began to doubt Willow’s magic, the crystal pendant began to sway.
Spinning faster and faster, in an ever-tightening arc, the talisman began to swing at a pronounced north-western angle. It was also accompanied by a definite tugging sensation pulling at his hand. Nonchalantly, he said, “That way.”
The charm led them through the cemetery until they reached the other side. There, they discovered something very odd. Not a fresh grave, as they had expected, or even a recently disturbed patch of earth. Instead, the found an old mausoleum. What was unusual about it was that it had been obviously marked out for reconstruction. Building materials surrounded the structure; scaffolding, ladders, stone carving tools, as well as a variety of landscaping equipment were scattered around the monolith.
Full dark had settled over the city as they’d followed the lead of the talisman. Viewing the under-construction burial chamber by the glint of flashlight revealed little in the way of clues.
Nothing seemed out of place. There was no stench of rot, no absence of normality – bugs stilled buzzed, the grass still rustled with the movements of rodents, and somewhere not too far away, a night bird greeted the arrival of the moon. There was nothing of what was expected at the barrow of a ghoul. Not even a tiny patch of eerily glowing goop obscured the freshly cut grass.
“Well this is kind of a let down,” Elizabeth said calmly. “Maybe it’s the ‘I’m not a slayer’ part of me, but I got nothin’.”
Kate chuckled dryly. “Me either, and usually my ‘gut’ gives me something to think about.”
Dersk chimed in with, “Yeah, you’d think that a cemetery, on All Hallows Eve, would be scarier than goat musk, but really, it’s about as creepy as a room full of teddy bears.” At Elizabeth’s badly disguised snigger he added, “Not the kind that would associate with any dolls named Chucky, either.”
“Boom-tish,” Elizabeth replied while miming a drummer’s cymbal strike.
Ignoring her companions, Kate pointed the beam of her flashlight at the entrance to the mausoleum. Coincidentally, that was where the crystal of Dersk’s talisman had indicated the source of the night’s evil lay.
“Okay, so maybe all our spook-dars are broken. We might as well check it out. You never know; maybe it’s just really good at masking its nature.” Kate unholstered her sidearm and took a step forward.
Right beside her, Elizabeth gave her wrists a flick and was suddenly armed with two very wicked looking blades. “I can’t believe you just said, ‘spook-dar’,” she whispered.
“Well, what else am I supposed to call it? Spidey sense seems so… so…”
“Uh, guys?” Dersk had followed the women into the mausoleum and while they had naturally stuck to the middle of the building, the half demon had veered off to the left. “I think I got something over here.”
They were by his side in minutes.
All three of the investigators stared down at what Dersk had discovered. For several minutes they gazed at the sight of the talisman as its swing came to a complete standstill. From within the heart of the stone, a tiny golden glow slowly came to life, glimmering until it was as bright as one of their flashlights.
Revealed by the light was evidence that someone had used the mausoleum as a place to sleep. Neatly folded blankets, a couple of candles, and a scorched bit of floor where a cook fire had burned delineated the remains of an urban campsite.
That was not terribly unusual. Homeless people were known to sleep wherever they could be warm and safe. If they had to share that haven with the dead, so be it. At least the dead usually didn’t snore, or try to steal their possessions.
What was incongruous with the tidy appearance of the site were the half dozen or so syringes scattered near one of the bedrolls.
“I really wish I had a crime scene kit right now. I’d love to know if those were for insulin or heroin,” said Kate wistfully. “If it’s heroin, it could be cause of death.”
Elizabeth gave her lover a look and then shrugged. “As you wish.” Scooping one of the discarded syringes up, she held it to her nose, breathing in deeply. As the scent hit her, she became lost in it. Taste, sight, sound, touch, and smell were overwhelmed. All her senses engaged as the molecular structure of the syringes contents were analyzed by her body.
Blood; it was the first and foremost flavor in the scent, but she was expecting that. Behind the blood, under the copper tang that both made her salivate and turned her stomach, there was something harsher, acrid and laced with just a hint of char. The emotional residue was filled with a kind of hateful need.
“Heroin,” hissed the vampath, tossing aside the needle. She shivered. The scent of the blood still lingered, twisting and pulling at her; though no longer a true vampire, Elizabeth could still fall into the thrall of feeding. It was not the blood she craved, but the emotional connection to that upon which she fed. The symbiote that kept her alive nourished itself on feelings, and it was getting peckish.
Sensing her lover’s hunger, Kate reached for her, but Elizabeth waved her off.
“Later,” she growled. The vampath wasn’t proud of her needs. Being that vulnerable in public wasn’t something she was interested in experiencing.
Nodding her understanding, Kate turned away and said, “Okay, so could it have been a simple case of overdose?”
Dersk scratched his head. “I dunno, Boss. I mean, they were grey, and dead, and there wasn’t a mark on ‘em.”
“Did the M.E. say anything? Any of the detectives offer an explanation where you could hear them?” Elizabeth said as she began to explore the area, searching for anything that might point to a more esoteric cause of death.
“Not really. Everyone acted like it was some big mystery.”
“All right, we’ll keep looking,” said Kate.
Ten minutes later, they’d scoured the whole of the mausoleum interior, and aside from a disturbing lack of an actual burial vault, they found nothing unusual.
“I’ve never heard of a ghoul taking its bed with it when it went out,” Dersk said as he examined the area normally reserved for coffins. “Vamps sometimes do, but they’re not usually neat about it.”
Elizabeth snorted. “Tidiness isn’t usually the first thing you consider when you wake up starving and craving the rarest meal you’ve ever eaten in your life.”
Shuddering delicately, Dersk said, “I really do prefer my meals fully cooked, you know. Scaly hide notwithstanding, I don’t share my mother’s love of steak tartar.”
“None of this gets us any closer to figuring out what killed those kids,” said Kate exasperatedly. “Dersk, do you still have a contact inside the morgue?”
“Uh?” The half demon tried to look innocent.
Kate pierced him with querying gaze and said, “When we first met, you were the go-to boy for those with strange diets. You’re not seriously going to tell me that you didn’t have a source for human blood?”
Reaching up to grab the back of his neck, Dersk gave a kind of half shrug and said, “Eh…maybe? I mean, I knew a guy at the blood bank, yeah, and I got a great deal on what they were gonna toss out as medical waste, but the morgue? That, um, that wasn’t really my thing.”
“There’s always funky sandwich guy,” Elizabeth said, referring to a person they knew in records over at the 10th Precinct. His particular bribe of choice was money partnered with a gustatory creation that was so hideous, it made strong men cringe.
“God no. My stomach can’t take that tonight.” There was a greenish cast to Kate’s face as she spoke.
“I could break into the morgue. Five seconds with the bodies and I’d know.” The vampath’s eyes glittered yellow as her fangs emerged, pressing against her bottom lip.
“That’s not an option either. Chicago is more than big enough to operate its morgue twenty-four hours a day. If you got caught-“
Elizabeth sighed. “Right. Okay, well, since you’re not the type to just give up and let the bad guys win one, what do you suggest?”
Kate rubbed her temples. The headache lurking just outside the edges of her conscious thoughts promised to be a doozy. The minutes ticked by, peppered with night sounds, the distant thrum of car engines, and the occasional mechanical thwap of helicopter rotors.
“Dersk, you’re sure that the talisman led us here?”
The half demon nodded emphatically. “Yes.”
“Show me again.”
“Okay.” He held out the crystal and said, “Find what killed those kids.”
Once more, they waited until the magic kicked in and the crystal began to sway. This time, the circles were tighter, and the angled arc almost immediate. Following its lead, the three investigators ended up back in the center of the makeshift campsite.
“All right, hover it over the scorch mark, here,” Kate said, pointing at the charred stone floor.
Dersk did. Nothing happened.
“Do you feel anything?”
“Um, not really. I mean, there’s a slight pull toward the wall, but it’s nothing huge.” He shrugged. “It’s not something I’d normally notice.”
Kate nodded. “Right, okay, try the blankets.”
The half demon did, and had the same result. Without being told, Dersk found one of the syringes and tested it, too. As soon as it drew near the needle, the crystal flared to almost daylight-brightness and then, just as suddenly, dimmed to nothing.
“Well, that’s about as much of a ‘eureka’ moment as I think we’re gonna get,” said Elizabeth.
Sighing sadly, Kate said, “I agree. All right, let’s get out of here. I’ll make the call.”
“Pizza night?” Dersk said hopefully as they all ventured back outside.
Kate was already on the phone with her contact inside the precinct. It was not a source she accessed lightly; Lieutenant Jacobs had come to trust her, and that was not something she was willing to lose.
“Yeah, it’s a good tip,” she said softly, and then smiled. “Happy Halloween to you too, Dan.” Ending the call, she glanced first at Elizabeth, whose fangs hadn’t quite receded, and then at Dersk. “Not tonight. Go out. Put on your scales and impress the ladies, Dersk. I think we’d rather stay in and relax.”
The half demon grinned. “Hey, yeah, that’s a good idea. Oh, and I should call Willow and tell her the charm worked, too! She’ll love hearing about it.”
A surge of sadness rushed up the empathic bond that Kate shared with her lover. This time, when she reached for Elizabeth’s hand, the vampath took it and gave it a lingering squeeze.
“Give them our best,” said Kate.
“You bet. Later, Boss,” said Dersk, tossing a salute toward Kate. As he passed near Elizabeth, he leaned over and whispered, “They’re really not that far away, y’know. Betcha I could hold down the fort for a weekend if you ever want to go on a road trip.”
Elizabeth smiled briefly. “Thanks. I don’t have so many friends that I can afford to lose them.”
“Oh, you great big goofy vampath, you. They aren’t lost; they’re just a little further away. No go home and snuggle your girl, Doc. Eat too much candy and watch for trick-or-treaters. I am going to go get ‘lucky’,” said Dersk glibly.
Laughing, Elizabeth clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You do that, Snake boy. See you tomorrow. Should be fun.”
The half demon rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, because Dia De Los Muertos is always a barrel of laughs around here.”
The Mexican day of the dead wasn’t just a holiday for the mortals. A certain segment of the demonic population found more than a little sick humor in going out and “celebrating” that night as well.
“Ah, it’s nothing we can’t handle with a box of sharp stakes and a gallon of holy water.”
Dersk mock whimpered. “Oh God, y’know, I think I might just see if Kennedy wants to come back. I really don’t think I’m ready for full time patrol duty.”
Growling, Elizabeth reached out with her free hand and gave the half demon a shove. “Get out of here, Snake boy. Before I decide I need some target practice before tomorrow night.”
The half demon yelped and scurried forward. “I’m going, I’m going. Sheesh. Night, guys.” He vanished into the fog.
Kate and Elizabeth made their way out of the cemetery and back to their vehicles, which were, not surprisingly, unmolested. Stopping at Kate’s bike, they shared a brief, but not gentle kiss.
Elizabeth’s symbiote was getting antsy; Kate’s skin was humming with the need to throw her lover against the nearest surface and tear her clothes off.
Their kisses morphed into tiny pricks of pain as the vampath nipped and bit at Kate’s lips.
“I think –“ she said, between bites, “That I’d better stop and pick up something to tide me over on the way home,” she finished, pulling away before she could do real damage to her lover’s mouth.
Gasping softly, her blood thundering in her ears, Kate could only nod dumbly. “Be quick. I’ll wait in the office for you.”
Elizabeth grinned, leaned in and stole one last, gentle kiss and then, stepped back, dragging her fingertips over Kate’s cheek and mouth, thumbing away a tiny droplet of blood. “I’ll stop and pick up Chinese, okay?”
“Sounds good.” Kate slowly turned away, feeling every inch of the distance that grew between herself and her lover as Elizabeth ambled over to her car. The link between them was always there, sometimes stronger than others. Right now, it felt like a pair of warm arms were wrapped about her middle while even hotter breath tickled the back of her neck. Shivering slightly, Kate unlocked her helmet, settled it on her head, and then retrieved the “steal-me-not” charm.
The ride home was slow, but pleasant. There were more pedestrians than usual, but that was to be expected. Kate saw every variety of ghost, goblin, vampire, and popular superhero costume she knew, and many she didn’t. Fog made visibility interesting, but Kate was patient. Getting home fast wouldn’t change the outcome of her evening, but taking it slow would very probably save an incautious child’s life.
For Elizabeth, the journey homeward was sidetracked by a quick run through her favorite hunting ground. The park where she’d first honed her skills as a vampath attracted fewer members of the criminal element, but there were still a few die hard idiots who sought its shadows and glades to do their business.
The symbiote was satiated by the dark, brutal emotions of a half-drunk, would-be burglar and a blitzed out of his mind junkie. Leaving the groggy, but now completely sober junkie holding his head and weeping about his wasted life sitting on a park bench, Elizabeth carried the unconscious body of the burglar out to the street and left him where she knew he’d be shortly discovered by a passing patrol car. From the few glimpses of the heavily greed-laden thoughts she’d been able to sense, he had enough warrants out for his arrest that the cops would recognize him on sight.
Grinning at the thought of how the patrolmen would handle yet another “strange” all-night confession of one of their most wanted, Elizabeth made her way to her favorite take-out Chinese restaurant. The owners knew her on sight.
“Dinner for five, to go?” The pimply-faced teen behind the counter didn’t even bother to look up as Elizabeth grabbed a nearby chair and took up residence in front of the brightly decorated front window.
“Just two this time, June. And I could really use a pot of tea now, please.”
While waiting for the order to cook, she sipped at the cup of hot jasmine tea. Nothing ever quite tasted as horrific as the flavor of unwashed junkie, and Elizabeth didn’t want to go home with breath that smelled of dope and pain. Though she knew that Kate was fully aware of the vampathic side of her nature, Elizabeth still bore a hefty burden of shame for the methods by which she survived.
At least some of them live, now. Remember that. You have a choice. Your touch isn’t toxic unless you choose it to be. That’s your curse, and you accepted that when you allowed the Tos to revive you.
Under the garish light of the restaurant’s neon lighting, the vampath could just make out the edges of the thorny tattoo that wove its wave over her arms, shoulders, and back. A gift from Willow, the artwork was a visual reminder of the debt Elizabeth owed the mortal realm. Every thorn that pricked her skin represented someone whose life had ended so that she, a newly turned vampire, could live.
That heavy coin of lives had bought her days, months - even years, perhaps. She still couldn’t be sure of how much time had passed under the haze of Iscariot’s thrall. What she chose to remember was the recent past. The time spent working with Kate, Willow, Kennedy and Dersk. So much good had been done; lives saved, crises averted. Each day of this new life had been a miracle, and most of them had been shared with the same four people.
Losing two of them was like sheering off a foot. Elizabeth felt wildly off balance and no matter what Dersk said, gone was gone.
No more silly banter as she and Kennedy wiped out a nest of vamps. Absent would be the sweet satisfaction of watching Willow puzzle her way through a piece of arcane ephemera just in time to stop the grand great demonic whatzis from sucking all of Chicago into Hell. Pizza days wouldn’t be the same without the friendly competition she and Kennedy had to see just which one of them could gorge themselves into insensibility. Injuries would have to heal normally, because Willow would not be there to work her witchy ways.
Above all that, her friends, the people she looked to, that she leaned on when things between Kate and her got a little rough, were gone. The warm apartment with its sumptuous furnishings and echoes of too many long nights of laughter and tears was just another hollow loft, lacking even the hint of sandalwood and cinnamon incense.
Willow and Kennedy’s departure had cut a huge hole in Elizabeth’s carefully lived life, and she couldn’t figure out how to patch it over and pretend that everything was going to be all right. Logically, she knew that time would pass, and eventually, things would be normal again. The love she shared with Kate would sustain her; she could no more relinquish that than she could make the earth turn backwards or the sun glow pink.
The longer she sat there, the more her thoughts spun inward, pulling her into a funk that felt very close to depression.
My symbiote must be feeling like a kid in a candy store with all this emotion pouring off me like a sugar-coated waterfall. I just hope it likes the flavor of bitter tears and sour grapes.
She took a sip of her tea and winced. It had gone cold. Draining the cup and then refilling it, she was just about to drizzle in a bit of honey when her phone rang.
Hoping that her evening wasn’t about to get derailed once more, the vampath tapped the button on her headset and muttered, “Blaine.”
“Dang, Doc, you sound like someone just kicked your favorite puppy. Twice.”
The only sound more welcome than this voice would be Kate’s laughter.
A slow smile wended its way across Elizabeth’s face. “Hey Kennedy. You guys make it home safe?”
“Yeppers. All snug as bugs in a rug here in gloomy old Slayer Central. Yeesh. You’d think these guys would you know, hire a decorator or something.” In the background, someone else was speaking, but they were too far away for the sound to be anything other than a low murmur. “Oh shut it, Buffy. You know this place is done in gloom, doom, and gothic death spasms. Hello? Weapons racks on every single wall. Jeez, you’d think we’re expecting an invasion.”
“Sounds like you got your hands full already,” said Elizabeth as she settled back in her seat and sipped at her tea. For whatever reason, just hearing her friend’s irritation, playful as it was, cheered her immensely.
Kennedy’s shrug was almost audible. “Oh, you know. A little of this, a bit of that, a whole lot of baby Potentials who just got the nastiest wake up call of the week. Same old story, different day.” The slayer chuckled. “But yeah, we’ve got some issues. Nothing we can’t handle, but hey, I just wanted to touch base with you, you know? Let you know that I wish we could be down by the docks, kicking the shit out of nest of stupid vamps. Oh, and Willow says, ‘Hey, miss you, Liz’. Ain’t she sweet?”
Suspicious trickles of moisture wetted Elizabeth’s cheeks. “As a funnel cake covered in sugar and caramel.”
“Oh, yum. I am so going to try that come fair season.”
“Do you always think with your stomach?”
“About as much as you do, Eat-o-matic.”
They bantered back and forth for several minutes until Kennedy had to go.
“I’m glad I caught you, Doc. I’ll try to make this semi-regular. You know, trade slaying tips, plan vacays and shit. Cuz, listen, I am so gonna get sick of this place. Wills and me? Yeah, we’re gonna want to get the fuck out of dodge a few times a year. And y’know, Chicago really grew on me. It’s like this fungus you can’t quite kill, but there you have it.”
“Sounds great. Just give us a call, and we’ll make sure to save you some vamp butt to kick.”
“You do that, Doc. Gotta go. Poke Snake boy for me, wouldja? Tell him to email Willow; she’s got some stuff for him to read.”
“Will do. Have a good night, Kennedy.”
The line went dead, but it was okay, because suddenly, things didn’t seem nearly so dreary. In fact, they were just about perfect.
There were no more trick-or-treaters to be showered with too much candy by the time Elizabeth returned to the office-slash-loft that she shared with her lover. Kate was at her desk, typing up the report of the night’s activities. Since the business was partially funded by Angel’s branch of Wolfram & Hart, they had to provide carefully detailed reports whenever they took action in a case that was fundamentally supernatural in nature. Even though tonight’s job had turned out to be mundane, a report would still be filed, since it was a case they’d assumed was nonhuman in origin.
Both Kate and Elizabeth felt that all the paperwork was a bit too familiar, each comparing the activity to that of writing up patient charts or DD5s. However, the amount of capital that Angel funneled into their coffers was not insignificant, so both women put up with the inconvenience.
The investigator looked up at Elizabeth’s entry. Spying the extra large paper sack brimming with cartons, she chuckled. “Hungry much, Doc?”
Elizabeth’s answering grin was so purely predatory that Kate actually felt her heartbeat double. Unable to do anything but watch as Elizabeth slowly locked the door and lowered the blinds, the investigator waited to see what would happen next.
Stalking forward on the balls of her feet, Elizabeth moved with the grace of a panther stalking unwary prey, only this target was clearly aware of its fate. When she reached the desk, the vampath set the bag aside, gripped the edge and leaned toward the other woman. Her face just bare inches away from Kate’s she whispered, “That is a really, really loaded question, Dick.” Then she licked her lips.
Kate was, after all, only human. Her reaction was calculated in mortal terms, and still, it was more than enough to make Elizabeth’s whole body vibrate with joy. The kiss they shared for the next eternity was special; as were all their embraces, but this one, this particular entwining of mouths, tongues, teeth, and eventually, bodies, was an affirmation of all the promises they whispered as sleep carried them into the realm of dreams.
Neither woman knew how much time fate would give them, and both understood just how important it was to treat every second as if it were the finest gold. This moment wasn’t ordinary precious metal; it was purest platinum.
As they slowly drew away from each other, Kate sighed. “I love you so much, Elizabeth.” Somehow, they’d gone from having the desk between them to sprawled on the couch, clothes in disarray, and bodies aching with a pleasant sort of burn that was the customary aftermath of good lovemaking.
The vampath’s fingers traced the shapes and planes of Kate’s face. “Love you too, my Kate.”
The moment lasted just a bit longer, and then Kate snorted and shook her head. “Okay, let’s go upstairs so you can feed me before I eat the whole bag, carton, paper, metal and all.”
Laughing as she stood and ambled over to the desk, Elizabeth grabbed the bag, and headed for the stairs. “Well then, we’d better get you fed before I have to take you in for symptoms of pica.”
In a night full of oddities and unusual happenings, there was one more surprise waiting for Kate and Elizabeth. Perched in the center of their dining table, a cellophane wrapped basket glittered in the soft glow of lamplight. Sharing a look of confusion, the women wandered over to the table and examined the unfamiliar object.
Next to a giant pink bow, there was a card affixed to the handle of the basket. Peeling it free, Kate opened it and read the contents, then passed it over to Elizabeth.
“I know the last thing you saw of us was light; so should the first thing we see of you upon our return be the same. Keep it burning for us, my friends. We’ll visit soon!”
It was signed by Willow and Kennedy.
“Open it,” Kate said. “I’ll get some wine.”
“No, I can wait. We’ll open it together, after dinner.” Elizabeth smiled, and for the first time since the slayer and the witch had announced that they were leaving, Kate sensed that her lover had found peace over the absence of her friends.
“All right. Why don’t you get a fire going? I suspect it’s chilly in here.” Both women had put on their jackets before coming upstairs. Living in Chicago had taught them to warm the loft first, and then shuck jackets, scarves, and gloves. The only time they ignored the rule was when one of them was injured.
Making an “O” with her mouth and breathing out a small cloud of white vapor, Elizabeth said, “You think? I’m surprised there isn’t ice on the couch.”
From the kitchen, Kate said, “Oh funny. It’s not that cold, Doc. You know as well as I do that the couch doesn’t ice over until December at the earliest.”
“Well, there was that one time in November last year...”
“Spells gone astray don’t count,” Kate said as she meandered into the room and set a bottle and two glasses on the coffee table. “Now, you were doing something about a fire, yes?”
Snapping her fingers, Elizabeth said, “Rats. All right, you win. One roaring fire, coming right up.”
Once the room had warmed, both women shed their jackets and took up opposite ends of the couch. Food and wine were passed around until the bottle was mostly empty and the cartons completely decimated. Only then did ordinary speech resume.
“So, you seem a bit more relaxed, love.” The affectionate term was something Kate rarely used. Neither she nor Elizabeth were given to gooey statements of endearment, but sometimes, a little bit of mush would creep into their conversations.
Elizabeth’s cheeks warmed with a tinge of pink. “Yeah, Kennedy called. Made me feel a lot better about it all. I still miss them, but now, I think I can understand why they had to go.” And I get that they weren’t going away forever, just for a while, she added silently.
Reaching out to tangle her fingers with Elizabeth’s, Kate said, “Good. Now, shall we see what it is we’re supposed to keep lit?”
“Oh, yeah, presents! I love presents!” The vampath bounced to her feet, pulling Kate up as well.
Unwrapping the basket proved to be an exercise in patience. More than once, Kate had to turn down the offer of one of Elizabeth’s ever present knives.
“I got this, okay? Be patient.”
“But, presents!” Elizabeth sounded so much like a two year old at Christmas that Kate had to stop herself from answering back with baby talk.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” retorted Kate.
“I can help with that,” said Elizabeth proudly as she once again offered the hilt of her boot knife.
Sighing heavily, Kate rolled her eyes and said, “Oh fine, give me that.”
“Oh no, allow me.” With three deft flicks of her wrist, Elizabeth cut away the remaining cellophane, revealing the contents of the basket.
There was a small, leather bound book; half a dozen candles the thickness of Kate’s wrist, and a copper lantern with opaque sides. Under these were several jars filled with a variety of substances. The investigator lifted one out and let out a soft whistle as the label was revealed: Energy.
Tucked in the side of the basket was another envelope. Elizabeth retrieved it and, upon reviewing the contents, had to laugh even as tears welled up and spilled over her cheeks. Shaking her head, she handed the letter to Kate and began poking about the bottles, glancing at the various labels. Restful sleep; Healing; Truthful Tongue; Cleansing – the list went on, giving them a total of thirty different bottles of Willow’s concoctions.
Perusing the letter, Kate felt the smile on her lips grow into a face consuming grin.
“So anyway, with how you guys are always like, bleeding on everything, I figured I’d best make sure you’ll still be there when we visit. The book has the recipes. The vials have the ingredients. Surely, one of you can follow basic instructions. I mean, Elizabeth was going to be a doctor, right? Somewhere along the way, she had to have read a textbook. And Kate, I’ve eaten your food. You can definitely follow a recipe. Anyway, that’s that.
The candles came from Wic’s Haven; you can get more anytime you need. They’ve got an amazing variety. You really should wander by sometime. You’d be surprised at who you run into in that place.
Anyway, I’ve always felt that goodbye is for the birds, so instead, I’ll say, ‘See you later, my friends, and be well, both of you.’ Oh yeah, and tell Dersk that I expect to hear from him weekly. The trials and tribulations of Lockley and Associates are sure to become a favorite topic of conversation around Slayer Central and I’ll need plenty of juicy stuff to share!”
It was of course, signed by Willow.
“So, which window should we choose?” Kate asked as she pulled out a candle and the lantern.
Wiping away her tears, Elizabeth considered the loft. The choices were limited, but she made a great show of musing over the pros and cons of each pane of glass until she settled on one that was set almost at the center of the room.
“Here. It should be right over the door to the office. Plus, there’s less chance I’ll knock it over if I come in from the roof.”
“Seems as good a place as any,” said Kate. Installing one of the candles in the lantern, she walked it over to the window and rested it on the ledge. “Could you get a box of matches from the kitchen, Doc? I’m afraid I’m not quite as apt at creating fire as Willow.”
“At your service, Dick.”
The matches were retrieved, the candle lit, and afterward, they snuggled under warm covers and were lulled by the dual glows of candle and fireplace into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“I never want to drive that much again,” said Kennedy with a groan as she flopped into bed next to Willow.
“Oh hush, it was only thirteen hours.” The witch cuddled up against Kennedy and rested her head on the slayer’s tank-top clad shoulder.
“You drive it next time,” retorted Kennedy with a yawn. “Then you can run thirty baby P’s through drills, argue with six sophomores who think they know everything and somehow find the time to check in with Doc.”
Willow chuckled at the image of Kennedy leading a herd of newly discovered slayer potentials through the dodge, duck, and stake drills. “My poor baby.” She nipped the skin just at the edge of the cotton cloth of Kennedy’s shirt. “I guess that means you just want to sleep, hmm?”
For two seconds there was complete silence. Then, Willow squealed as Kennedy suddenly flipped them over so that she was atop her lover.
“I’ll never be that tired.”
The witch’s only response was to pull her lover down for a long, long kiss.