Watchers Council – Robin and Faith's Bedroom – Later
"Arrogant little…" Faith muttered as she flung the bedroom door opened. "'Oh, I'm just killing two birds with one stone,'" she added in a severely characterized version of Hadley's voice. "Skanky little self-important…"
Her tirade was interrupted by a quiet moan from the bed and she whirled around in time to see Robin roll over and look up at her.
"Faith," he said sleepily, "it's three o'clock. How could it possibly have taken you four hours…" In the dim light he could see the thick layer of dark dust that hung on her shoulders, further darkened her already-dark hair, and coated the front of her jacket. "Oh. I see." He looked at her. "How many was it this time?"
"One," Faith told him.
"Eleven, but those don't count. They were newbies," Faith insisted.
"Big hive," Robin said as he sat up rubbing his eyes with his right hand.
"Oh, it wasn't a hive," Faith said without thinking and winced.
"So, you, what, got bored on your walk home?" Robin asked incredulously.
"I was just doing a sweep of the cemetery," Faith defended herself.
"How many cemeteries?" Robin asked, deadpan.
"One," Faith told him.
"Four, but there was only one in each of the last four," Faith insisted.
"Faith, the five nearest cemeteries would require you to drive halfway across town at least twice," Robin pointed out, "and you were walking. How'd you manage to talk Hadley into that?"
"Oh, Hadley had already gone home," Faith spoke again without thinking, and tensed in anticipation of Robin's response.
"Do I even need to tell you how dangerous that is?" Robin asked, his voice surprisingly level.
Faith tentatively opened an eye to look at him. "I kinda thought you'd be madder than that," she said softly.
"Mad? I'm furious, but I know that you only go solo when people have died needlessly. On those nights, you usually go to two or three cemeteries. I figure on nights where you've gone to five, people have died needlessly, and for some reason, you're starting to question your self-worth. Again." Robin said.
"Am I that transparent?" Faith asked.
"Only to people who love you," Robin replied with a slight smile. "You want to talk about it?"
Faith dropped heavily onto the foot of the bed. Her head dropped into her hands for a moment as she took a series of calming breaths. "One thousand, two hundred and thirteen days," she said simply.
"You're…naming prime numbers now?" Robin asked, confused.
A tiny smile appeared on her lips, and she looked at him with a playful frown on her face. "Okay, the fact that you know that one thousand, two hundred and thirteen is a prime number is kinda scary on its own," she said, but her body trembled slightly with a suppressed laugh. "That's how much longer my time as a slayer will last," she explained. "I started counting the day that Lori lost her powers, and it's been like waiting for an execution."
"And now I'm surrounded by these girls. Take Hadley. She's good. She's real good. She may even be better than I was at that age, but I'll beat you to death with your real leg if you tell her that," Faith added.
Robin smiled at the empty threat, but gestured for her to continue.
"So I've got these girls who are younger than me, some of 'em are faster, maybe even better, and now I gotta train 'em, make 'em good enough to replace me," Faith told him. "It's like my whole life's turned into a reminder that the clock's tickin'."
"So tonight…" Robin gently prodded her on.
"Tonight, we lost three people outside a bar Hadley and I were at," Faith said. "And the ugly thing about it is that I saw them in the bar, an' we walked out less than ten feet behind 'em. I couldn't have been more'n a half-block away when they were killed. The vamps must've been waiting for them in the alleyway, and I didn't even get a twinge. I didn't know they were there, I didn't feel a thing."
"Come on, Faith, you can't save everyone, you know that," Robin told her.
"I don't think I can save everyone, but it'd be nice to know that I can at least save three people standin' ten feet away from me," Faith snapped. "What's worse is Hadley. She knew somethin' was up. Maybe she didn't even know she knew it, but some part of her knew that somethin' was goin' down."
"So, Hadley feels a disturbance in the force, and suddenly, you're questioning your self-worth?" Robin winced. "Could you, maybe, forget that I said that?"
"Andrew'll never hear it from me," Faith assured him. "But it's not just that. She was grandstanding for the press later," she explained.
"And you want to sue her for trademark infringement?" Robin asked.
"Hey!" She gave him a backhanded slap in the shoulder. "I do not grandstand."
"Yeah. Of course. You were saying?" Robin asked.
"I don't!" Faith insisted.
"Back on subject, Faith," Robin prodded.
"Okay, so she was grand-standing for the press, and just for the record I don't –," Faith started.
"Faith," Robin interrupted gently.
"Anyhow, I called her on it. I even put on my best AngryFaith face," Faith told him, "but she just wouldn't back down. She had the nerve, the nerve to tell me that I'm gettin' too old for this job."
"Struck a nerve, did she?" Robin asked innocently.
"What? No!" Faith insisted.
"Would you be this worked up over it if at least part of what she said hadn't rung true?" Robin asked.
Faith opened her mouth to respond. She immediately reconsidered and closed it again. She opened it a second time and spoke: "I'm not too old, I'm only…"
"…One thousand, two hundred and thirteen days away from retirement," Robin finished for her. "And considering that you're keeping count, I'd say that the thought had at least crossed your mind before she said it."
Faith turned to him, annoyed. "Did you miss that this was a 'slayer hate session?' You're supposed to be takin' my side on this."
"Faith, have you taken just a second to consider just how lucky you are?" Robin asked.
"Faith, the only constant in life is change, and it's the thing that scares people the most. Did you honestly expect that you were going to be slaying vampires from the nursing home? You think that I'm planning on being the head of security for the Watchers Council when I'm older, but curiously only slightly less pretty than I am now?" Robin asked her with a bit of a smile. "But the one thing you have going for you is that you know down to the minute when your life is gonna change. Do you realize how few people can actually say that?"
Faith looked at him quizzically for a moment. After a long moment, she spoke again. "Slaying is the one thing I've ever been good at. It's the one thing I do better than anyone else, with one possible exception." She said quietly, "Can you imagine finding out that the one thing you got goin' for you is gonna be taken away from you some day?"
"Come on, Faith, there's a lot more to you than what you do for a living. I loved teaching, I love being head of security here. Do I miss going out every night and staking a vamp or two? Sure. But I found a place for myself, somewhere where I don't need two working legs to do it. You will too." He smiled and gestured down at his left leg, indicating where it terminated just below the knee. "If nothing else, you can always moonlight as a surgeon. I don't think there are many out there that can amputate a leg in half a second or less."
Faith's smile mirrored his. "I only do that for special clients," she said wryly. "I've had a rough night," she added. "I had an eighteen-year-old patronizing me, I told her that I was gonna find this hive before she did and kill it; and then, to top it all off, I come home and my boyf – fiancé takes her side."
"I'm not taking –," Robin started.
"I need a hug, Ace. A long, tight one," Faith said.
"What, now? You're covered in vampire dust," Robin said in mock disgust.
"A hug, or no sex for a month," Faith said with a one-sided smile.
"Come here," Robin replied immediately, wrapping the raven-haired slayer in his arms.
Faith cuddled close to him, her head automatically finding a comfortable hollow in the curve of his neck.
"So you called her out, huh?" Robin asked after a moment.
Faith's features scrunched uncomfortably. "Yeah," she said tentatively. "Kinda stupid, huh?"
"You know, I'm not usually keen on these acts of pointless bravado. They're annoying, and distracting, and if you lose, we're facing a major loss of morale in this council; so I'm gonna give you a little advice," Robin told her.
Faith looked up at him, expectantly.
"Kick her skanky, self-righteous ass," he said with a smile.
Watchers Council – Mia's room – Same time
"Hey," Mia said softly as she opened the door.
"You couldn't sleep either?" Kennedy asked.
"I'm still on Tokyo time," Mia said wryly. "Jet lag always screws me up."
A long, dense silence settled over the two women, and they both fidgeted uncomfortably.
"Do you want to come in?" Mia finally asked tentatively.
"Yeah," Kennedy replied, a little too quickly.
Mia stood aside to allow the slayer to enter.
If it were even possible, Kennedy seemed even more uncomfortable in Mia's living room than she had in the hallway. She walked over to an arm chair, sat down. Then she fidgeted for a moment as if she were sitting on a tack, jumped up and stood in the center of the living room, wringing her hands.
"Can I get you something?" Mia asked. "Coffee, tea," she smiled slightly, "tranquilizer?"
"Look, I should go. I'm keeping you awake, and…" Kennedy started walking towards the door.
"Kennedy, sit down," Mia interrupted her. "Obviously, you have something on your mind, so sit. I'll make some tea, and we'll talk."
Watchers Council – Mia's room – Later
The teapot dipped slightly to pour a small amount of tea into a small, intricately decorated teacup. Mia carefully served Kennedy first, then herself. She then placed the teapot on the table, exactly centered between the two of them, and twisted the handle until the spout was pointed away from Kennedy. She then held Kennedy's teacup to her, holding it in both hands and gave a brief, respectful nod of the head as Kennedy took it. She then took a seat across from her and took her own cup, holding it in both hands at eye-level as she again nodded respectfully at her guest.
Kennedy watched the ritual in rapt fascination before she finally looked up to meet the Asian slayer's eyes. "I didn't realize that a four o'clock visit required a whole ceremony," she said wryly.
Mia smiled. "My parents were real sticklers for tradition. I think they wanted me to marry well and be a loving, caring wife who knew all the protocols, traditions and etiquette a highly-placed wife should know. Some things stuck, I guess. My mom used to say that you serve wine when you want to know the truth. You serve tea when you want them to offer you the truth."
The two sat in silence for a moment, this time a significantly more comfortable one. Kennedy idly ran her fingers around the rim of the teacup in her hands.
"This is the part where you tell me what's on your mind," Mia told her.
"I wanted to apologize," Kennedy said softly.
"What for?" Mia asked.
Mia looked up to meet her eyes, confused. "Ken, that was two years ago, and you weren't the one who shot her."
"I know, but I said some awful things to you after, and it was horrible of me," the words came out in a rush.
"Ease up a little," Mia said. "Have some tea," she offered.
Kennedy took a deep breath and sipped her tea gingerly. "It took me two years to realize how much you paid for the day that you shot her."
"So you got up at four o'clock in the morning to tell me that you're sorry about something that you did two years ago?" Mia asked.
"Yes." Kennedy paused for a moment, then reconsidered. "No," she added. "A little."
"Well, that certainly narrows it down." Mia smiled.
"It's just that I've had exactly two different reactions since I got back from Tokyo. I've got people slapping me on the back, congratulating me or looking at me as if I've suddenly contracted the plague," Kennedy told her. "And what really sucks is that I'm not sure which reaction is more inappropriate."
"That doesn't really explain what brought you to my doorstep at four in the morning," Mia told her.
"It's just that you're the one person who hasn't done either one. You're the one person who hasn't judged me in some way, or congratulated me for gunning down another slayer in cold blood, and right now, I really need to be with someone like that." She shook her head, frustrated. "I'm not saying this right," she muttered angrily.
"Kennedy," Mia said, "I'm not sure what you want from me."
"I just don't want to be alone tonight, and I want to be with someone who understands," Kennedy said.
Mia chewed uncomfortably on her bottom lip. "I'm not Kadin," she said.
"I know, and I'm not…offering…anything." Kennedy stood up and came around the table to share the couch with Mia. "And I guess when you come down to it, I'm…using you." She pursed her lips for a moment before she continued. "Do you mind?"
Mia looked at the slayer for a moment, considering. "Do you?" she asked finally.
Without a word, Kennedy slid under Mia's arm, resting her head on the Asian slayer's shoulder. In moments, her eyes closed, and she drifted off to sleep, the expression on her face one of peace and serenity.
Watchers Council – Briefing Room – Next Day
"Look," Grace said, "maybe Bureau Nine is a bunch of liars and whatnot, I dunno. But Ms. Allister said for me to check the files and I did."
"We both did," added Dawn, seated beside her.
"I mean – slacking off, that I can get why you'd complain. But this time I did what I was told. Kinda weird thing to be complaining about, when you I dunno THINK about it."
Rowena sighed, "You're right, Grace." She turned to the others at the table, "She's doing exactly what she was supposed to do."
"Both of us," said Dawn.
"Still," said Buffy, "I'm not sure just how much we can trust what was in those disks Bureau Nine gave us."
"No offense," offered Jim, "but wasn't that the whole point of the exercise? To find out?"
"Yeah," said Faith, "That's what I thought."
"And," said Willow, "I'm sure they took precautions, right guys?"
"Yes," Grace managed to make the last consonant last longer than was absolutely necessary, "Non-networked drives, Scanned each disk within an inch of its non-existent life, Summers Junior here even put a ward around me while I checked the system."
"My name's Dawn."
Grace stared at her, "I learned Gaelic in a week without really trying. You think I can't remember your name?"
"Hey," began Buffy…
"Sooooooo…" interrupted Xander, "Grace – what did you, and Dawn, find?"
With a small huff, Grace activated the control in front of her. The large screen lit up, showing a map, "Okay, here is the town of Wormwood Acres."
"Wormwood?" asked Buffy, "Really?"
"It makes sense after more than one sentence," said Grace.
"The town was founded in 1869," Dawn said, "by an occult commune that worshipped dragons, hence the name – Worm being an ancient word for dragons."
"Anyway," Grace said with a weary sigh, "check out what is forty miles southwest of the town." She fiddled the controls and the map expanded. Now other towns, roads, even highways were visible. Grace waited and so did Dawn.
"Uh…" Willow began.
"Isn't that," said Robin, "about where you three found Marsha?"
"Oh, of course!" Rowena said.
"Was wondering when you'd remember," muttered Dawn.
"Kennedy would've gotten it right off," said Rowena.
"Yeah," said Willow, "but she's…not back on duty yet."
Jim spoke, "We've never precisely determined Marsha's origins, have we?"
"Nope," said Xander.
"Me, I've always wondered in she had a family," Rowena said, "Or a pack. Or something. The town never had any more reports after we removed her from the area."
"Well, now you've got a clue," offered Grace. "The cult itself evidently used to have some genuine magic users in it, And they have let some fairly unobtrusive demons stay there sometimes. According the Bureau Nine files, anyway. Mostly they just keep to themselves. Their major industry is dairy, a cow town, literally." She waited. Then her eyes sharpened, "Okay, why is everybody looking at me all of a sudden?
No one said anything for a few moments, then Rowena spoke, "You're the one complaining about getting me coffee and doughnuts and nobody knows these files better than you two."
"I must say," said Jim, "that does seem like a good idea. Genuine field work, but likely to be quite, perhaps even excessively, simple. A good bit of training."
"And if there is trouble," said Willow, "you'll have a trained witch along to help. One who, no matter what happens, can't be killed."
"So you want me and Donna…"
"Dawn!" she said without looking at Grace.
"Whatever," Grace shrugged. "You want us to go check out a dragon-worshipping cult of who-knows-what kinda crazies in the middle of nowhere?"
"You should probably take Marsha with you," said Robin. "If nothing else, her presence ought to impress the locals."
"Good idea!" Grace nodded. "We'll just have to wait for Kennedy to get back, because obviously Marsha's her dragon and besides she's a slayer. Gotta have all three branches for a romp like this, right?"
"You know…" said Faith with a smile. A smile that seemed somehow both innocent and evil. "There is another slayer who gets along really, really well with Marsha. Surprising well. Like, they're pals."
Everyone else in the room looked at Faith. It was Robin who finally asked "Who?"
Kennedy's Apartment - Later
Kennedy opened the door of her apartment to see Kadin standing there, hands stuff in her pockets.
"Hey," the hunter said with a slight grin. "Can I come in?"
Kennedy seemed startled by the question but opened the door wider to let Kadin inside. Once in the room, Kennedy closed the door behind them, yet she said nothing. Kadin, also mute, seemed to nervously look at the room.
"I, uh, I'm not sure what to say here Ken," Kadin finally began. Kennedy still didn't utter a syllable. After a few more silent seconds Kadin began to grin slightly. "Someone recently told me something that I think might fit here."
"What's that?" Kennedy asked, speaking for the first time since Kadin answered.
Kadin grinned for a moment but then turned serious. "I know that I haven't been the best girlfriend at times. and I'm sorry. I should have been there for you, but I want to make up for that now." Kadin began to grin again. "You might not believe it, but there really are times I listen to what you say. Truth is, I listen all the time...even if it might not seem like it."
"You just...left, Kadin."
Kadin took a step closer. "I know and I'm sorry. I just couldn't deal with what I was looking at Ken. I...I had to take a step back, and catch my breath. I didn't want to say something I'd regret later."
"What could you have said?" Kennedy asked.
"I'm not sure," Kadin said honestly. "But I never, not for second, stopped loving you. And like I said, I'm still not sure what to say...Only thing I can tell you, without a doubt, is that I love you and I want to be here for you."
Kennedy hung her head and began to cry softly into her hand.
Kadin looked a bit reluctant at first to move closer but finally she stepped up and slowly and gingerly put her arms around Kennedy. The slayer slipped her arms around the hunter and seemed as if to crumble in the embrace.
Kadin tightened her hold and closed her eyes as she rested her head on the slayers' shoulder.
"It'll be okay," Kadin whispered.
Kennedy continued to cry.
Watchers Council – Morgue – Later
"Okay, Doc," Faith said impatiently as she stood beside one of the covered bodies. "Sorry I'm late but the meeting today ran long. What are we dealing with?"
"Typical vampire attack. Three victims, female, all in their early twenties," the doctor replied.
"How many vampires are we talking about?" Faith asked.
"One," the doctor told her simply.
"One?" Faith demanded.
"That can't be right," Faith insisted. "To take three victims without any of 'em getting away…"
"It's worse than you think. Kimberly Noi was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I called up her record. She was the plaintiff in a rape case seven years ago. The rapist got off on a technicality, and she started training. Fast-forward six and a half years. A little over six months ago, she was a defendant in an assault case. It was a clear-cut case of self-defense, and her would-be attacker spent four months in intensive care. She was acquitted," the doctor rattled off the statistics.
"She wasn't a slayer," Faith said. "And she was up against a vamp. No big mystery that she lost."
"No, but she was someone who spent years learning to fight," he told her. "She would've lost, eventually, probably, but she would've been no pushover."
"What are you telling me, exactly?" Faith asked.
"There's very little bruising on her body to indicate she was in a melee. That means she got taken out quickly, probably before she really knew what was happening. The vampire, probably, at the very least, incapacitated two of her friends; and less than five feet from a busy street," he explained.
"So what was he, some kind of supervamp?" Faith asked.
"She, and no. These marks suggest just your everyday vampire, but she was really good at killing people," he added sadly.
"Wait a minute, 'she?'" Faith asked.
The doctor nodded in agreement. "Bite patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints. One attacker, female."
Act One – Alleyway.
"Well, I hope you find her," Janna told her.
Teaser – Outside the pub
"Jesus, Janna," the woman said holding Janna upright.
Act One – Alleyway
"My name's Janna," the woman said holding out her hand.
Watchers Council – Morgue
"Oh, I don't believe it!" Faith yelled, slamming her fist down on the metal table.
The doctor blinked at her sudden outburst. "Did I say something wrong?" he asked.
"I had her. She was at the crime scene – three feet away from me, and we made small talk," Faith railed.
"Faith, you couldn't have known at the time," Doctor Miller insisted.
"No, I should have known, but now this vamp has gone out of her way to piss me off," Faith hissed through gritted teeth. "Mission accomplished," she added.
"What are you doing?" the doctor asked as Faith made her way to the door.
"I'm goin' huntin'," Faith replied sharply. "I'm gonna show her what a slayer really is."
Ohio Interstate – Car – Afternoon
"Are we there yet?" said Lorinda in bored and very, very annoyed voice.
"No," said Grace in a monotone. "Not yet." Her unblinking eyes were on the road, her hands clutching the steering wheel.
"How much longer? I said – how much longer?"
Dawn, in the front seat next to Grace, had her arms crossed, and one eyebrow raised. Her lips were a straight line, "We'll know when we get there."
"You mean you don't know?"
"Not exactly," said Grace.
Lorinda waited a few moments, "I bet Jeff would know if he were here."
Dawn and Grace both twitched. Marsha the dragon, sitting up in Lorinda's lap, stared out the back window. She craned her neck, watching a flock of birds. She even trilled and wagged her tail. Then she looked up hopefully at Lorinda.
"I'm sorry," she said to the dragon, petting her little head, "there aren't any treats left. There are some more in the cooler, but I can't get to that unless they stop the car, and they won't do that. But if they'd take the time to stop somewhere to eat, I'd share my burger." Now she scratched under Marsha's chin, who half-closed her eyes and purred.
"I'm gonna kill Buffy," Dawn muttered under her breath.
"I'm gonna kill Allister," muttered Grace.
Cleveland – Road – Later
The car approached a sign reading "Wormwood Acres, 5 miles."
Lorinda's voice immediately rose, "Look!"
"We see it," snarled Grace and Dawn as one.
Wormwood Acres City Hall – Later
Lorinda bolted out of the car the second it came to a rest. She had Marsha in her arms and let the creature scamper up onto the car's roof. With a crooning cry, she spread her wings and shook, almost exactly like a dog or cat.
"Good girl!" said Lorinda.
Grace and Dawn glared at the both of them.
"Well, well, well!" said an alto voice from behind them, It belonged to a thin woman with short dark hair and bright eyes. Her right hand held a lit cigarette, but her eyes were focused on Marsha. "Now, this is quite an event!" She approached the car, revealing every tooth in a smile that seemed somehow far more predatory than Marsha's snout or fangs.
Marsha looked at her and gave a yelp. The woman stopped her approach and instead looked at Grace and Dawn.
"I know you two, don't I?" She didn't blink. Instead, she actually smiled more. "The Watchers' Council! Am I right?"
"Uh…yeah," Grace said.
"I knew it! Well – who else actually has a dragon?" Now she laughed. It was a deep, throaty sound, very nearly a cackle.
"And who are you?" asked Dawn.
"Justine Hegwell, at your service! I'm the Mayor here!"
"You're Dawn Summers, right? Right?"
"There was an article about you in People magazine last month! I must have read it a thousand times!"
"Oh, that. Actually, that wasn't real accurate. For one thing, Willow and me, we were never an item…"
"And this," the Mayor turned to Grace, "must be Kennedy! The Slayer with the Dragon!"
"No." Grace said it firmly, "Me Watcher. That," she pointed to Lorinda, "Slayer."
The Mayor turned to her, "Kennedy!"
"Lorinda," said Lorinda in a cold voice.
"Of course. You know, I always wondered what your first name was…"
"I'm not Kennedy," Lorinda interrupted her. "Truth is I don't even like Kennedy. And she doesn't like me, I'm Lorinda Sheparton. Sheparton, got it? We're not the Kennedies, we're richer. And we've been rich longer." She pointed. "That is Grace, that is Dawn, and this is Marsha." She tilted her head. After a moment she spoke, "Did this town really elect you Mayor?"
"Yes, they did. Three times, so far."
Lorinda took this in for a moment. "So is it inbreeding or what?"
Dawn and Grace cringed. The Mayor waited for a moment, then laughed.
Wormwood Acres – Mayor's Office – Later
Mayor Hegwell lit another cigarette, gesturing for Dawn, Grace and Lorinda to have seats. She parked herself behind a huge antique desk.
Dawn waved some smoke away from her face. "You know, the Surgeon General figured out those things give you cancer a long time ago."
"Like that matters to you," muttered Grace.
Not hearing the comment the mayor answered. "I'll take my chances...So," proclaimed Mayor Hegwell, "what can the sleepy little town of Wormwood Acres do for the famous and wonderful Watchers Council?"
The three visitors didn't say anything at first. Lorinda simply petted Marsha, while Dawn and Grace shot a look at each other. Then the latter spoke up, "Research."
"Ah!" The mayor, if anything, smiled even broader.
"Yeah," Grace ploughed on, "we were trying to find out more about Marsha here," she indicated the dragon "and stumbled across the history of your town."
"Oh! You mean that ancient history!"
"Not exactly ancient," said Dawn.
"It is to us, believe me!"
"Whatever," said Grace, "the point is, Marsha wasn't found too far from here. So, town of dragon-worshippers. Real live breathing dragon. Close-by. Kinda a coincidence, don't you think?"
"But that is the only possible answer," said Mayor Hegwell, blinking. "Really, not that the founding fathers and mothers of Wormwood Acres weren't what you say. They were. Of course nobody around these days even remembers what one of them looked like, but there's no denying their religion. And believe me, if they'd had an actual dragon, somebody would have said something."
"Marsha probably wasn't even around then," said Dawn. "If she has anything to do with here, it must be recent."
Mayor Hegwell grinned again. "Why?"
"Because," said Dawn, "Marsha is so young."
"What makes you think that?" Dawn looked at her for a moment, then at Grace. Mayor Hegwell continued. "I don't claim to be an expert, but isn't it at least possible your dragon is an adult? Maybe even elderly? How much do any of us really know about the life cycle of dragons?"
No one said anything for a few moment.
"Don't be stupid." Lorinda's left eyebrow went up half an inch as she said the words. "If Marsha were a cat, she'd be a kitten. Any idiot could see that."
Hegwell fastened another smile on her face. "Such a bright child," she said, eyes alight. "But – hasn't Marsha been with you for something like two years? And if she's still immature, as you say, doesn't that speak for a relatively long life cycle? At least compared to, say, felines. Who knows when she was originally hatched? Or born? Or whatever?" She made a theatrical shrug.
"So," Grace said after a moment, "does the local library have historical records from when the town started up?"
"Of course!" Hegwell said with the slightest hint of a pause.
Cleveland – Alleyway – Same time
The sun had only barely dipped below the horizon. The alleyway was still dimly illuminated by the early fading light of dusk. Faith knelt in the center of the alleyway, tracing with her fingertips the space, which had been occupied by a lifeless body.
"C'mon," Faith muttered under her breath. "Isn't it in the Evil Bitch handbook that you're supposed to return to the scene of the crime?"
She glanced up, her eyes tracing the lines of the alleyway in the fading light, as if searching for some indication that the perpetrator of these atrocities was still there, or would return.
"Come on, you crazy psycho-bitch," Faith continued. "You wanted me to figure this out, now where the hell are you?"
"Talking to yourself, Faith?"
Faith whirled around, her hands up in a guard position.
Janna stood in front of her, her hands clasped casually behind her back, facing the slayer. "'Cause I hear that's a pretty good measure of insanity."
"You wanna talk insane? How's about killing three people just to get my attention?" Faith demanded, refusing to lower her guard.
Janna, for her part, did not even react to Faith's defensive posture. "I had to get you to find me somehow," She replied. "Until last night, I was just one of thousands of vamps living in this town. Now, I'm one you're actually interested in killing personally. I mean, really, Faith, have you ever actively tracked down one vampire before?"
"Yeah," Faith said softly, "but I was a little screwed up at the time. At least this time I got a good excuse. Why me?"
"The hunt just doesn't have much of a thrill anymore," Janna told her. "Four hundred years, there isn't anyone out there worth killing."
"You killed three people because you're bored?" Faith's hand quietly snaked behind her back. Her fingers wrapped around the grip of a wooden stake she had secreted there.
"It sure beats 'I was hungry' as a reason for killing," Janna shrugged.
Fury could practically be seen burning behind Faith's dark eyes as she glared past her own raised hand at the vampire.
"I do believe," she said threateningly, "that I'm gonna have to kick your ass."
Faith's raised left hand darted outwards, her fingers spearing at the vampire's eyes as her right hand, holding a wooden stake, came down at Janna overhand, its point poised to penetrate her breastbone.
Janna ignored the feint from Faith's left hand and sunk into a low, wide stance. Her left hand came up to catch Faith's descending wrist, halting it in mid air. She maintained her grip on the wrist as she stepped forward, driving her right elbow under Faith's armpit. The air in Faith's lungs blew out in a loud whuff and her body instinctively curved away from the blow.
Janna pressed her attack during Faith's momentary distraction. Her right hand snaked up, gripping Faith's right wrist even as her left hand released it, and she dragged the hand downwards, throwing the slayer off-balance. Faith stumbled forward, practically falling into a hard snap-kick that the vampire delivered to her abdomen. Finally, the knife-like edge of the vampire's right hand drove downward at the slayer's elbow, pinning her right arm against the Slayer's own body, leaving her jaw and head undefended against the uppercut that drove upwards, catching Faith under the chin.
Faith stumbled backwards, her left hand rising to the corner of her mouth. The tips of her fingers came away bloody. She looked up at the vampire with an expression, which seemed almost foreign when it appeared on her face: fear.
"Now," Janna said softly, "things get interesting."
End of Act Two
On to Act Three