The vampire charged the blonde. The time traveler struggled back to his feet whence the vampire had carelessly knocked him in its unexpected assault. The Doctor knew that ordinarily Julia was more suited to dealing with Ankhtutomen than he was. But the new vampire's sire was seeping in particles into the stone floor of this chamber in the pyramid whose construction his preying had suspended. He hadn't been an easy Slay for her; and Ankhtutomen was mad.
Julia flipped Ankhtutomen over and past herself with his own momentum. But she was tired; she dropped him right behind her instead of arcing him across the room, and she fell herself, on her back. Before the Doctor was even on his feet, Ankhtutomen had flipped himself back facing Julia and stunned her with a blow to the head.
"Because of you, I have no sire to mentor me," Ankhtutomen snarled, though the Doctor wasn't certain Julia was conscious to hear. "Let's see how you like it!"
The Doctor watched in horror as Ankhtutomen did to Julia what Slayers fear most.
The vampire charged the blonde. She flipped him over onto his back onto a nearby table. There was a small shattering noise and he screamed.
Buffy felt almost sorry for this one; she had him at a distinct disadvantage. When she'd heard the clattering in the darkened building she'd expected she was surprising a normal burglar, given the locale. She didn't know what sort of leftover habit or nostalgia might lead a newly-made (he had to be newly-made) vampire to break into a pizza restaurant after hours, but obviously he had forgotten or never known of the effect garlic would have on him.
While Buffy gave the place a quick visual scan for a weapon (since she hadn't expected a vampire, she'd left her bag outside to make climbing through the restroom window easier), the vampire writhed off the table and the garlic shaker his fall had broken. Buffy jumped and spun and swung a foot into the side of his face while he ineffectually tried to brush the herb flakes from the small of his back, but that only served to remind him she was there.
He picked up a chair - they had the classic ice cream parlor style - and swung it so hard at her that two of the legs splintered against one of the building's interior support posts when Buffy ducked in time. This gave Buffy an idea.
She dodged around to the other side of the post. Obligingly the vampire swung the chair at her again, and when it hit the post this time one of the legs nearly cracked free. She broke for the register counter, on the off chance that a vampire stupid enough to haunt a pizza place might still figure out, if she dodged back around the post again, that (or why) she wanted him to break the wooden chair into pieces. She vaulted over the counter and dropped behind it, moments before the chair came crashing down on the counter surface. The shattered leg broke off, bounced off the wall behind the counter, and dropped onto the floor right next to Buffy.
Buffy popped up from behind the counter just as the vampire was climbing onto it, awkwardly and relatively slowly for a supernatural creature since it hadn't put the remains of the chair down. The chair leg was in her right hand. Before the vampire could bring the chair around at her, she put its leg through his chest. The vampire screamed, and then burst into dust.
Buffy panted a few moments to catch her breath, then brushed the vampire remains off her clothing. "Hope the health department inspector doesn't show up first thing in the morning."
She left the restaurant through the same back window she'd entered, not sure whether going out the door might trip a burglar alarm, if there was one, that so far she seemed to have avoided. She bent to retrieve her bag and heard a soft male voice, "You are the Slayer?"
She dropped into a defensive crouch as she turned. "Who wants to know?" It was a good question; in the shadows behind the restaurant her inquisitor was impossible to make out. She had an impression of medium height and long, loose clothing, but all she could see - for a stray shaft of light fell across them, from no source Buffy could later identify - were his eyes.
His eyes were enchanting her.
They weren't human eyes.
"There's something I want you to do for me," said the soft voice.
"Shouldn't we stop by the library this afternoon?" Willow said as the students of Sunnydale High flooded into the halls from the classrooms in their daily liberation. "I mean, we haven't got together, all four of us, us and Xander and Giles, for more than a week."
"Oh, great, now there are mandatory weekly Slayer Scout meetings I have to work into my schedule," Buffy snapped.
No one, Buffy reflected again, does "kicked puppy" as well as Willow. "Oh. Okay. I just thought maybe there were things about being a Slayer's sidekicks that Xander and I could go over. Things that don't really come up in the middle of a developing crisis. How would we know?"
That was a point. "Sorry," said Buffy. "Bad time of the month."
"Is it?" said Willow. Buffy might've told her Christmas was going to be early this year. "Wonderful!"
"I didn't realize my biological cycles were so entertaining."
"Well, it's just that ..." Willow trailed off, the way she did when she had accidentally started talking about something she'd meant to keep to herself.
"It's just what?"
"Well, I was just wondering, and I didn't want to say anything, even to Giles who may or may not have known anyway, I mean it's something that's probably never ever come up before -"
Buffy wasn't in the mood to allow Willow her usual breathless attempts at obfuscation. "Willow, what?"
Willow sighed. "I was just worried that ... you might have got pregnant. With Angel."
"Oh, Willow. Vampires don't have functional gonads, they're dead! Angel told me before ... before the curse was lifted."
"Oh! Oh. ... Oh!"
"I suppose I should have told you. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault. You didn't know I was agonizing over it all by myself for ten days because I didn't want to worry you. Putting it that way hasn't make you feel better, has it?"
"I know what you meant," said Buffy, forcing a smile just so Willow would turn off the earnestness.
"Hey, Serena, Amy," Xander greeted them, catching up with them in the riverflow of adolesence toward the exits. "Listen, I had a crazy idea - maybe we could get together with Giles once and pick his archives about this little cooperative of hours without having to do it under emergency conditions."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Guess I'm outvoted."
"If you had other plans ..." said Willow.
"No. As a matter of fact," Buffy sighed, "I was going that way already. I have something to ask Giles about too." She just would have preferred to ask it alone.
Judging from the two stacks on his work table - one of new books, the other of fresh cards - Giles had just sat down to entertain himself with some cataloguing. He looked up, saw the three of them enter the library shoulder-to-shoulder, and paled. "What's happened?"
"Nothing," said Willow. She was beginning to sound like she wished she'd gone straight home after all.
"We're here to tap our resource, Giles," said Xander, turning a chair backwards and straddling it.
"We're here to become better Slayers," said Willow as she and Buffy took seats. "Well, better support Slayers."
"Oh. How refreshing," said Giles. "One rarely sees even you three here on a volunteer basis."
"We're yours today, big guy," said Xander. "Educate us."
"Yeah," said Willow, "what kind of training is there for the second string?"
Giles' smile began to fade away. "Oh dear. Um, I hate to disappoint you in your enthusiasm ..."
"You do?" said Willow, disappointed.
"Obviously I want you to be encouraged to come in at any and all times ..."
"But?" Xander encouraged.
"But," said Giles frankly, "there's no precedent for this situation. In all history no previous Slayer has ever had anyone but her Watcher privy on a regular basis to her secret and her doings."
Buffy felt a flush of gratitude for her friends that she couldn't entirely attribute to her hormonal state.
"Oh," said Willow. "Well," said Willow. "That's good too," she said brightly. "It means we get to set the standards."
"Perhaps you could write your own journals," Giles suggested, "for future Slayer, uh, cabals. That may not be the word you'll want to use, but you get the idea I'm sure."
"Yeah!" said Willow, enthusiasm returned. "We can record our experiences and write the training manual ourselves!"
Xander lowered his forehead onto the back of the chair. "When I walked in here, I didn't know it was to be assigned Slayer homework. 'What I Did At Night All This Year'."
Another time Buffy might have jumped on that line - heaven knows neither Willow nor Giles would - but not today. "I had something I wanted to ask you."
"Really," said Giles. "Two extracurricular, nonessential inquiries. Be still my beating heart."
"How long do Slayers live?" Buffy asked.
Giles got that expression he got when he knew he had to tell her something she wasn't going to like. Not that she was surprised. "How long?" he repeated.
"Do we live. Yes."
"Well, there haven't exactly been any statistical studies made. Or, none that I'm aware of. I suppose if we were still on speaking terms with Jenny - er, Miss Calendar - she could log on to the Slayer housepage and compile average and median figures in the wink of -"
"Giles," said Buffy. Willow and Xander were watching him now too. "How long?"
"Not long," Giles stammered. "Most are killed, or 'burn out', in a fairly short time after they become active. I'd say that, if you had stayed drowned, your tenure would have been just short of normal range."
"Way to bring the mood down, guys," murmured Xander, though softly enough that he must have thought no one would hear. Buffy took pity on him and Giles, and decided not to force the librarian to state the obvious corrolary - that Buffy was already living on borrowed time.
"That's why Slayership comes to the young," Giles continued. "Only at one's absolute physical peak can one stand up to the challenges. And that's why they're always women, whose psychic auras are twice as efficient, to accomodate multiple souls during pregnancy. Buffy, why do you ask?"
"I dunno," said Buffy, which wasn't the whole truth. She hemmed and hawed a moment, fishing for something she could say. "I've been thinking today about leaving behind some kind of legacy when I'm gone."
Giles blinked. "I must say I'm surprised. Most people don't develop an interest in their posterity until they're ... well -"
"Your age?" said Xander. "You know," he added a moment later, "maybe I should just wear flavored shoes." When they all looked at him blankly he rolled his eyes and explained, "For when I put my foot in my mouth?"
"Oh! Ha ha," said Willow. Xander hated having to explain.
"And I gather," said Buffy, surprised at how close she was being allowed to skirt what she couldn't say, "we don't ordinarily survive to have families."
"As a rule, no," Giles answered. "It may not be what you want to hear," Giles continued sincerely, "but the Slayer tradition itself is something to be proud of carrying on."
"I know," said Buffy. But she knew they could tell that it wasn't what she wanted to hear.
As soon as Buffy saw the stranger lurking in the following night's shadows, she felt the trance come over her again. She obediently went over to him in accordance with his instructions from the previous night.
"Have you considered my proposal?" said the stranger.
"Yes," said Buffy. "My answer is yes."
"Very well," said the stranger. "We will meet tomorrow night at this address -" He handed her a slip of paper. "- at midnight. I will be prepared then.
"As before, you shall remember that we have met, but no other human can know. You shall come meet me unacccompanied by any of them. But you will come only if your decision to cooperate has been of your own free choice and remains so."
The stranger moved off and vanished in the shadows. Buffy shook her head to clear it as the trance faded away again. She mentally tested her resolve, comparing its feel with the feel of the compulsion from the stranger's instructions. She could tell the difference between the suggestion (post-hypnotic, or enchantment, or whatever it may be) and the decision she'd made during the day.
She was going to go through with this, because it was what she wanted.
Giles smiled when the three of them entered the library together the next afternoon. "How good to see you again."
"I'm glad you're happy," said Buffy. "I'd hate to think that we can't go anywhere together without people thinking disaster will follow."
Without even a respectful pause after her speech the doors from the hallway banged open to admit someone else. The newcomer had only the appearance of a young man - for that matter, only the appearance of Homo sapiens - and wore a fancy suit some hundred years or so out of fashion. As was frequently the case when the time-traveler came into Buffy's life, he had a worried, urgent expression on his face.
"On the other hand," grumbled Xander.
"Doctor?" said Giles. "What's wrong?"
"Ankle," said the Doctor.
Since the word held no significance of disaster to Buffy she looked over to Giles. Giles had both paled and taken on the she-won't-like-this face. "Here?" he asked the Doctor.
"Here," said the Doctor. "Now. Close."
"I've got two of them," Buffy snapped. "What's the deal?"
"Ankhtutomen is the oldest surviving vampire," said Giles.
"He was made in Egyptian times," said the Doctor. "I was just then."
"He has a particular grudge against Slayers."
"One destroyed his sire just as he was made."
Battling British accents, thought Buffy.
"Ankle, as he is lately known," said Giles, "has accounted for more Slayers in the past three or four millenia than all other vampires combined."
"But," said the Doctor with reluctant import, "he doesn't kill them."
Dread crept over Buffy on little cat feet.
"Ankle," said Giles, "is known as the Sire of Slayers."
END OF CHAPTER 1
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