I cannot take this again.
The head that has rolled to rest at my feet used to be a very pretty girl. She has long, brown hair, and green eyes. She has tearstains down her cheeks, and they are now mixed with blood from the head trauma. The back half of her skull is missing.
So is the rest of her body. There is a chunk of red meat hanging from the sliver of spinal cord left in her neck, and a pulpy mess in a bucket nearby. I wanted to clean up the - skull fragments, so that no one else would bear that burden.
He must have hit her on the back of the head, and very hard; perhaps with a brick, or possibly by throwing her against one of the coffins laid out for burial in the viewing room.
She used to be a very pretty girl.
I think I'm going to be sick.
Buffy, beside me, puts a hand on my shoulder, and tugs me away from the organic mass. I must think of it as organic mass, I must distance myself from this vision; when, Allah when, is this an acceptable thing to allow to happen?
I should have killed him by now. Adebisi has a very specific callsign for deaths; the removal of the head from the rest of the body is one of them. Anal rape is classic, and he is fond of dietary additives; the kind that kill. Glass, rat poison.
Simon is an adaptable man.
I grasp the stake in my palm a little tighter, and go down the next darkened hallway. The head fell out of, out of a janitor's closet in the funeral home. There must be more. Her - the rest of her must be somewhere. We must find it before someone else does, a cleaner or someone with a job to do here in the daylight.
It is our job to make sure that no secretary finds the rest of her organs wrapped up in a bundle of copy paper.
It was my job to stop this from happening; Adebisi is still out there. I know it was him.
I meet the Slayer around a corner, back at the main entrance of the building. There is a trail of dried blood leading from the stairs down from the crematorium, out the door, and into the grass. From there, it is - uncertain, where the girl came from. Or went to. Or who she is.
I think I would feel better, if only I knew her name.
My thoughts go back, to twilight. There was a shadow in Buffy's face when we went out on the hunt. She did not elaborate on it, and I did not ask. Some things, friends do not share.
And some people will never really be friends. I do not know which we are.
The moon is a sliver, hanging in suspended animation in the sky. I know her thoughts; they are ranging out, trying to sense our foe. I close my eyes for a fraction of a second, listening for the crack of a twig that signals the instant right before the pounce of a predator. There is magic in the air - I have been around this group long enough to recognize the prickling at the back of my neck, and the sudden lack of insects.
Around us, the air is still. I look at her, and silently ask the question of exploration or retreat. She nods at me, and pulls her jacket tighter, then points to her left.
I am to check out that way, nearer the street, where the street lamps give more illumination than just the hint of moonlight. It makes sense; she has senses developed so finely that she might as well be able to see in the dark.
Whatever magic this is, she is less worried about it than the idea of an approaching vampire, because she still holds a stake firmly in her hand. I do not even try to guess what kind of creature roams in the woods behind the building we were just surprised in - to even begin suggests that I have an idea of what is going on, here.
My knowledge is finite; I see the Slayer make her way deeper into the woods, unafraid. I see the pavement, and its grey color, through the black of a chain-link fence, separating the woods from the suburban road. I see no one on the streets. I see no people walking outside.
I see nothing to indicate there are any living souls within a hundred miles.
My whisper is quiet, but I know she will hear me. "What?"
She makes a jagged motion with the fist not holding the stake. Immediately, both of us are still as statues, frozen, waiting for the next sound to indicate who or what is sharing the night with us.
She must have heard something stirring.
But the blanket of blackness covers our unseen adversary, and whatever it is does not come any closer. The wind has picked up a little, blowing fallen leaves around the dirt path we walk. In time, the moon will sink below the trees, tucked in for the night.
Before then, I could be dead.
"I think it's okay. Just an owl, or a cat, or something." She knows best. I nod to her, check my watch. She looks around, face clear and intent on her surroundings. The breeze blows her blond hair around her face a little bit. Her cheeks are pink.
"Nothing wrong around here. I guess we should try the graveyard." I nod again. We make our way along deserted streets to a house of the dead.
Another house of the dead.
There, we find her friend Willow looking at gravestones; one in particular, I see, has taken her notice. The name is unfamiliar to me, like so many of these faces and these people and these very lives.
Like that girl, who even now is missing over seventy percent of her body.
"Will, what are you doing here? It's past midnight!"
The concern in her voice is touching, and I feel a stranger to human contact, watching the two of them. Her friend answers, "I, had a dream. Dumb, but. I was worried about Giles. And then I thought I'd just. come and see."
I wonder briefly what kinds of memories could be attached to this girl named Jenny.
Buffy crouches down, and leans against the nearest stone monument. I stand akwardly over the two of them, staring off down the street. Blue and red flashing lights blink on and off in the distance, and I wonder about what they could have found to occupy their time.
Buffy replies, "Not dumb. But we should probably walk you home." A giggle escapes before she can contain it, and she adds, "Or would Tara get jealous?"
Willow smiles, so very sweet. "She's not the type."
A blink. A retraction of sweetness and light. An undercurrent, a brief flare of anger towards those forces of darkness who hit Tara, and hard. Buffy says, "No, guess not."
They stand, and look at me. I try looking in Buffy's eyes, must look away.
This girl is too much of everything for me to look at directly - it reminds me of staring into two miniature suns. She radiates. She is a fierce one.
I gesture to them, and say politely, "Ladies." They smile a little, and together we take Willow home.
The streets stay deserted, and our footsteps echo like we are walking through a great, empty mosque, the first pilgrimagers after months and years away. Belief is not dead; it has merely been buried in Sunnydale for a while.
But she, she brings it back again.
We find ourselves on Willow's doorstep. Tara is waiting for her, a worried expression and a tender kiss at the doorstep. It reminds me that no one is waiting for me.
But there is justice to be served. And dust to be swept up in the morning.
As we walk back to her house, I ask her, "Do you believe in all of this, Buffy? Really believe?"
She smiles, and it comes out half bitter, half sad. "Half the time? Yes. Completely. Half the time - well. Half the time, it believes in me." She shrugs. "I don't have much choice."
"No, I suppose you do not."
She turns to me, and asks, "Why are you here?"
My voice is soft, and without hesitation. "Because I believe. Because Allah intended it. That's why we are all here."
She snorts, and says dryly, "I'm surprised there aren't more mosques around. Did you know that in Sunnydale alone, there are 43 churches? About double the amount for a town of this size?" Her face turns thoughtful, deadpan. "Wonder if it's something in the water."
I laugh - actually laugh, and the rich, rolling sound is unfamiliar. I miss laughing.
It is halted abruptly when she whips out a stake, kicks a vampire in the knee hard enough to shatter bones, and is brushing off her jacket before I can jump out of my wits.
It shakes me up a little.
She looks at me, and puts a hand on my shoulder without thinking about it. Softly, she tells me, "We should get home. Giles will be wondering by now."
I walk beside her, in quiet, for a while, before we start to talk of other things. She tells me about her classes, and I miss my own education. The sky becomes less of a concern.
I should wonder, one day, why the sky is never filled with stars. The clouds are few and far between, the lights are dim - they always are in this town. Yet, the stars blink themselves almost out of existence, they seem so far away.
Perhaps it is another localized phenomenom, like the rain of frogs, or the water turning to blood, as in the end of the world a few years ago. Buffy told me of those things, too.
Again, I feel the prickle of magic at the back of my neck, but perhaps it is just the presence of this girl. She is magic in every sense of the word - her whole identity is crafted within a world that most people can't even begin to fathom, nevermind see.
She is defined by training, luck, and instincts. Everyone around her is attached to the occult, the paranormal, the not-of-the-ordinary. Compared to them, I stand up as well as one of those far off stars, blinking feebly against a sheet and pool of black expanse.
We reach Giles' door. I open it, turn to her, and say, "Be careful."
She nods. There is thanks in her eyes. "You too, Kareem."
My name. It gives me heart, her generosity, her spirit, and her fight. If she is any star, I must call her the sun - she burns so much more brightly than the rest of us do. She is beyond a witch, a demon, a force of nature, or even the legions of dead.
I go to bed. I try not to wonder what kinds of things are lurking in the shadows, innocent and guilty alike. I don't think of the geography of the city, humans locked in their dwellings, demons crowding in on each other to hide from the street lamps and each other and her.
But even she sticks to the shadows; being a predator will do that to oneself.
It is a grim reality; the only creatures that walk freely down the streets of Sunnydale in the middle of the night are ghosts. Everything else--
The grimmer reality is no amount of magic could give this night a soul.