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Let's see, Buffy Summers thought. Where would I rather be? Here in the dark, standing by a dirty and disgusting headstone -- cracked on one side and covered with mold and something else I don't even want to identify, or --
A branch snapped behind her.
She did a neat, tight spin, ready to fight, with the fingers of one hand curled comfortably around a wooden stake, but there was no one there. Buffy scowled, yet didn't drop her guard. It might be a bird or a raccoon, even someone's pet cat; what it would definitely be the instant she slipped up was some ugly bloodsucker trying to make her into a midnight snack. There was something out there -- she just knew it. It would be so much nicer if they'd just get it over with so she could go home. It was Sunday night, for crying out loud. All good people, children, and monsters, should be put away for the Sabbath...or something like that.
She heard another snap, not quite muffled by a line of waist-high bushes separating two sections of the cemetery. Friend or foe?
Instinct made Buffy leap to the left. She twisted in midair and when she landed she was already facing the thing that had just pounced on the spot where she'd been standing only a split second before. It was a girl, no more than seven or eight years old and done up for a proper burial in a white lace dress adorned with ribbons and tiny, pink satin roses. Red hair divided into what should have been perfect braids, except now they, and the rest of her burial outfit, were full of dirt, leaves, and bits of sod. Damn -- the grown-up ones were bad enough, but Buffy hated it when the night's vamp turned out to be achild.
"Okay," Buffy said in a reasonable tone of voice. Did vampire kidlets listen any better than real ones? "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Your choice."
The little girl grinned at her, showing pointed white fangs beneath the classic twisted brow and glinting, yellow eyes. She took a step forward and Buffy tensed --
-- then yelped in surprise as someone else grabbed her shoulders from behind.
Fetid breath stung her nostrils -- she hated that -- and a second, older vampire tried to fasten its mouth on the right side of her neck. She scrunched up her shoulder and slammed her head sideways simultaneously; the creature howled and let go of her as it took the hit along its eyebrow. It stumbled back at the same time as the childish bloodsucker darted forward and tried to spring at her, but Buffy swatted the girl away as though she were nothing more than an annoying mosquito. The adult vamp growled and lunged, but Buffy slipped sideways under its outstretched arms and came up behind it, burying her stake deep into the center of its back. Her weapon found the heart-point inside the creature's body and rewarded her with a midair explosion of black-brown dust.
Great, Buffy thought. One down, one-half to g --
"Hey!" she said in surprise. "Where'd you go?"
A quick scan and she saw the little girl crouching behind one of the larger tombstones about twenty feet away -- even full of graveyard dirt, it was hard to camouflage that white dress in a cemetery near midnight. Buffy covered the distance in a heartbeat and hauled the snarling vampire-child out into the open, trying to get the little monster into a position where she could be staked. It was like fighting with a wildcat, the girl's size and flexibility making her movements a lot more energetic than Buffy expected, but finally the Slayer managed to straddle her. Holding the vamp-kid down with her left hand, Buffy raised the stake in her right.
"Time to go to sleep," she said as gently as she could.
"I don't want to!" the girl wailed. "The boogey-monster is down there!"
Buffy started to retort that the girl was the boogey-monster, then decided against it. Bad enough the child was going to die for the second time. The girl bucked and nearly threw her off as she clawed at the ground and tried to sit up. "Be still and let's just get this over with!" Buffy grunted.
"No!" the vamp screamed in a high-pitched voice. "I want to stay awake!"
Her voice cut off as Buffy slammed her down yet again. Enough of this. The stake was on its downward swing as she heard the small vampire's next words, and Buffy couldn't have pulled her strike if she'd tried.
"You'll see!" the child shrieked. "It's just about to wake up --"
Buffy's backside hit hard-packed soil as the mini-bloodsucker disintegrated beneath her. The air went out of her with a little whuff sound and she blinked and frowned at the breeze-blown pile of nothingness that a second before might have been telling her something she needed to know. "What's going to wake up?" she demanded uselessly. Like dust particles could speak.
She stood and brushed herself off, automatically checking the shadows surrounding her. She brought the stake up defensively when one shadow amid the trees at the end of the walkway disengaged itself from the rest, then relaxed as Angel, his skin as pale as the moon, strode silently over to stand in front of her. Dark clothes, dark hair, dark eyes...he looked handsome enough to make her heart ache.
"Better late than never?" she said a little sourly. She hoped she didn't have vamp dust in her hair.
His calm expression didn't change. "You were holding your own."
They stared at each other for a few seconds, then Buffy forced herself to look away from him. She needed to think about something else -- anything else -- besides how badly she wanted to be in his arms, so she grabbed for the most recent thing floating inside her brain. "Did you hear what that vamp kid said?" she asked. "Right before I skewered her? Something about a boogey-monster waking up."
Angel shrugged. "She was a kid. She could've been talking about anything."
But there was a catch in his tone that made Buffy look at him hard. "What?" she demanded. "You're not telling me something."
"Only because I don't know," he said as they began following the path that led out of the cemetery. "I've heard a few whispers, but nothing specific."
"Whispers about what?"
"That's the thing," Angel told her. "For all I know it could be a new prophecy or some weird way the planets are aligning this week. Nobody will say. But there's a kind of general...anxiety going around, like something big is coming."
Buffy thought about this for a few moments as she walked next to him. "Like something big is coming," she repeated softly. "Or..." She looked back to where the vampire child was now nothing more than a memory blown apart by the night wind.
"Or something's waking up...."
© 2000 by Twentieth Centure Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.