Let Me Help

Flash!

Music playing in the background. One of those pop songs heard everywhere for two months, then forgotten.

Two teens, kissing. A first kiss, shy and gentle.

The intensity grows. A little more aggressive now. Hands reach out and pull the other closer.

The boy falls to the ground, gasping for air. His skin has grown tight and crackled. His eyes do not focus.

Flash!

Confusion. Asking friends what’s wrong. Split in two. Called the wrong name. No, that is me. What’s going on?

Trying to get home. Seek haven in my room. Look in the mirror. Not my face there.

Run.

Flash!

“I saw it! It was like she sucked the life right out of him.”

“What kind of freak is she?”

“She’s not my daughter. I have no daughter.”

“Three weeks. In a coma for three weeks.”

“Must be some kind of monster.”

Demon, thief, succubus, vampire, life sucker. Echoes all around.

Breaking inside. Shards fall and no one cries.

Run.

***

“Hey, you, wake up!”

Hands shaking her. Marie jerked away before opening her eyes.

A brown haired girl stood by the couch, hands now on her hips as if to say, “Mind telling me what you’re doing in my living room?”. Marie guessed her age to be around fourteen, only three years younger than herself.

“Good morning! Who are you?”

Marie blinked away the sleep in her eyes. The nightmare had left her drained and not without a little mental turmoil. As she returned to full consciousness, Cody and his friends surged to the forefront. Wincing a little, Marie tried to sort them back into their proper places. As she went about her daily battle to control her own mind, she could’ve sworn the girl turned green.

Marie rubbed her eyes. The girl had gone back to being just a girl. With her vision back to normal, she felt up for answering the question.

“I’m Marie. Mrs. Summers let me stay here for the night. I’ll be leaving soon.”

“Oh.” The girl shrugged. “I’m Dawn. You want breakfast? I was about to get some.”

Marie perked up at the idea of food. The last time she had eaten had been far too long ago. She could have a nice full breakfast, wait long enough to thank her hostess, then be on her way.

She followed Dawn to what was presumably the kitchen. The younger girl chatted cheerfully all the way, displaying an energy that made Marie feel positively lethargic. Marie found it interesting that Dawn seemed to accept her presence unconditionally. Dawn acted as if having a stranger sleep in your house overnight was perfectly natural.

Marie guessed that she shouldn’t be so surprised. According to Buffy, the man who had brought her here was a vampire. And he was at the very least a family acquaintance, if not friend. She would bet what little money she had, all three dollars and fifty two cents, that said vampire had a serious crush on the older Summers girl. In retrospect, finding a stranger in your living room was nothing.

“So when did you get here last night?” Dawn asked, breaking her reverie.

Marie frowned. Actually, she wasn’t sure when, precisely. “Somewhere between eleven and twelve?” she hazarded. It could have been closer to one, for all she knew. Time was not something she bothered to keep track of.

Dawn considered this piece of information. “I must have been asleep by then,” she decided. Having established the point of arrival, Dawn focused on means. “Who brought you here? Or did you, like, just randomly knock on doors before getting in? ‘Cause that would be a really stupid thing to do. Asking for invites is so not cool.”

“He said his name was Spike – ”

“Spike!” Dawn squealed. Then paused. “Where would you even meet Spike?”

Shrug. “Willy’s, I think, was the name.”

“Cool.” Dawn breathed. “Buffy would never let me even near Willy’s.”

“I don’t blame her.” Marie grimaced, remembered the demon who had attacked her. “It’s an awful place.”

“Did Spike save you or something?” Dawn asked, as she poured two bowls of cereal.

“No. I guess you could say I got him into a fight.”

“Really? Why? Was there some sort of demon?” Dawn paused. “You do know about demons, right? ‘Cause if you were in Willy’s and you didn’t, that’d be really stupid.”

Shrug. “First I’ve heard them called demons, but yeah, I know about the night monsters.”

Dawn nodded. Abruptly changing tactics, she asked, “Where are you from?”

Marie decided it wouldn’t hurt to answer as she dug into the cereal. “Mississippi.”

“You came all the way from Mississippi to Sunnydale? Wow, that’s really far.”

Marie didn’t correct her. Actually, she had gone from Mississippi to Boston, from Boston to Chicago, from Chicago to Des Moines. It was in Des Moines that she had heard of Sunnydale, California. Believing it as good a destination as any, she had come here. Now she was starting to think it was a bad idea.

She had yet to be here for twenty four hours, but even then there seemed something odd about this town. She felt edgy and exposed, as if something was going to jump out and grab her.

It might be a good idea to start looking at ways to leave town. Maybe check out Seattle this time of year?

A horn honked outside.

“Nice to meet you, Marie,” Dawn said cheerily before bolting for the door. “That’s my ride, bye!”

Marie watched the ball of energy zoom off to school. She remembered what it was like to have that kind of faith in the world. Sighing, she finished her breakfast. You never knew when your next meal was.

After polishing off two bowls of cereal, Marie cleaned up the dishes. As she was putting the bowls in the dishwasher, Joyce made an appearance.

“How was your night, Marie?”

“Fine, thank you for the couch, Mrs. Summers.”

“Did you meet Dawn, then?”

“She left for school about ten minutes ago, ma’am.”

Joyce smiled. “Good to hear that. Have you had breakfast, then?”

“Dawn offered some – was that okay?”

“It definitely was okay. At least one of my daughters learned manners.”

There was an awkward pause. Marie wondered how to politely thank Joyce for the hospitality, then go on her way. Maybe just a short trip to L.A., make plans from there? Or San Francisco, she always wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

As if reading her mind, Joyce gently asked, “What are your plans, Marie? Are you going to stay here or keep moving?”

Marie looked away. “I’ll keep moving, I guess. Shouldn’t be hard to reach a bigger city, maybe Los Angeles. That’s only an hour or two away, right?”

Joyce wondered how to ask the next question. It went against every instinct she had as a mother to let the teenager go out that door to parts unknown. “You could stay here, Marie.”

“Thank you for the offer, Mrs. Summers, but – ”

“I’d like to help you, Marie.”

Marie looked down at the linoleum. How many times had someone offered to help her, seriously and unconditionally? Four? Five? And every time, the worst happened and she had to start running again.

Joyce switched tactics. “Buffy disappeared for a whole summer, once. She and I had a fight, said a lot of things that shouldn’t have been. I didn’t see her until that fall. Didn’t know where she was or if she was alive or dead. She was just gone for three months.”

Joyce let that sit there for a moment for Marie to think about. Those three months had easily been the worst in her life. Spending each day worrying about her daughter’s fate. Blaming herself for words spoken thoughtlessly. Even though three years had passed and her daughter was home safe, she still had nightmares.

Marie was lost in her own thoughts. Mrs. Summers seemed like a wonderful lady. And she was tempted to give in and accept the offer. To let herself relax and just be Marie, to let herself become a part of something again.

But that couldn’t be. Marie didn’t know what she was, but she doubted it could be something good. Whatever she was, it was dark and evil and hurtful. It ripped her into pieces while harming those who reached out to her. When she was attacked, the monsters’ thoughts would creep inside and taint her. When she dared accept help, she would eventually hurt them. And as soon as she did hurt them, they would slip inside to wail over their betrayal. Marie didn’t know which was worse; seeing the evil of others or feeling the evil she caused.

And how could she explain what happened, when she barely understood herself? Especially in a place like this, where other dark and evil things abounded. No. If she dared try and say what she dreaded, she would face the hate and fear that had driven her from her home in the first place.

Mumbling an apology and a thank you, Marie grabbed her bag and left. It was too tempting to stay.

Joyce watched her go, unable to react fast enough and stop her. Her daughter fought monsters and demons and horrific creatures of the night, but how did one fight whatever was haunting that poor girl?

***

Marie wandered the streets of Sunnydale, eating a rather unappetizing burger called the Doublemeat Medley. She doubted it qualified as real food, but it cost only ninety-nine cents and was something. She wondered why she had bothered; she had eaten a good breakfast that morning, before rudely skipping out on her host. The money would have been better saved to spend tomorrow.

Whatever. Marie made a face as she took another bite. She had spent the day trying to hitch a ride to at least the next town over, but hadn’t even gotten a car to slow down. Guess these people knew it was stupid to pick up hitchhikers. Her next plan was to jump on a train. The schedule said there was one leaving at ten tonight. By her reckoning, she had about three hours to kill.

After finishing the disgusting mass of processed whatever called food, she tossed the wrapper into a nearby trash can. Score!

At least she had kept Cody’s reflexes.

Marie continued to wander down the street, debating what to do next.

While she was considering what to do until the train came, something hit her from behind. It was big, it was heavy, and more importantly, it was invading her personal space. A hand grabbed her hair and pulled it aside, exposing her neck. Another hand tried to pull away the high collar that hid her neck. Marie jerked forward, seeking to escape whatever was holding her. Her captor growled in response.

Marie smashed her head backwards before throwing her weight forward. Upon striking the face of her attacker, something wet spurted and soaked into her hair. She must have bloodied his nose. Thankfully, her attacker dropped her after that.

Marie fell to the ground, knees jarring sharply against the pavement. Her gloved hands hit and the fabric tore a little at impact. Ow.

Wincing, Marie turned to face her assailant. It was a night monster, a vampire. The twisted and fanged visage leered at her, blood dripping from a broken nose. As she struggled to her feet, he stepped towards her, bloodlust in his eyes.

She turned to run, but tripped instead and fell again, the pain shooting through her ankle this time. This did not look good. Marie started to pull off a glove . She was NOT going to die like this.

Thankfully, she was saved from so drastic a tactic. Someone tapped the vampire on the shoulder. He spun to face this new threat, receiving a punch in the nose.

“If you get a bloody nose, you’re supposed to pinch it and tip your head backwards,” Buffy announced. The vampire rushed her, only to be sent spinning with a quick kick. “Or maybe you’re supposed to tip your head forwards. I can never remember.”

“Slayer!” the vampire hissed, circling her a bit more warily now that he recognized his attacker.

“That’s me.” Buffy struck him abruptly across the face before landing a punch in the gut. “And you’re dust.” As the vamp sought to recover from the blows, Buffy rammed a stake into his heart. Time seemed to freeze about him for a second. Then the vampire exploded into dust.

“Stupid fledge. Didn’t even deserve a clichéd half-assed quip.” Buffy turned to check out the would be meal. “You okay?”

Marie was debating whether or not to surprised Buffy had appeared out of nowhere, took on a vampire, and was apparently known as the Slayer. She decided to be mildly bemused. This at least explained why the Summers family knew a vampire.

“I’m fine,” Marie said as she slowly got to her feet, wincing as she put weight on her ankle.

Buffy blinked, finally recognizing the girl. “Marie?” Buffy had thought Marie had left town. That was what her mom had said.

“That’s me,” Marie answered, echoing Buffy’s earlier words.

“Need a hand?”

“I’m fine.”

Buffy moved forward, hands out to support the already wobbling Marie. “You sure?”

Marie pulled away, almost unbalancing herself. “Don’t touch me. I’m fine. ‘Sides, I thought you didn’t trust me.”

Buffy shrugged. “Sorry about that. Believe me, Mom gave me quite a lecture about how my ‘rude behavior’ might have driven you off. Besides, any baddie worth it’s salt would not have been touched by that sorry excuse of a vampire.”

“Thanks. I think.” Marie started to tentatively step in the direction of the train station. After about three feet, her ankle screamed in protest and decided to go on strike. Her knees buckled. Buffy quickly caught her.

“I don’t know where you think you’re going, but my mom is going to kill me if I don’t bring you home.”

“I’m fine,” Marie bit out for what seemed like the umpteenth time.

“Yeah. Fine. Your ankle is sprained and you have blood in your hair. I don’t want to know what your definition of bad is.”

Marie grimaced. She could cope with the ankle, but the idea of spending who knows how long with dried blood in her hair was too much. She acquiesced and allowed Buffy to guide her back to Revello Drive.

***

“Welcome back, Marie,” Joyce said, smiling as she saw Buffy help the younger girl into the house.

“You have blood in your hair,” Dawn offered helpfully from her seat on the couch. Joyce glared at her youngest. So much for manners.

Marie gave Mrs. Summers an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry I ran out like that, ma’am.”

Joyce waved it away. “I’m just happy to see you back here.” In a gentler tone of voice, she added, “We can help you, Marie, if you let us.” She entered hostess mode. “Buffy, help Marie upstairs to the shower. She’ll be wanting to wash up. Dawn, you look about Marie’s size. Go through your closet and get some clean clothes for Marie.”

An hour later, Marie made her way downstairs, hand tight on the rail. Her ankle was feeling better; it was probably only bruised and would be fine in a day or two. Her hair was the cleanest it had been in way too long. Her borrowed clothes were a decent fit. Thankfully, Dawn’s offerings included a long sleeved turtleneck, loose enough that her gloves didn’t make any uncomfortable wrinkles in the fabric.

Marie wondered if this time her luck would finally turn good. The Summers, even Buffy now, seemed willing to give her a hand and to help. Maybe this time she could stay, stop running long enough to pull herself together.

She paused on the last step. Voices were coming from the kitchen. The conversation drifted to her ears.

“Honey, we were fine without you here – ”

“ – Mom, you know I worry about stuff like that. I’m the Slayer, it’s my job, remember? Fight evil? Kill the bad things?”

Fight evil and kill the bad things. Marie smiled bitterly. She finally finds a place where she might be able to rest, and it is the home of the Slayer. Who apparently was supposed to kill bad and evil things.

And there was one thing that Marie knew. Whatever she might be, whatever power she held, it could only be a bad and evil thing.

A hope that had just begun to rise broke and fell, sharp pieces of glass biting inside. There could be no rest or peace for something like her.

The words from her dream (and past) came rushing to her mind’s ears. Monster, demon, thief, succubus, vampire, life sucker. And she knew it was all true.

“Marie, would you like some hot chocolate?” Joyce asked, coming out of the kitchen to check on her guest.

Marie forced a smile. “Yes, thank you, ma’am.”

There was no reason she couldn’t enjoy it while it lasted. When it stopped, well, there was always the road.

She could always run.

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