None of them are watching the sunset.
The people on this train remain huddled in their seats, peering down at books with illicit embraces on the cover, or at laptop computers with frivolous "news," or at small electric games they hold in their hands as they pretend to be warriors. One old woman is knitting a blanket, which is a useful activity. But I do not understand the others.
But then, this is their world, and they have seen sunsets many times. They are rich in skies and scenery and beautiful things. I do not envy them; such wealth can lead to poverty of the spirit. They fail to appreciate what they have.
I do not. My father taught me to be grateful for what we had. Now that I have so much more, I am more grateful. I have warm clothing that is clean and does not need mending. I have not felt long hours of hunger in more than a year. My shoes are well-made and do not let the water in when it rains. And I can watch the sun set in a peaceful sky. I should be content.
But I'm not. The others around me are trapped in their ways, and when I tell them they are not effective enough, they will not change, and I think they do it sometimes just to displease me. We spend too much time talking, and not enough time fighting. And Winifred is with Wesley, and maybe he will ask her to eat dinner or go see a movie, and then he will be her boyfriend, and she won't spend time with me anymore.
I remind myself that I am too young to court Winifred. My father always said that men should choose wives younger than themselves. So what would he think of me if he saw me coveting a woman ten years older? If the others knew, they would just laugh. So I should try to be glad that she has found someone who would suit her, someone who is at least a better man than Gunn. Wesley takes our mission seriously, and he doesn't get along well with Angel. That's why I like him.
Though I don't mind Angel as much anymore, I guess. He will never take my father's place, no matter how hard he tries. But the home I live in, the good clothing I wear, even the name I use in this world -- they are all things Angel has given me, and I know well how to be grateful. I have seen Angel destroy many evil creatures during the time I have lived and worked with him, and he does not kill humans, so I think it was the right choice to return.
Those aren't the only reasons I try to be less angry at Angel. I did wrong to him, and I don't like thinking about that.
I did not realize all at once that Justine was lying. It took time, more time than it should have taken a hunter. She told me what I wanted to believe, and this made me weak. I must remember that lesson.
But my father made me a hunter, and being a hunter means being able to think logically about the behavior of other creatures. My father's murder consumed me for weeks, and as I became able to control my emotions, I became a hunter once more.
I found my father outside. Why would he have gone outside? So long as he considered our lodgings a home (something he could do very quickly, at will, and I am not sure it was not magic), Angel could not have entered without permission. My father was safe indoors. Why go outside? It was a stupid thing to do, and my father was not a stupid man.
His body bore none of the marks of a great struggle - no broken fingers, no scratches, no torn clothing. My father was old and feeble, but he was a man of great ability, and I cannot believe he would have fallen to Angel without fighting.
When I beheaded my father's corpse to save him from becoming a vampire, I was shocked by all the blood that poured into the ground. At the time, I could think of little besides seeing my father's head severed from his body, by my hand. But later I realized that it was too much blood. If Angel had fed from him, my father would not have had so much blood left.
Justine drank too much; drunkenness is a shameful thing, especially in a woman, but it can work to a hunter's advantage. I waited until one night when she had had even more to drink than usual, and then I confronted her with my suspicions. She finally confessed the truth.
There, at least, I had justice.
I was relieved to learn that Angel was already free. I felt no guilt for my action, and I still do not. Angel's crimes deserve far greater punishment than that. But I did not wish to act unjustly. My father taught me right from wrong, as though they were separate lands, divided by great chasms. It is troubling to think that this might not be so. I do not like to think about being wrong.
I look away from the sunset to see Winifred standing there. She took her hair down, and now it falls loose, and she looks beautiful. She is delicate, timorous, like a dove. At least, what I think doves are supposed to be like. She smiles at me uneasily. "They've got the -- you know -- for Charles." Winifred, like the others, will not talk about spells in front of most people. "I was going to go be there when they -- you know." She grabs my arm. "Come on so we can talk about this."
"Where is Wesley?" I ask as we begin moving into another car.
"Wesley doesn't want to see Charles. He's still got a bug up his butt about it." I stare at her, and she laughs a little. "That's a euphemism."
Oh. Good. "But you want to see Charles."
"Well, yeah," she says as she smoothes her hair. "I'm not mad at him. Not anymore."
For my part, I'm mad at Gunn for many things. But I go along with Winifred and resolve to be polite when he is released. There was a time when I liked Gunn better than any of the others. Except Winifred, of course.
"Hey, you there."
I looked up to see Gunn standing in my doorway. I was sharpening my knives -- properly, by hand, with a leather strop. "Hey," I said, trying to use his terms. I worked on getting the vocabulary right as much as I could.
Gunn did not like the fact that I was sharpening knives, even though it was a useful thing to do. I think Gunn was always a little scared of me, or at least he didn't trust me. I liked that about him. It was smart. "You got a second?" he said, his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
I felt strange -- the others did not often come to my room, and then they did not come to visit. They told me that my dinner was ready, or that it was time for patrol. Sometimes Angel wanted to know when I would bring clothes down to be laundered; it took me a while to get used to how clean everyone tries to be here. But no social visits. I could not think of any reason to say no. "Yes," I said. "Sit down."
Gunn sat on the corner of my bed, and I continued my work. He did not insist that I look up at him while he spoke. "You know Buffy's been actin' a bit on the strange side lately."
I had learned already that it was smart to say as little of what I truly thought as possible. I told the truth, just not the entire truth. "She starts arguments," I said. "But she fights very well."
"Yeah, she's got that goin' for her, no doubt," Gunn sighed. "But that's not quite what I'm gettin' at." I did look up at him then, trying to understand. He was choosing his words very carefully. "If Buffy comes to you -- like, say, on patrol, or maybe even, uh, here in your room -- if she says or does somethin' that makes you uncomfortable, you can just tell her to get lost, right?"
"Buffy would not get lost in the hotel," I said. "She knows her way."
"'Get lost' means leave." Gunn stared at me for a moment longer and shook his head. "Hell, you're a teenager. You're surfin' a hormone tsunami. What am I sayin'? She's not gonna make you uncomfortable, is she? More likely to make you pretty damn comfortable, if you get my drift."
"Drift?" Did he mean sand? I put the knives down. "What is it called when you use a word to mean another word?"
"Huh? I guess you'd call that a euphemism."
Euphemism. I memorized the word then and there. "Right. Euphemism. I'm not good at those. Say what you mean."
Gunn smiled at that. I hadn't seen him smile much; he looked like a friendly person, which I'd never thought about before. "Okay, junior, you asked for it." He leaned back on the bed and looked skyward. "I think Buffy's kinda hacked -- I mean, not real happy that your dad and Cordelia are together."
When he said "your dad," he meant Angel. I stopped correcting them all about that fairly quickly, because I realized they would never learn. "Buffy was once Angel's concubine."
"You gotta stop usin' words like that. Anyway, she's been actin' out. Doin' stuff she wouldn't normally do. And I don't want you gettin' mixed up in it."
Gunn looked at me carefully, then leaned forward. "You gotta promise not to tell anybody about this. You gotta keep your mouth shut."
Keeping your mouth shut means not talking. I knew that one. "What happened?"
"Couple nights ago Buffy asked me to spar with her down in the workout room. Well, things were goin' along just like usual. Better than usual. We were laughin', jokin' around, having a high old time. Until all of a sudden she starts doin' this striptease. I mean, she started taking her clothes off."
It took me a moment to recall that nudity is considered improper in this dimension. People bathe in private, and if they are nude with another person, that means that -- oh. "She wanted to fornicate with you."
"You damn sure don't need euphemisms, do you? Yeah, that was the idea."
Gunn was Winifred's boyfriend. He owed her fidelity. I stared at him. "Did you know her carnally?"
"What? Oh. No. No, no, no," Gunn said. He seemed uneasy. "Buffy didn't want me; she wanted to get under Angel's skin, is all. That means she wanted to hurt him. She didn't say that's what she wanted, but that's what was goin' on. We, uh -- the way it ended up, we had a conversation that went up to eleven on the awkward dial, and she wound up gettin' dressed while I lit outta there. Nothin' happened, not really."
I should have noticed that Gunn did not mention Winifred as a reason not to fornicate with Buffy. "Do you think she would do something like that to me?" I would not have been surprised. Any woman so debased as to lie with vampires --
"I don't know," Gunn said. "Probably not. In three words, you are Statue Tory Rape." I knew what rape meant, but I thought it referred to something wicked men did to women. "But if she's really runnin' off the rails -- if she really wants to hurt Angel bad -- well, you'd be one way. And you don't want to get mixed up in that. I realize, at your age, you can't imagine that gettin' some booty couldn't be a good thing, but trust me on this. And booty don't mean 'treasure,' okay?"
"It means lying with a woman," I said. I had heard it in songs. "No, I wouldn't do that with Buffy."
"Good. Okay." Gunn studied me for a moment, then smiled again. "This is probably all for nothin'. Probably nothin' to it but temporary insanity. Buffy probably had a couple pina coladas, got a look at my fine-lookin' body and couldn't help herself."
At first I was surprised at his arrogance. Then I realized he was joking. They joked like this a lot. The right response would be to insult him in some way. "I think she could help herself if she got a look at you."
I must have done it right. Gunn grinned and laughed. "Oh, now the kid's gettin' a mouth on him," he said. "Time to look out."
"You motherfuckers think you can chain me up?" Gunn's face is like a battle mask, hard with rage, teeth bared. "We on a goddamned slave ship now?"
The Watchers watch him carefully; they are wondering whether or not to do the spell. I wonder too. Next to me, Winifred trembles, but she is silent. I wish it were proper for me to put an arm around her. But maybe that would only make Gunn angrier, and that would frighten her more, and I do not want her frightened.
"Mr. Gunn," said the Watcher named Ramsay, "Your former coworkers asked for this as a kindness to you. If you wish to reject their offer --"
"Kindness. Aw, hell, yeah, they know so damn much about kindness, don't they? They ain't got any kindness for Faith. You can tell every one of them -- you gettin' this, Fred? -- you can tell them --"
"Hey!" Faith's voice silences him. She steps into view; she is already healed from our battle, and I find myself wishing we could have fought longer. Faith is degenerate and wicked, but she is a worthy opponent. There are so few in this dimension. "I need you to do something for me."
She is speaking to Gunn, who looks at her. He is still shaking with rage. "What's that, baby? Anything. You name it."
Faith puts her hands on either side of his face. "I want you to go out there," she says, with a nod toward us and the rest of the train. "And I want you to get me a Milky Way."
Gunn stares at her for a moment, as do we all. "What?" he finally says.
"A Milky Way," Faith repeats. "Chocolate. Caramel. Nougat. I want one. Go get it." He stares at her a moment longer, and then he begins to laugh. To my surprise, I realize that Winifred is trying to hide her own smile. I don't understand what these people find funny. Why is Faith's trivial request funny to them?
Even stranger, it seems to calm Gunn down. "One Milky Way, comin' up. You want a soda to go with that?"
"I'm guessing the Tweed Patrol ain't gonna let you bring me a Long Island Iced Tea," she says. "So -- coffee."
"Black," Gunn says. Faith nods. They kiss briefly, and then Gunn steps toward the door and holds his hands out. "Cuff me," he says.
The Watcher called Vambrace reads a few words in a language I do not know, and Ramsay crushes a bundle of herbs in a bowl, then lights a candle and lets the wax drip into the bowl. A pale blue light twines around Gunn, and he shivers, and then it's gone. Vambrace says, "You won't be able to make any sudden moves, hostile or not; you'll want someone with you most of the time, lest you fall. You wouldn't be able to put your hands out to brace yourself. Technically, nothing's stopping you from attacking anyone -- but you won't be able to do so effectively, and even a fairly small child will be able to get the better of you."
"Deterrent effect in place," Gunn says. "Can we skip the damn lecture?"
"Are you sure the spell worked?" Winifred says.
"I imagine we shall find out as soon as the door's opened," Vambrace says. "And blow out that candle, will you, Ramsay? The last thing we need is this train stopped on the tracks for a fire alarm."
Gunn comes out, and he does not strike anyone, though he looks as though he might like to. But when he looks at Winifred, he smiles at little. She smiles back. They are both uncertain, and I realize that I am glad of it. Maybe Winifred is finally learning to be cautious.
But no. She gestures backwards. "Restaurant car is that way," she says. "Walk you to the snack bar?"
"Yeah, all right," he says. They turn to go, and I move to follow, but Winifred glances at me with annoyance. Annoyance, as anyone might feel toward a child. As I watch them walk away together, I remind myself that it is good to remember our proper relationship. But I still do not care for the feeling of being a child to her. I am not a child. I scuff the floor with the heel of my shoe.
The Watchers re-enchant the door to the cell car, and Faith goes off into her unseen corner. I imagine Wesley is in no mood for company, if he knows Winifred and Gunn are together. To my surprise, I find myself considering going to Angel and Cordelia's cabin. He will always trouble me -- his inability to know what is right and wrong, his opinions of me that he does not speak -- but he tries very hard to be kind to me. It is weak of me, but I like that. And Cordelia is funny. She makes me laugh, and Angel too; we get along better when it is all three of us.
But with Winifred spending time with Gunn, helping to buy candy for a murderess, I realize I do not want company. I want to be alone. And I want to be of use.
I walk to a place in the train where two sections join, and I go through the door. It is very cold outside, but the discomfort is bracing. It reminds me of childhood and of home. I climb the small steel ladder to the top of the train. Here, the wind is sharp, and it is a struggle to maintain my balance as the train rocks back and forth. I begin to grin. Now, this is a superior way to travel.
Am I of use here? In truth, probably not. But I am alone, and I am standing guard. Maybe it is unlikely that we would be attacked here, but I am very good at standing guard.
They always quit patrolling by two or three in the morning. The humans needed sleep, and Angel absurdly tried to match his diurnal rhythms to their own. I had been raised to rest in the day, when protection was more easily possible, and to hunt at night. So sometimes, when they returned to the hotel to eat their snacks and tell jokes about their mistakes on patrol -- as if this were something to joke about -- I would go up to my room, slip out the window and patrol some more.
Every now and then, Angel would follow me and join in. He said very little, just came to my side and fought with me. I did not mind his company then.
But the night I saw Buffy in the alleyway, I was alone. I have wondered what would have happened if I had not been.
Minutes after I left my room, as I was walking away, I sensed the presence of a vampire heading toward the Hyperion. Not Angel. Another. That was strange; the low and vile creatures of this city knew and feared us, and in my time there they had never dared arrive and attack us upon our own ground. This was brazen, and I did not care for it. I decided to see to the matter before the vampire had a chance even to go through the door. It might have startled Winifred.
I turned back around the corner and saw the vampire in the back alley. It was male, with hair that was both light and dark, and it wore a long dark coat. I took note of these things automatically, as a hunter should. I got my stake ready and prepared to run the hundred feet or so down the alley toward the vampire.
Buffy stepped into the alleyway. She stared at the vampire. It stared at her. I felt only disappointment: this would be Buffy's kill, and not my own.
Then the vampire said, "God, Buffy, I've missed you."
"Can't say the same," she replied. Her lips were thin and white. "Get lost, Spike."
It did not get lost. It smiled at her. "Everything's different now, love. I -- I did it for you. I changed for you."
I realized that they were lovers.
I felt the realization like physical shock, and I responded as my father had taught me: I ducked into the nearest hiding place (behind a dumpster) and tried to control my physical response. But it was hard to contain the revulsion I felt.
I knew that Cordelia lay with Angel. But she is part-demon, and Angel -- I did not and do not know what he is, but he is not wholly demon. And so their union always seemed appropriate to me. They were neither humans nor beasts, and so they were fit for no mates but each other. Anyway, I tried not to think about it. It seems strange and unnatural, to think about anyone who would call himself my father having such relations.
But Buffy was a Slayer. My father told me of Slayers when I grew up. He described them as holy women, maidens and warriors, with the purity of Mary and the fierceness of Deborah. Months in the company of Buffy and that hoyden Faith had taught me this was not so, but I had never dreamed of anything so debased as a Slayer giving herself carnally to a vampire.
When I was calm once more, my hands steady and my breath measured, I peered from behind the dumpster again. The vampire was kissing Buffy, and it took her some time to resist. A door opened at the corner of the hotel -- somebody else was watching -- but I never learned who.
Buffy told the vampire to leave, and for no reason I could imagine, it tried to threaten her with singing. She was not afraid, as well she might not have been of such a stupid threat. The vampire ran away from her, laughing, and it ran toward me. I remained still; motion would alert him to my presence more quickly.
As it got closer, though, it began running more slowly. Its laughter stopped. I heard it sniff the air. It was perhaps fifteen feet away. "Hey, you there," it said. Its accent was strange to me. "Not a good idea, camping about in alleyways. That's like puttin' yourself on the menu."
I stepped out from behind the dumpster. It shook its head. "You'd just be an appetizer, wouldn't you? Get yourself home, squirt." It laughed again. "Listen to me, with the warnings. Like a bloody flight attendant."
It was strange for a vampire to warn its prey. I did not care about its strangeness. "You will die, fiend," I said, as I got in battle stance.
It skittered back, but it was laughing still harder. "Oooooh, look at the big bad in Nikes. Are you Angel's latest hard-luck case?"
I did not expect that. "You know Angel?"
"'Course I know him," it said. "He was the Mr. Miyagi to my Karate Kid. Taught me a lot of what I know." It was grinning, and then it seemed to remember something unpleasant, and its face fell. "Oh, God, the things he taught me."
I stepped closer to it, and its head snapped up as we felt it at the same time. I could not describe the sensation -- it was like standing too near something very loud, or looking down over a great height. Disorientation and discomfort and confusion. But even though I'd never felt it before, I knew what the feeling meant. This vampire had something to do with me.
It was staring at me, taken aback by the same sensation. "You," it said. "You've something to do with Angel. With Darla, too."
"Darla?" That shocked me more. "You knew my mother?"
Its eyes went wide. "Your MOTHER? Bloody fucking hell!"
And all at once I could not think about the monster that had been my mother, or about Angel who is and is not my father, or about this thing that knew me without knowing me. I could not bear to be near it any more.
I plunged the stake into it as fast as I could. It was too surprised to react in time. It did not say anything as it turned to ashes.
The next day, when I began to try and tell this to Angel, he finally made it known to me that Buffy had been his lover. This explained much of the way Buffy and Angel behaved toward one another. I was only more disgusted by the revelation, though, and so I never did tell Angel about the other vampire, or what happened after. It's just as well. If I had wanted an explanation, I would not have killed it.
"What are you doing up there?"
I look down to see Winifred standing between the cars. She is wrapped in a thick coat with a knit hat pulled down over her ears, and in one hand, she has my jacket. Winifred was worried that I was cold, and this pleases me enough to climb down. We stand between the cars together as I put the jacket on. "Are you trying to freeze to death?" she shouts, forgetting that my hearing is better than hers.
"No," I shout back. "I just wanted to be by myself. How did you find me?"
"You're louder than you think up there," she says. "Thumping around on the roof like my daddy playing Santa Claus."
I misjudged the thickness of the roof. Embarrassing -- the kind of mistake I should be past making. Quickly, I ask, "Where is Gunn?"
"Went back to Faith," she says. She doesn't seem unhappy about it, and she doesn't mention that I was loud again. I am relieved.
I expect Winifred to pull me back inside, but instead she goes to the edge of the car. We stand there together, braced by the railing. Her face is framed by the deep blue of the heavens, and speckles of ice glitter in her hair. She would laugh if I kissed her. I still wish I could kiss her. Snow has begun to fall from a few clouds in the sky, but there is a patch in the distance that shows stars. Winifred points toward it. "See that?" she says. "That's Andromeda."
"Andromeda?" I do not know this word, or why she would be pointing at the sky. So for the next several minutes, I stand and listen to her as she tells me the legends of the people she sees in the stars. Winifred is always patient with the things I don't know. She remembers what it's like to be different in the world, not to know all the rules. I don't have to explain things to her; Winifred just understands, without words.
As she gestures at the heavens, she tells me about the princess chained to the rocks, and the horse that could fly. And she teaches me the name of Orion, who was a hunter, like me.