The blonde girl stuffs the bag full with improvised weapons and then climbs out of the bedroom window, as quietly as she can. The window's meant to be locked, but that's not a problem for her.
She knows that there's a power inside her. A dark power. She's been told about it for so long now.
But maybe even if that power comes from something dark, she can use it to bring light into a world that's more than dark enough already.
She's not setting out to save the world. But perhaps Tara Maclay can save at least one person.
* * *
Tara's known she's a demon all her life, but it's only in the last year or so that her powers have begun to manifest. Earlier than she had been led to believe; she learned quickly to keep it secret from the rest of the family. She thought that Mom had known, before she died, but if she did then she never said anything.
It was only slowly that she put things together, from what wasn't mentioned on the reports on the news, from the gossip at school. The rumours about what had happened after that earthquake in California. The stories about Cleveland.
There were other things out there, like her but not like her. Things whose powers revolved around blood. And they're getting bolder and bolder.
She gets to the bus station before dawn. Nothing happens in the night. She tells herself she isn't disappointed.
The money she's carefully hoarded won't get her a Greyhound ticket all the way to California, but Ohio's much closer.
* * *
It's in the bus station in Cleveland that she sees her first vampire.
She doesn't realise it at first, just thinks it's a creepy guy hanging around, watching everyone getting off the buses.
She's hanging around, too, uncertain what her next step should be. The bus journey took most of the day, so it's nearly dark; she should be thinking about finding somewhere to stay, if only for the night, but she used nearly all her money getting here, and she has no idea what sort of job she could get, unless it turns out people pay for being saved from vampires, but somehow it doesn't feel like that's likely.
Eventually it dawns on her that maybe the creepy guy can't go outside, not until sundown. So she decides to wait, to see what happens.
Sure enough, as soon as it's twilight, he's heading out. Tara follows, through a maze of increasingly decrepit alleyways.
She should be frightened; this is his familiar territory, whereas she's in a brand new city.
But she's not; she's exhilarated.
Eventually, he turns into what seems to be a dead end between two abandoned warehouses. He opens the small side door of one of them confidently, like it's his front door. Maybe it is. Maybe, Tara belatedly realises, he's got friends in there. It's a big warehouse, there could be a whole nest-- Is "nest" the right word?
Focus, she tells herself. She starts preparing herself to run.
Then, something unexpected happens.
He comes out of the door, walking backwards.
"Looking for your friends?" The speaker is a girl who seems to Tara very similar to her; about the same height, blonde hair not quite so long. And a whole lot more confident about dealing with vampires, it seems. Her world seems to be expanding rapidly; if there are other people like her ...
"You can't have-- There were dozens of them."
The girl stretches her arms out in front of her, flexes her fingers. "That's what I call a good warm up."
The girl pounces but he wriggles away, scaling a container in a couple of bounds, moving supernaturally. The girl jumps up to follow him, even less like a regular human being. Tara watches as they grapple on top of the container, almost envious of the girl's strength and speed. Can she learn to do that sort of thing?
But then she realises the vampire has gained the upper hand, has pinned the girl down against the roof of the container.
Tara closes her eyes, reaches inside herself, connects with her power-- Then opens her eyes again, flinging her arms outwards.
The orb that appears isn't a miniature sun by any stretch of the imagination, but it's enough to throw the vampire off balance for a moment, and that's all the girl needs. She pushes back against him before sweeping his legs out from under him with a roundhouse kick even as she's standing up. Then she's pulled a stake from somewhere and, by the fading light of the disintegrating orb, Tara sees very clearly how he turns to nothing but dust in the wind.
The girl jumps down from the container, landing effortlessly. "Thanks for the assist, hot girl," she says.
"Er, no problem," she replies, trying hard not to concentrate too much on the 'hot girl' part. It was probably just a reference to the ersatz sunlight, she thinks.
"So, who are you?" the girl says. "What are you? I mean you can't be another vampire slayer; the 'One' part of the whole 'Chosen One' being so super-specific and all ..."
"I'm Tara," Tara says. "I-- Wait a minute, vampire slayer?"
"Buffy," the girl says, stretching out her hand to be shaken, before realising she's still holding the stake. She quickly slides it into the top of her pants and puts her hand out again.
"Buffy the vampire slayer," Tara says, taking her hand, tentatively at first, then more firmly. "So how do you feel about demons more generally?"
"Demons are a grey area," Buffy says. "Why?"
* * *
Buffy takes her on patrol, giving Tara a glimpse into all manner of things she had never even imagined. But she treats them as incidental, in some cases altogether boring; she seems much more interested in Tara. Tara isn't used to that sort of focused attention, doesn't know what to do with it.
Then Buffy takes her to a club. It's only half an hour after she mentally registers there don't seem to be any boys there that Tara cottons on to exactly what sort of club this is.
And then, she lets Buffy take her to bed. I don't do this sort of thing, she thinks as Buffy's pulling off her clothes. ("We'll have to get you something way more practical to wear.") But then, until yesterday, there were an awful lot of things she hadn't done.
"Are you sure you should be doing this?" Tara asks as she lies down. "I mean, with a demon?" She laughs nervously. "Aren't we mortal enemies or something?"
"You're not a demon," Buffy says, tracing a finger along the side of her naked body that raises goosebumps in its wake. "Believe me, I know from demons." Then, suddenly, wonderfully, she feels Buffy's warm mouth over her breast, her tongue flicking against a rapidly hardening nipple.
"But ... my powers," Tara says, wiggling underneath Buffy. She wants to have a serious conversation about this. She wants the other thing too, wants it very badly indeed. But she wants the serious conversation first. "Where do my powers come from, if I'm not a demon?"
Buffy props herself up on her elbows. "I dunno," she says. "Maybe you're a witch?"
"Is that a thing? Could I be a witch?"
"What, you're willing to believe in demons, vampires and vampire slayers, but witches are just make believe?" The challenge in Buffy's tone is playful, but definitely present.
"But, all my life--"
"From what you've told me," Buffy says, and she's the most sincere Tara has yet seen her, "your family were, not to put too fine a point on it, total assholes. So I'm not sure we should be getting into believing them as a lifestyle choice."
"OK," Tara says, but she can't get away from, "But, all my life--"
"All your life you've been lied to," Buffy says. "Look, I can find out more from my Watcher about witches--"
"Don't tell him about me," Tara says quickly. "I mean, not yet at least."
"Not ever," Buffy says. "Trust me. Slayers and relationships is a can of worms that he wants to stay firmly closed just as much as I do." She tilts her head to one side. "But I can be subtle!"
Tara gives her a look. They've known each other all of one night, but it's already clear that "subtle" is not in Buffy's play book.
"Well, OK, look, I can find out, let you know ..." She makes a face of extreme distaste. "Maybe I'll even read one of his books."
"I appreciate it," Tara says. "I mean, I'll read the books, if you can sneak them out--"
She's cut off by Buffy's barked laugh. "No chance of that." She puts her lips to Tara's breast again, this time kissing it, then says, "But that can wait until tomorrow, can't it?"
"Uh huh," Tara says.
They don't speak any more, at least not with words. Their language now is bodies: Buffy's tautness pressing into Tara's softer curves, skin against skin, fingers tangling in hair, lips, lips going everywhere ...
Tara doesn't even realise she's been floating until she lands back on the bed with a bump when she comes.
"Are you OK?" Buffy asks once they've both stopped laughing.
"I'm fine," Tara says, feeling the back of her head gingerly.
"You know, whatever that was, I'm pretty sure it's not a demon thing."
"Incredible, is what it was ..." Tara says.
"You've got that right," Buffy says. Just in that moment, she's grinning, a grin that almost seems to come from another girl, one whose life has just as much darkness as that which Tara's seen, but much more light too. Maybe it's a world they can find together, who knows?
"So these powers of yours, you mentioned they included super stamina?"
"They do," Buffy says.
"Think you can do that again?"