"There's no vacancy in paradise
It's a cold day in a cruel world
I really wished I could have saved you
Then who would have saved me from myself
Right now, well, I could use a stiff drink
To kill the pain that's deep inside my bones"
   -- Dashboard Prophets, 'Ballad For Dead Friends'

Ya know, there are just some days when you shoulda stayed in bed.

'Course, if I'd figured that little gem of wisdom out about sixty years ago, I'd be dead right now. Kinda makes you wonder, huh?

They call me Sid. People have added a lot of other names to that over the years, most of 'em either unprintable or embarrassing, but just Sid is usually enough. Come on, how many walking, talking dummies are there in the world? I'll tell ya -- one. Me. It's a big responsibility bein' one of a kind -- and brother, would I like to give up the job!

Somewhere out there, there's a demon laughing his scaley green ass off. And I'm gonna hand it to him.

I'm gettin' close, now -- there's only one left of the seven that cursed me. I tracked the rest of 'em down, one by one. Found one in a corner of Little Tokyo in San Francisco, pretendin' t' be a sushi chef. Turned out he was havin' the customers for dinner, not the other way around. I fried him on his own table.

Then there was the one in London, doin' tours through that big Tower they got there. I left what was left of him locked up with the Crown Jewels; they'll find him in about seventy, eighty years. It'll give 'em somethin' t' think about.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Six down, one to go. And I know right where she is....

See, I got kinda this sixth sense; got into a fight one night, woke up the next morning with a wooden body and the brand-new shiny ability to track demons without even thinkin' about it. Just goes to prove the universe has a really sick sense o' humor. But it sure comes in handy, these days -- ain't no way I woulda gotten this far without that little voice in the back of my head, tellin' me where to go and what to do once I get there.

That voice perked up like a three-day drunk on his first cup of java, the second the kid walked into the antique store. I'd been hangin' out there ever since I killed the last owner -- trust me, you don't want to know what she was doin' with that old potbellied stove -- just waitin' for the next sign to come up and hit me over the head. I'd been waitin' for three years that time around -- longer than some, not nearly as long as others.

'Course, it looked at first like it was the kid got knocked over the head. He was rubbing his forehead, looking like he was gonna pass out in the middle of the store. I probably should've left him alone -- I would've, given the choice, but the kid's parents didn't look like they were buyin', and I had to get to this kid before they left the store. There was only one left, and the kid was my ticket to taking him down, I just *knew* it.

So, when he staggered into the shelves, I took my cue -- and took a dive, fallin' in a *real* undignified heap on the floor at the kid's feet. But what the hell, dignity ain't all it's cracked up t' be; I figured that out the third or fourth time some sap shoved his hand up the back of my shirt and made me tell elephant jokes.

The kid jumped about ten feet, lookin' around like he was waitin' for someone t' come yell at him. I coulda told him no one was gonna care; his parents were lookin' at Depression glass way up front and the guy who'd taken over for the demon formerly known as the owner was snoozin' in back, in a condition known in polite and police company as 'under the influence'.

Figurin' that either no one had heard or no one cared, I guess, the kid bent over and picked me up. I stayed limp and still, like the dummy I was supposed to be, and let him check me over. Nothin' was broken -- I'm made better than that, and I can prove it to any interested parties, preferably female -- so he dusted me off and started t' put me back on the shelf. And that's when I focused my eyes and nailed him with Believe It Or Not Look Number Three.

"Ain't you even gonna apologize?" I demanded.

The kid's eyes went wide and shocked; for for a second there, I was afraid I'd gone too heavy on the look. Number Two probably would've done it. Yeah, I shoulda gone with Number Two. But it was too late t' change it. The kid's mouth worked a few times, like he was tryin' to force out a scream that just wasn't happenin'. That was somethin' else I couldn't let him do.

Before he could get his voice box unfroze, I straightened my jacket, movin' nice and easy, and kept talkin', nice and normal. Well, as normal as I get. Which ain't very, but hey, ya do the best ya can, ya know?

"I mean, you go staggerin' around a store full a breakables, you drop a guy on his head, and you can't even manage t' say "Sorry"? Where'd you learn manners, kid? A zoo?" I wished I'd had a cigar, so I could've blown a puff of smoke in his face after that last line, but smokin' when you're made outta wood is right down there with vampires playin' with pointy sticks on the Stupidity Scale. Somethin' else I owed those scaley sonsawitches for.

"I... uh... I...." The kid was stutterin' too bad t' be coherent, his eyes still wide open. I decided to cut him some slack.

"Relax, kid," I told him with a sigh. "You ain't crazy, I ain't possessed, and this ain't a fairy tale. I need some help, and you're just the guy to give it to me."

He blinked down at me, still in shock, but finally managed to string a couple words together. "Who.. What are you?"

I winked up at him and smiled real wide. For some weird reason, he didn't look too reassured. "Now *there* is the $64,000 question, kid. Tell you what, I'll tell you the whole story, you just gotta do one thing for me."


"Get me the hell *outta* this dump!"

Worked like a charm. The kid went to the front of the store, managed to tell his folks he'd discovered a new interest in vaudeville, and we walked outta the store pretty as you please. Bet the schmuck in back *still* asn't noticed I'm gone.

"So, you're a dummy?" Morgan Shay said slowly, after I spent half-an-hour explainin' everything to him. He'd had to eat dinner with his folks, who were the fussing types, and was now sitting crosslegged in the middle of his bed, rubbing his forehead as if thinkin' was an effort.

Now, I've got a kinda soft heart for kids, don't get me wrong, but I didn't have time to deal with Migraine Boy. "Wake up and pay attention t' what I'm tellin' you, kid," I told him. "You need t' come up with some way t' get me inta your school. The demon's there, I can *smell* it!" Well, I could smell it if I could still smell, but you get the idea.

Morgan rubbed his forehead some more, trying to think. It didn't come easy to him, I can tell ya that much. "Well... there's not many excuses to bring a dummy to school... Um, is that a bad thing to call you?" he asked, lookin' worried.

I shrugged it off. Like I said, been called lots worse. "It's fine, kid. No use pretendin' t' be somethin' I'm not. Quit worryin' about what t' call me and *think*"

"I'm trying." He rubbed harder at his head. "So you're a dummy, and there's a demon, and you think it's someone at my school?"

"That's my guess," I agreed impatiently.

"Wow." He gulped. "It- it could be anyone, then? And they kill people?"

"Yes, kid," I said through my teeth. "They kill people and it could be anyone. So you gotta tell me if you've seen anything strange, or if you know anyone who likes t' use knives, that kinda thing. And you've gotta figure a way t' get me *inta* your school!"

"Wow." He blinked some more and I sighed in frustration, then slid off the chair to the floor and started wanderin' around the room. I think better when I'm movin' around. You'd think it'd be impossible for a dummy t' get stir-crazy, but no, nothin's ever blinkin' easy.

The kid's room was pretty typical -- couple of posters, couple of trophies, a stack o' schoolbooks taller than me. Some pretty heavy duty readin', too -- chem, physics, the kind o' stuff they were barely startin' t' know existed back when I was walkin' around in my body. So the kid wasn't stupid, all looks aside.

I turned t' look at him and he hadn't moved, was still just sittin' there holdin' his head. "You okay, kid? What's the problem?" I demanded, gesturin' at the books. "These ain't been real hard questions for a genius-type like you."

Morgan shook his head, and sorta staggered to his feet. "I'm fine, Sid, I'm fine, I just... I just need my pills."

He made it to the bathroom with me taggin' along behind, in case he fell or somethin' -- not that I could catch him, but it's the thought that counts, ain't it? It took him a second t' fumble some pills outta a prescription bottle -- at least he probably wasn't a junkie, or nothin' -- but he finally got two of 'em down, then leaned on the edge of the sink, hangin' his head.

"You okay, kid?" I asked again, startin' t' get a little worried. Probably just a headache or somethin', but I didn't need a partner that was always doped or fallin' all over his feet. And, yeah, okay, he seemed like a good kid.

"I'm.... I'm sick," he finally told me; took him a second t' get the words out, like he wasn't used t' sayin' 'em. "I have... I have cancer."

Aw hell. The big C. In his head, probably, which was why it was always hurtin'. Poor kid. And he *was* a kid, only sixteen; that ranks up there with bein' turned inta a wooden dummy on the Unfairness Scale o' Life.

But I couldn't do anything about it, and there were some other kids goin' t' die if I didn't get into gear.

"I'm sorry, kid," I told him, gently as I could, standin' with my head about level t' his knee. He looked down at me like he was surprised, which was kinda annoyin'. I can be a sensitive, New Age kinda guy when I want. "It's a tough break and it doesn't look like ya deserve it. But I need ya t' help me with this, if ya can. If not, no sweat, I can find someone else" -- *Maybe* -- "but I think you're the guy for the job. Can ya do it?"

He looked down at me, then took a deep breath and stood up straight, wincin' at the pain, but gettin' past it. My respect for the kid's guts went up another couple notches. "I can do it," he said.

"Good." I slapped him on the back of the leg, since it was the closest I could get t' his back, and started pacing around the bathroom, my feet clickin' on the tile and makin' weird echoes. "So, how do we get me inta that school o' yours?"

He thought, and it looked like it was actually doin' some good this time. "Well.... I guess.... No, that's stupid."

I did *not* go for kid's throat. But I thought about it for a second, don't think I didn't. Took me a second t' figure out how t' get high enough, though, and the urge went away before I got it all worked out. I settled for tellin' him, "You let me decide if it's stupid, huh, kid? What's the idea?"

He looked real unhappy about the whole thing, but took a deep breath and said, "Well, there's a talent show...."

Which is how I wound up sittin' backstage at Sunnydale High School, tryin' t' keep from bein' hit with juggling balls, keepin' a close eye on a good-movin' dancer, and listenin' t' a dame whose only claim t' fame was an A-1 bod and a singin' voice that could break glass, screech out somethin' vaguely resemblin' a song. Ya know the other problem with bein' a dummy? It's real hard t' cover your ears without somebody noticin'.

Luckily, the guy runnin' this dog and pony show had some musical taste too; he cut Miss Tone Deaf off mid-note. "Thank you, Cordelia. That's going to be lovely," he told her from the audience, and I was *not* imaginin' the desperation in his snobby Brit voice.

Miss Tone Deaf blinked in shock. "But I didn't do the part with the sparklers!"

I rolled my eyes and groaned quietly. Three people standin' nearby laughed, thinkin' Morgan was doin' his 'act'. Morgan jumped at the laughs, his eyes dartin' around like he was expectin' an attack. He was on edge in the worst way, lookin' for a demon t' go for him any second, and the painkillers weren't helpin'.

"We'll, um, save that for the dress rehearsal," the guy in the audience promised Tone Deaf Girl, startin' t' sound panicked. I didn't blame him; I've never killed a human before, but if that girl started singin' again, I was gonna make an exception. And there ain't a jury in the world would convict me.

The girl huffed her way off stage and another one playin' a tuba took over -- not that much of an improvement. Shame, though; Miss Tone Deaf looked even better goin' than comin', if ya know what I mean. I enjoyed the view until Morgan asked for the hundredth time, "Are you sure we should be doing this, Sid? Are you sure it's safe?"

It took some willpower, but I pulled my eyes off the girl and glared up at my bumblin' sidekick. "Yeah, I'm sure, same as I was sure the last three times you asked! And no, it ain't safe, but we gotta do it anyway!" He flinched and I felt guilty, which was becomin' a trend. I tried t' get my voice lower, which ain't easy. "Look, kid, all you gotta do is go out there and deliver the lines like I taught 'em to ya. I'll take care of the rest. Just go along with the gag."

He looked nervous, scared, and a little sick, but nodded, sticking his chin up. "Okay, Sid. I can do it."

"You bet you can." I wished I could pat the kid on the back; he was really comin' through. But then the tuba act ended and we were on.

Here we go again. But maybe this would be the last time. I sure as hell hoped so.

Morgan got us both settled onstage in our little matchin' outfits, him in the chair, me sittin' on his knee like a six-year-old with Santa. How humiliatin' is that? But with a, "Hi. I'm Morgan....And I'm Sid!" he went into the old routine just like we practiced, while I took my first look around.

It was a school. Yeah, definitely a school. Lousy seats, cheap lighting, and an adult supposedly in charge, a tweedy-lookin' guy surrounded by a buncha kids. About as typical as they come....

Except that one of those kids was settin' off my demon detector, big time.

Before I could figure out which one, Morgan started movin' my head around. I had t' go with it, or blow everything, but I reminded myself t' tell the kid to knock that off. If I wanted to move, I'd move! "Hey Morgan, would you like to tell some jokes?" he asked himself. Good thing he wasn't really a ventriloquist; this was the most pathetic thing I'd ever heard, and believe you me, I've sat on the knees of the *worst*.

"Would I!" he answered, then shot back to himself, "As a matter of fact, it is! It's also a wood nose, and a wood mouth!"

The only thing phonier than his voice was his laugh -- I knew it, the other kids knew it, Mr. Tweed knew it. But the kid was tryin', I had t' give him credit for that.

"I didn't sleep at all last night," he continued, tryin' t' keep the routine goin', but I had had enough.

"All right, time out," I broke in -- earlier than we'd rehearsed, but I couldn't take it anymore. "Let's stop this before someone gets hurt. Kid, you are the worst," I told him, twisting my head t' look him in the eyes. "Even *I* can see your lips move."

"C'mon, Sid. You're spoiling my act. I worked on these jokes for weeks." Morgan looked hurt -- I mighta been a little *too* sincere -- but the people around us started giggling, so I kept goin'.

"You call those jokes? My jockey shorts are made out of better material." I waggled my eyebrows at a cute brunette standin' by the stage. "And they're edible!" Hey, *some* good things hadda come out of the eighties!

There was more laughter, and Morgan started loosening up, gettin' back into it and havin' some fun. I did my part, but most o' my attention was on the three kids who were sittin' with Mr. Tweed. A dopey lookin' boy, a cute little redhead -- and a *really* hot blonde that set off every single bit of my handy-dandy demon findin' radar.

Now *that* was interestin'.

I spent the next excitin', fun-filled day sittin' in Morgan's locker at school, listenin' t' the kids bang and crash around me. Morgan came t' check on me between classes, but we couldn't exactly have a conversation. So I got t' spend way too much time sittin' there in my case, thinkin'.

Fifty years I'd been doin' this, chasin' down demons. Even pre-dummy, when I was just a young, stupid kid, I'd been runnin' around sewers and alleys and haunted houses, lookin' for anything that went bump in the night. When I think that I coulda just been a cop like my old man, just one more flatfoot -- but no, chasin' down mortal bad guys was too boring for Marty Goldblum's baby boy. I hadda go chasin' demons, just because one came after me in a dark alley when I was twelve and killed my buddy.

When the uniforms found his body three days later, they couldn't find his heart.

There was no goin' back after that. Truth be known, after I while, I didn't want to. It's a rush, fightin' things most other people don't even want t' believe exist -- gives ya a real sense of purpose. Then, one day, I got cocky and went after the seven, and I've been payin' for it ever since.

The door opened for the sixth or seventh time, and light leaked in around the case. "Sid?" Morgan whispered, liftin' the case out pretty careful. "You awake?"

"No, I'm asleep dreamin' about Heather Locklear," I snarled back through the wood. So, I was in a bad mood. It happens.

Morgan didn't pay any attention; he was already learnin'. Smart kid. "The dress rehearsal is in ten minutes; if we get there early, you can look around some more while everyone's coming in."

"Good plan, kid," I told him. "Let's get movin'."

Pretty much same gang of kids was roamin' around the auditorium when Morgan pulled me out, right down t' the loser practicing magic on stage. I was tempted t' pull him aside and tell him a little about *real* magic, but the demon was there. I could feel it chasin' down my spine; I could practically breathe it in the air. And there was the blonde girl I'd spotted before, right next t' the stage.

I signaled Morgan and he looked rebellious, but settled both of us near the little group. The hot-lookin' blonde was with the same two kids as yesterday, the boy and the little redhead, who was a *real* fx up close. Too young, but there's no laws against lookin', are there? If the blonde *was* my demon, were they accomplices, or her next targets? Either way, it could get pretty messy. Almost as messy as that magician.

Only one way t' find out what was goin' on; lucky for me, I've never been the shy type. I wolf whistled at the redhead. "Mm, mm, mm. Look at the goodies!" Okay, so subtle ain't my strong point, either.

The redhead didn't seem to mind -- she smiled, real sweet, and came over. "Morgan, you're really getting good! Where did you come up with that voice?"

Morgan fumbled, grinning sappily up at her, then came up with, "It's kind of an imitation of my dad." Oh, great, thanks, kid. I've *seen* your dad.

"Sounds real," the blonde commented.

I couldn't help it. "It is real," I shot back at her. "I'm the one with the talent here. The kid's dead weight." Morgan didn't react this time, except t' blush some. Kid was shyer than Elvis at a supermarket. I concentrated on the redhead, not wantin' t' draw the blonde's attention more than I had to. Not until I was sure. "How about you and I do a little rehearsin' on our own, honey?" I suggested.

The redhead blushed, same as Morgan, but looked better doin' it. The boy with her looked startled, though, sendin' me a warnin', "Hey!"

I ignored him, natch. "You know what they say," I told the redhead, in a great impersonation of my Uncle Jerry the Jerk, "once you go wood, nothin's as good!"

The blonde looked disgusted and if it was an act, it was a good one. Trust, I've seen that expression lots of times. "Okay, Morgan. We get the joke. Horny dummy, ha, ha, it's very funny, but you might wanna consider getting some new schtick." She leaned forward, her eyes gettin' narrow and cold as ice. "Unless you want your prop ending up as a Duraflame log."

Morgan looked cowed, and I narrowed my eyes in return. There was menace behind the joke, and the strength to back it up, and my case against her got stronger. This twinkie-looking blonde was dangerous as hell.

I didn't know how dangerous until about half an hour later -- when the screamin' started.

It was the dancer. The pretty little girl who'd moved so good. Her name had been Emily, Morgan told me that night, chokin' on sobs.

It'd been a long time since I cried, even if I could. I was mostly just mad as hell.

And guilty as sin. Another kid dead, under my nose. Another kill for the demon. Worse, the evenin' news said it'd taken that little girl's heart, which put it one step closer t' winnin' his little game for the next seven years. I was not gonna let that happen, not again.

"We gotta find this bastard," I told Morgan, pacin' around his room for about the five hundred and twenty-seventh time. I was gonna start wearin' a track pretty soon. "We gotta find it and stop it, before this gets any further. This thing is goin' *down*"

Morgan was huddled on his bed, tears still runnin' down his face, rubbin' his forehead like usual. "Hey!" I told him real sharp, and he looked up. "You taken' your meds yet?"

He nodded without thinkin' about it. "I took them, Sid. They'll take a while to kick in is all. I can't believe Emily's dead."

"I can," I said grimly. "And I got me an idea who did it. You need t' do some askin' around tomorrow, find out all you can about that blonde girl, the one hangin' with the readhead."

Morgan blinked at me like a goldfish in a Vegas spotlight. "Y-you mean Buffy Summers?" he stuttered. "Willow's friend?"

"Willow. That the redhead?" The name suited her. "Yeah, her. You find out what you can, and take me t' school again tomorrow. Maybe I can break outta your locker and do some diggin' of my own."

Easier said than done. You ever try t' unlock a high school locker from inside? Can't be done; I know, I spent four really long hours tryin'. At least it killed the time, kept me from thinkin' about Emily, and all the other girls and men and women I'd let down over the years. If I'd been faster sixty-three years ago, smarter, better....

But there's no good tourist traps when you're sightseein' down Memory Lane -- I got places I'd rather be goin', and Morgan's locker wasn't one of 'em. I was real glad when that lunch bell rang and he came t' get me.

He wasn't lookin' good, though, shaky and kinda sick, on the edge. "Get us someplace private," I muttered to him as soon as I got a good look.

"Okay," he nodded. "Where?"

"How'm I supposed t' know, this is your turf, kid!" He blinked and looked surprised; I gave it up. "The auditorium. You can pretend t' be rehearsin'. Go!"

He went, and didn't walk inta any walls on the way. Surprise, surprise. I sat on the urge t' make comments and waiting until we were on the deserted stage, t' make it look good in case we got any unexpected visitors. "So, what's the word?"

"N-not much," the kid answered. He was lookin' a little less rocky, a little more with it. He put me down on the stool but stayed on his feet, walking slowly around the stage. Guess he thought better when he was movin', too. I shifted around t' keep an eye on him, shakin' my head when he jumped at a shadow. "No one knows much of anything, just that they found a knife and... found Emily."

"A knife. Figures." I nodded knowingly. Probably a pretty big one, too; these clowns always did have a bad case o' claw envy. One o' the prices they paid for being able t' walk as human was missin' out on some o' the finer things in demon life. They got the scales and bad attitude, but they couldn't grow handy sharp things t' play with.

"Right now you and me gotta be on the lookout," I told him. "Figure out who's gonna be next."

Mrgan came stalkin' back out on stage at that, lookin' steadier by the second. "How are *we *supposed to...." He stopped suddenly and looked past me, and I fought the urge 't turn around and see what was up. "Oh, hi," he greeted someone.

"Hello." I knew that voice. The blonde girl, Buffy. I could just see her out of the corner o' my eye; she was standin' at the stairs at the bottom of the stage, dressed in black leather that she probably thought made her look taller, like anything was gonna do that. I sure wasn't gonna object t' the short skirt, though.

If I hadn't been concentratin' so hard on Morgan, I woulda heard her come in, or sensed it. Funny, though; the 'I'm a demon' sign she'd been hangin' out wasn't so strong right now. Maybe she had some kinda control over it? It'd be a first, but....

Morgan, meanwhile, was workin' damage control; the kid learned fast. "I was just working on throwing my voice," he said nervously, crossing the stage over t' me, like I could protect him or somethin'. Or maybe he was tryin' t' protect me. Whichever.

"Morgan, did you notice anything weird going on around here yesterday?" Buffy the blonde was askin'. Seein' if he'd noticed anything about the murder, maybe? Or tryin' t' get him t' trip about me?

He got his hand under my jacket and up my back, pickin' me up so he was carryin' me with him as he walked t' the edge o' the stage. "Weird? What do you mean?" He got points for tryin' t' sound casual, and doin' a pretty good job of it.

"With Emily," Blondie persisted. "Did she say anything to you, was she arguing with anyone?"

"No. She was dancing, Sid and I were talking...."

I almost growled at him; the blonde caught the slip, too. "Talking?"

He covered smooth, but I could feel his hands startin' t' shake. "Rehearsing."

The shaking go worse, but Blondie persisted. "So, you didn't notice anything weird...."

Morgan couldn't take it; either he'd missed pills again, or the stress was startin' t' do damage. He sank into a seat with a low moan, collapsin' forward almost on top of me.

"Morgan, are you okay?" Buffy asked, soundin' all genuine and concerned. I didn't have time t' sort out the contradictions between her voice and her aura; I was too worried about gettin' her away from Morgan until he had half a chance against her.

So I took a chance. "Look, sweetheart," I swiveled my head towards her. "He answered your question. Now leave him alone!"

Morgan managed to sit up a little straighter, but Blondie looked pissed. "Okay, Morgan, how about talking to me yourself now?"

Anti-dummy prejudice, huh? "He's said all he's gonna say," I informed her.

I would've made a few more choice comments, but Morgan stopped me, gettin' up faster than he should've. "It's okay, Sid," he said quickly, looking between me and Blondie like he wasn't sure which one of us was gonna go for him first. "We're done."

He stuck me in my case before I could argue, foldin' me inta my little pretzel shape, bein' more careful than he really had t' be so he didn't have t' look at the girl.

"I'm sorry," she apologized real pretty. "I didn't mean to make you mad."

Morgan caved fast and I rolled my eyes. "No! I'm...." He fumbled around. "It's him... He's...." I was close to snarlin' at him again, braced t' come out of the case at the girl's throat if she tried anything. I turned my head just enough t' stare at her, and I think she noticed. She looked spooked, at any rate, which was just what I wanted. Morgan must've noticed too, because he closed the lid fast, leavin' me in cramped darkness. "We have to go. "

We were outta the room a few seconds later. Smooth, Romeo, real smooth. We were *definitely* gonna have t' have a talk.

But we didn't get t' talk before the bell rang; Morgan had just shoved my case in his locker and taken off. By the time he got back after classes and pulled me outta my case, I'd cooled down a lot.

"Look, kid," I told him as calmly as possible when we were back in the auditorium -- unexpected visitors aside, it was still the best place t' talk. "you gotta stay away from that girl. And don't go talkin' t' her and startin' t' tell her about me! The only way we're gonna take down this demon is catchin' her by surprise, which we can't do if you blab t' every flippin' person in this school that you ain't no ventriloquist, I just walk and talk for myself!"

Okay, so maybe I was shoutin' a *little* by the end of my speech. Morgan kinda scuffed his feet, lookin' down. "I know, Sid. I'm sorry. I just... kinda panicked. This is a little... I'm not used to this."

I felt like I'd kicked a dog, one of the little ugly ones, and it was lookin' up at me with those miserable damn eyes. "All right, all right," I sighed. It wasn't the kid's fault, he was scared as hell and I couldn't blame him. "Just don't do it again, or we're gonna put a new bit in the show -- you talkin' through a gag. You got me?"

"Got it." He cracked a smile -- not much of a smile, but it was there. Good sign, I guess. "Do you really think Buffy's the demon?"

I shook my head. "I dunno, kid, but it ain't lookin' good."

"What are we going to do if she is?" he gulped nervously.

"*We* ain't gonna do anything," I told him with a glare. "*I'm* gonna take her out, and *you're* gonna stay outta my way. Capisce?"

He nodded, lookin' kinda scared, kinda disappointed and kinda relieved all at the same time. "Got it."

"Good. Now get me off this damn stool and outta this damn school." He grinned again and picked me up, carryin' me back inta the hall. "I've seen the inside of your locker one helluva lot more than I like," I told him as we headed t' get my case. "Tomorrow, I stay with you in class, and your teachers can just get used t' it."

"I don't know, Sid," he shook his head, "It'd attract a lot of attention and you said we were trying to lay low."

Damn. He was right. "Well..."

"Besides," he kept going, "No one will talk to me because I'm too weird now. If I start carrying you around, we won't--"

I shut him up with a look and a hiss as he started t' open the door -- there was a real familiar aura right ahead. "Careful," I whispered as Morgan opened the door a crack. We were about twenty feet from his locker, and we were't the only ones. Blondie herself stood next t' the locker, playing with the dial. She looked to one side, then the other, makin' sure she was alone --

Then she lashed out and smashed the lock. Barehanded.

That was it. The evidence I needed. I had found the last demon and she was mine. "Stay back, kid," I muttered under my breath, squirmin' t' get down."

"Wait, Sid," Morgan protested, keeping a grip on my legs. I started t' press the issue -- wood makes a real good weapon if it has to -- but he pointed, and I saw a short, baldin' guy comin' down the hall towards Blondie, who didn't seem t' notice.

"Damn!" I swore. Another civilian. No way t' do this without someone gettin' caught in the crossfire. I was just gonna have t' wait. "Who the hell is that pinhead?"

"Principal Snyder," Morgan whispered, keeping the door cracked and holdin' me so we could both see. "He runs the school."


This Snyder guy crept up behind Demon Girl and caught her wrist. My breathe hissed out and I got ready t' fight again, expectin' the demon t' go for his throat. I probably wouldn't be able t' save this moron, but I could get the demon while she was distracted....

But she didn't go for him. Instead, she jumped and gasped, lookin' startled and guilty, and faced him. "Principal Snyder."

"What are you doing?" he asked, suspicious, like he was expecting her t' admit t' runnin' a drug ring outta Morgan's locker. He should be so lucky.

"Uh, looking for something," Demon Girl stuttered unconvincingly. I still couldn't figure out why she hadn't gone for him yet -- all she needed was a brain. Granted, it didn't look like this guy had much of one, but it still didn't make sense. Guess she was a picky eater.

"School hours are over," Snyder was saying. "You, therefore, should be gone."

"And I'm going any minute now," Blondie told him with a nervous laugh. This guy was throwing her seriously on edge, and he wasn't even a demon. Probably. Sure looked like one...

He also looked pissed as she pulled her wrist away from him. "There are things I will not tolerate: students loitering on campus after school, horrible murders with hearts being removed. And also smoking."

Well, as long as you got your priorities straight. I rolled my eyes and had t' sit on a snort.

"Well, I don't to any of those things," Demon Girl lied; well, okay, maybe she was bein' straight about the smokin' part. "Not ever."

Snyder studied her with a kinda cheerful suspicion, like he enjoyed suspectin' everyone and everything around him of bein' up t' somethin'. He was right in this case, o' course. "There's something going on with you. I'll figure it out sooner or later. "

Demon Girl looked hunted for a second, then forced herself t' smile, all young and blonde and innocent. Right, Blondie, tell us another one.

Snyder wasn't buyin' it either. "Do you need something here?"

The demon was good, I had t' give her that. She did a real nice impersonation of an air-headed teenager. "Oh, yeah! Right! Um, a friend wanted me to get something... out of his case!"

She poked around in Morgan's locker and pulled out my case. Morgan tensed and started through the dor, but I stopped him. She was too close t' figurin' it out; she knew what I was. This was trouble. Big, bad, trouble.

The case was empty, o' course. She looked disappointed, but shut it fast and faced off against the prinicpal. "He must've taken it and just forgotten to tell me," she covered weakly. For a liar, she made a lousy demon.

Snyder mumbled something that didn't sound like he agreed with her., and Morgan and I ducked back through the door as she shut the locker and turned around. We didn't talk, just headed back for the stage, which had started seemin' like home base.

"I've got her," I chanted quietly under my breath. "Sixty-three years of lookin', and I'm finally gonna finish this! All I gotta do now is take her out."

"I can't believe it," Morgan said; you'd think I just told him his mother was the demon. He'd put me on the chair again and I couldn't jump down t' pace. Morgan was doin' enough of it for both of us, anyway."No way. I mean, she's kind of out there, but a demon? No way! I'm in classes with her!"

I wasn't listenin'; I'd heard it before. No one ever thinks it can be someone they know. "Damn, Buffy's a weird handle for a demon t' pick up. Must've spent too much time in California; I always knew this place did somethin' t' people's brains. If you can call demons people."

"S-Sid!" Morgan was startin' t' stutter again. "I *know* Buffy's friend Willow -- there's no way she'd hang out with a demon! And why would a demon be pretending to be a kid? You've got to be wrong!"

"Look, kid," I told him, pretty patiently for me, "I've been doin' this a long time, and I know a demon when one tiptoes up behind me and starts the old alarm bells ringin'. I've found her, the last one, and I'm gonna take her out. Now, are you gonna help or not?"

He kept pacin', refusin' t' look at me. "No, I can't do it!

"It's the only way."

"I don't want...."

"She's the one." I wasn't gonna argue this. I knew for sure what I was doin' now. It was almost over. I was gonna be free.

Morgan raked his hands through his hair, still fightin' the inevitable. "But...."

"You saw what she did," I reminded him flatly, not lettin' him get a word in. "How strong she is."

He was still tryin'; I'd give him points for persistance, even if he was blind as a bat about this. "I know, but..." His voice cracked on the last word.

"She's the last!" I repeated, as much for myself as for him. "Just this one more, and I'll be free."

He shook his head, his lower lip quiverin'. I *really* hoped he wasn't gonna start cryin'. "I-I won't."

It didn't matter; I could do it alone, I didn't neeed the kid's help anymore. "I will."

Somethin' in my voice must've finally gotten through; he turned t' look at me, and whatever he saw made him step back a few paces. For the first time since I'd opened my eyes and talked t' him, he looked scared. Not of the demon, but of me.

I didn't like that, but I could live with it, as long as I got that damn demon. Nothin' else would matter after that.


Morgan kept arguin' with me all night, never mind that the kid was so down on painkillers I wasn't sure he knew which way was up. He was tryin' t' persuade me Blondie couldn't be our demon, tryin' t' talk me inta not going after her until we were more sure. But I was as sure as I needed t' be.

"Isn't there any other way?" he asked for the forty-eleventh time.

"No, there isn't," I answered, kinda sharp, but I was gettin' tired of this conversation. "It's gotta happen, before anyone else dies. And it's gotta happen soon; she's on to us and I ain't about t' let her make you inta her next corpse."

He swallowed hard and went pale. "Me?"

I kicked myself a real good one, mentally, anyway. Great, scare the kid spitless. Good job. "Hey, I don't know what she could do. She'd a demon -- mental stability ain't exactly a job requirement. More like grounds t' get kicked outta the union. All we gotta do is get her before she can get anyone else."

He still looked stubborn, but it was startin't ' be taken over by tired. He'd started rubbin' his forehead again, squintin' against the pain. It wasn't fair, arguin' with the kid when he was drugged and out of it and couldn't fight back, but I couldn't afford t' start gettin' picky now. "All right, Sid," he finally mumbled. "If you say we have to... then I'll help."

"Now you're talkin', kid."

We had t' wait until his parents went t' sleep, but it was only a few hours, long enough for his meds t' kick in. We snuck out through the front door, and Morgan started the car.

"You know where Demon Girl lives?" I asked him.

He shrugged, still lookin' real unhappy about the whole thing. He could be as unhappy as he wanted, long as it didn't do anything t' his drivin' skills. I'd've driven myself, if my feet could reach the damn pedals. "I looked it up after dinner; her mom's in the phone book. Sid, how can she be a demon if she lives with her mom?"

"It ain't that easy, kid," I told him. "When these demons go human, they can take on any face they want. The demon coulda taken over the real Buffy's life easy as pie; the mother probably doesn't even know her precious daughter's a a creature of the night."

Morgan shook his head. "I still don't like this, Sid."

"I keep tellin' ya, kid, ya don't have t' like it. Just drop me off outside that house; I'll take care o' the rest."

He sighed, and pulled up t' the curb, puttin' the car in park. "What are you going to do?" he asked, starin' down at the steerin' wheel so he wouldn't have t' look at me.

I shook my head, openin' the door. "You don't need t' know." I paused, halfway out the door, and looked back at him. If I pulled this off, I wasn't goin' t' see him again.... "You've been a big help, kid. You did real good."

He sorta smiled, and looked at me, somethin' like embarassed pride in his eyes. Like my compliment meant somethin' t' him. "Thanks, Sid. Good luck."

I just nodded and got out o' the car, shuttin' the door behind me. I didn't look back.

It wasn't hard t' figure out which room was Demon Girl's; I could see her stolen bod movin' around the place, suppposedly gettin' ready for bed -- more likely, gettin' ready t' go out huntin' for a brain. There was a real convenient tree outside the window, with scuff marks on the trunk like it'd seen a lot of traffic. Another nail in her coffin; at the rate she was goin', it was gonna take a crowbar t' get her out. Not that I figured on given her a chance t' get out of anything.

When I got to the window, she was sittin' at her desk talkin t' some tall, good-lookin' dame who was probably 'her' mother. They were talkin' about that damn talent show -- I tell ya, the best thing about finishing these damn demons was gonna be duckin' that show. No more hands up my back, no more cheesy jokes, no more bad singers....

No more nothin'.

I shoved that thought outta my mind, and watched as the demon got in the bed and turned out the lights. She 'fell asleep' in just a few minutes. Whether Demon Girl was out or not, I didn't know for sure, but I took the chance anyway, slidin' the window up real quiet-like and slippin' in.

My footsteps were louder than I planned, or maybe her hearin' was just better -- not real unusual for a demon. Supernatural and all, you know the routine. She sat up in bed fast, lookin' around, and I ducked under cover, scramblin' under her bed and around t' the other side as she stuck her head over the edge lookin' for me.

When she straightened, I was waitin', ready t' go for her throat.

But her reflexes were too damn fast; she screamed, soundin' just like a scared teenager, and rolled outta bed before I could get my hands around her neck. Recitin' every curse I'd ever heard in eighty-odd years of cops and demons, I headed for the window, duckin' out just as the lights came on and her 'mother' came hustlin' in.

All the way down the tree and back t' the car, I kept up a steady stream of cussin', all the words my mother taught me never t' say.

"What happened?" Morgan asked nervously as I pulled the door open and climbed in. "Did you...?"

"No," I growled, sinkin' down in my seat. "Drive."

He gulped and drove, and I kept yellin' insults at myself. I'd blown it. Dammit, I got that close, and I screwed up. Worse, the demon had gotten a good enough look t' be sure who I was. So much for the element of surprise.

Now what the hell was I gonna do?

Another eight hours in the locker the next day didn't give me any answers. I spent most of 'em prayin' Morgan had listened t' me, and would stay the hell away from Demon Girl. She knew we were connected now, that she could hurt me by takin' down the kid. And she'd love doin' it; those damn demons got off on hurtin' people, just 'cause they could. Look at what they did t' me....

I was ready t' jump outta my tux by the time final bell rang and Morgan jerked open the locker. "Anything happen?" I asked right off. "You okay?"

He blinked at me, but he looked okay -- spooked, and his head was hurtin', but okay. "I'm fine, Sid. We've got to get to rehearsal, though; we're late." He swallowed hard. "Do you think... *she'll* be there?"

I smiled, real hard. "Oh, you can count on it," I told him grimly. And I was countin' on it.

And sure enough, there she was, sittin' in the middle of the auditorium with her two sidekicks and the Brit guy. I wondered why she hadn't just chowed down on one o' them -- the sweet redhead, at least, looked bright as hell -- but couldn't figure a reason. Which ain't a bad thing; it'd be handy t' be able t' figure out how demons think, but that ain't the best way t' hang onta what little sanity I got left.

I was just gonna have t' keep my eyes open, try t' figure out who she was gonna go after next, and make damn sure it wasn't Morgan.

He wasn't movin' too good; his head was hurtin' him pretty bad and the pain meds didn't seem t' be helpin' much. But at least he wasn't talkin' t' me in public anymore. He let me dangle from one hand as he rummaged around for my shoes; I could just see Demon Girl and her cronies -- see enough t' know they were watchin' me and Morgan like hawks. What the hell was she tellin' them? Were they a threat? Damn, this was gettin' more complicated by the minute.

But nothin' happened durin' rehearsal. Me and Morgan kept our distance, but I still kept a close eye on Demon Girl, and no one turned up dead. Morgan was wiped out by the end of rehearsal; I got no clue how he drove home. The second he hit his room, he swallowed two more pills and collapsed on his bed. I moved restlessly around the room, tryin' t' be quiet.

I couldn't risk another midnight raid, now that she'd be watchin' for me. All I could do was pace around the room and try t' think of a plan, an ambush -- something t' take the scaly little witch down.

Nothin'. Not one flippin' idea.

"Sid?" Morgan asked groggily. Damn, I'd thought he was passed out. He needed it.

"Yeah, kid?"

He managed to sit up a little, and pried his eyes open a crack to look at me. "I wanted..." His voice slurred, and he was obviously havin' a problem puttin' words together. "I wanted to ask... what did you look like? I mean... before the... before you...."

"I know what you mean." He'd stopped me in mid-pace. It had been a long time since anyone had asked that; a longer time since I'd thought about it. I didn't like t' remember what I'd been once, and was never gonna be again.

But the kid had really come through; I guess I owed him somethin'. "Reach inta my case," I told him, turning towards the window, away from him. "Behind the lining inside. There's a picture there."

The case was right next t' the bed, so he didn't even have t' get up. I heard him scufflin' around, then silence. I knew what he'd found; it was the only thing I'd been able t' keep that had been mine before... just before.

It was a picture my old man had taken, of me and Su Lin in front o' my office in San Francisco -- of a tall, cocky young kid, with sandy hair that didn't show in the old black and white photo, and blue eyes that the dames used t' love t' stare into. Su Lin used t' tease me about bein' too much of a ladies' man for my own good, but I just figured everyone was enjoyin' themselves, so why fight it?

A good-looking kid, by all accounts; a kid that was dead and gone, a long time ago.

"This is you?" Morgan asked after a minute.

"No, kid," I answered, without lookin' at him. "Not anymore."

He was quiet for a long time, then, "I'm sorry, Sid." His words were almost too slurred t' make out, but I understood 'em. And he meant it, too.

I didn't answer; it was only a few more minutes before his breathin' smoothed out and he was asleep, his face still twisted in pain even when he was dreamin'. I left the window, and carefully took the photo out of his hand, stashin' it back in my case without lookin' at it. "You and me both, kid," I said quietly. "You and me both."

I climbed inta the chair next t' Morgan's bed, facin' the window and settled in. I was pretty damn helpless, but at least I could keep an eye on him.

He was a good kid, and that demon was gonna get t' him over my dead body.

There was no way I was spendin' any more time in that locker, or leavin' Morgan alone; I overruled the kid the next day and he carried me around with him. We got some looks and some giggles from the students, and a couple teachers looked at us funny, but they left us alone. I sat through math, French, PE, lunch, and the most borin' damn biology class in the history o' the universe.

Then we got t' history -- and there was Demon Girl, sittin' in the back row. It took all the willpower I ever learned t' keep from goin' for her then and there, but I kept it under control. Too many innocents, too many people t' get caught in the crossfire. I had t' pick my time....

But that didn't mean I was happy about it. Demon Girl played the innocent kid for all she was worth, but she never quite looked away from me; I could feel her eyes borin' inta my back from where I was sittin' on Morgan's desk. But two could play that game.

Slowly, I turned my head and stared back at her, smilin' like I was studyin' the best way t' carve her up. Which, as a matter of fact, I was. The body might have been human, the shape young and gorgeous, but I knew what was hidin' underneath, and how I was gonna take it down.

Miss Tone Deaf from the talent show noticed me, and leaned over t' make some crack t' Demon Girl. Blondie gritted her teeth and kept her eyes on me; I returned the favor with all the menace I could make wooden eyes radiate.

"We gotta figure a way t' get her alone," I whispered t' Morgan, tryin' t' be inconspicuous. "If we can--"

"Morgan?" I looked up and saw the teacher standin' in front of us, lookin' and soundin' like she'd been tryin' t' get the kid's attention for a while.

He started, nervous. "What?"

"Morgan has other things on his mind." I swear I didn't mean t' say it, I *knew* better. But I was mad and distracted, so it just slipped out; I spent a lot of time hatin' myself for it later.

The kids laughed, but the teacher didn't see anything funny; she came over and did exactly what I'd been afraid she was gonna do. "Give me your puppet," she demanded, and took me off Morgan's desk.

"I'll put him away," he tried to protest, but she was already movin' away, takin' me with her. There was nothin' I could do but hang limp in her arms as she shoved me in the cabinet, leavin' Morgan alone and unprotected.

But I got off one more glare at Demon Girl, and after the teacher closed the door, I warned her one more time, "I'm still watchin' you!"

It wasn't much, but it might give Green and Ugly somethin' t' think about for the rest o' the day, until Morgan could spring me. I for damn sure had enough t' think about....

When the door t' the little wood prison finally opened, I almost sat straight up and demanded t' know what had taken so damn long. Lucky for me, I remembered the teacher and kept my mouth shut -- which I shoulda done t' begin with and saved a lot of trouble. Hell, I shoulda kept it shut sixty-three years ago -- it was probably the insults that had really pissed the seven off.

At any rate, it was a good thing I stayed mum, becuase it wasn't the teacher or Morgan -- it was the dopey-lookin' kid who was hangin' with My Favorite Axe Murderer. He grabbed me outta the cabinet and hustled inta the hall like he was tryin' t' break the land speed record for petty theft in a high school.

I thought about kickin' up a fuss; from the looks o' this one, one word outta me without a phoney ventriloquist in sight and he woulda dropped me like hot potato. Then I coulda gone t' find Morgan and make sure he was all right.

But Morgan would be safe once I dealt with the demon, and I was willin' t' lay pretty high odds that this dope-on-a-rope was gonna take me right to Blondie herself. So I'd play along with the gag for a while, until I got my chance t' end this....

I'd expected maybe the basement or even the damn auditorium, since it seemed like everything else was happinin' there lately. But instead, the kid took me t' the one place I woulda been willin' t' bet he'd never even seen the inside of -- the school library. But he walked right in like he owned the place, made himself at home on the center table -- and stuck his hand up my back and started playin' with me like I was some kinda toy.

I wanted t' hurt him in just the worst way. But I still didn't know what his part in all this was. He coulda just been an innocent bystander -- a major idiot with the worst wardrobe I'd seeen in a lotta years, but still innocent. Or he coulda been one of Demon Girl's henchmen, paid off with some kinda promises of what she could do for him -- improve his love life, or maybe just his fashion sense. Until I knew for sure, the kid got t' live.

But that didn't mean I couldn't have my fantasies.

Lucky for him, we were only alone for a few seconds before Demon Girl showed up, redheaded Willow and the grown-up Brit right behind her, carryin' a load of costumes and props from the talent show. Demon Girl spotted me first and slowed down. "Where did you get that?" she asked, a look of total disgust takin' over her face. Yeah, well, I ain't too happy t' see you either, sweetheart.

"Oh, I, uh, took it out of Mrs. Jackson's cupboard," Idiot Boy told her like it was the most natural thing in the world. "I thought you said you wanted to be able to speak to Morgan alone, and uh.... Well, Morgan's alone, and Sid's with me."

Oh, I *bet* she wanted t' see Morgan alone; *damned* if I was gonna let that happen. At least I had a better idea of where everyone stood; they were sure as hell in on whatever Blondie was up too. But I was outnumbered. I'd wait a little longer.

Then the kid started playin' with my head again and I almost changed my mind. Maybe I could just take *him* out....

"Hi, Buffy! Hi, Willow! Would you like to hear some off-color jokes?" Amazin'; a worse ventriloquist than Morgan. I thought *that* was impossible.

Demon Girl wasn't enjoyin' the show either. Funny; I've figured she'd be gettin' off on me bein' embarrased, if she'd figured out who I was. Instead, she told him, "I really don't think you should be doing that."

Idiot Boy was clueless. "What? C'mon.... I'm not real!" he said in the squeaky voice that was apparently supposed t' be me. How did anyone as stupid as this kid survive this long with Demon Girl?

Especially since it looked like Blondie had even less tolerance for him than I did. "Xander, quit it!"

She walked away, but it didn't stop Idiot Boy. The dumb sonova-- He actually started poundin' my head against the table! "He's... not... real!"

This kid was rapidly takin' over Demon Girl at the top o' my hit list. He stopped just before I was gettin' ready t' go for his throat, outnumbered or not. "I think our demonstration proves that Sid--" he started knockin' on my forehead with his knuckles now; I reminded myself about Emily and Morgan and kept up the act through sheer force o' will, "--is wood. Now, why don't you go and find Morgan and prove he's... whatever he is?"

Huh? She had t' know Morgan was just a kid....

"I imagine he's looking for his puppet," the Brit inserted uncomfortably, keepin' his distance from the whole mess.

Demon Girl nodded, then said the words I least wanted t' hear. "I'll go find Morgan." My heart stopped (well, it would've if I still had one) as she headed for the door, then stopped and told Idiot Boy, "You watch the dummy."

"Bye-bye, now. I'm completely inanimate," Idiot Boy said in his stupid voice, addin' an even more annoyin', "Redrum! Redrum!" as she left, but I almost didn't hear him. I was too busy tryin' t' think of a way t' get out o' this library, t' stop her before she could find my buddy Morgan and make pate outta him. Idiot Boy wasn't gonna let me go easy, but it looked like he really didn't know what I was. Which would make my job easier, if I didn't go rushin' off half-cocked.

Yeah. That was real easy t' say. Harder t' do when that scaly bitch was after Morgan....

Idiot Boy kept up the routine, then he said somethin' t' Willow about keepin' me company. The Brit got my attention by tellin' the redhead, "Willow, we have some hunting of our own to do."

Huntin'? Huntin' what? The girl looked like she understood; she followed him inta the stacks with a resigned, "Once again, I'm banished to the demon section of the card catalogue."

Which didn't make sense; why would they be researchin' demons when they already had one right in front of 'em. Were they tryin' t' find a way t' help it with somethin'? To catch it, try t' use its power? I coulda told 'em that was a real bad idea, but they probably deserved what they got.

"You concentrate on re-animation theory. I'll poke about in organ harvesting," the Brit said as they diappeared up the stairs. "Unless, of course, you prefer...."

"That's okay, you can have the organs," the redhead told him fast. I had t' agree with her there.

Idiot Boy put me down on a chair with an awkward, "So, I guess it's just... you and me, huh?" He turned my head so I wasn't lookin' at him, then had the nerve t' pat it. "That looks more comfortable."

With one last pat, he headed back t' his chair and pulled out some textbooks and a pencil, startin' his homework. Great. His scaly little playmate was out huntin' *my* buddy, and he was gonna sit there doin' his English homework. I could work up a real good hatred for this kid....

Whatever the homework was, it distracted him but good, and with the other two out of the room, I grabbed my chance. The second Idiot Boy got up t' consult the huge dictionary behind him, I slipped off my seat and was out of the room. Now t' find Morgan, before that damned demon did.

I do wish I could've seen Idiot Boy's face when he realized I left on my own. It would've almost been worth the whole damn thing.

I knew where t' look at least -- Morgan had t' be in the auditorium. He was real good at bein' logical sometimes, and that was the logical place t' wait.

Problem was, if I could think that out, so could Demon Girl. I ran for the auditorium, and the hell with anyone who might be watchin'. They'd think they were hallucinatin' anyway.

"Morgan?" I shouted his name the second I cleared the doors. "Kid, you in here?"

No answer. I took the steps up t' the stage as fast as I could, duckin' behind the curtains. My case was sittin' there, right next t' the curtain; Morgan had t' be around somewhere. I started t'call the kid's name again, but stopped when I heard the voice from the stage door. It was Demon Girl, and she'd gotten nailed by the Principal again. That bought me some time, and I used it.

If she was gonna come lookin' for Morgan, she was gonna have t' come the rest of the way backstage. If I was right, that'd take her right under the big old iron chandelier hangin' from the rafters. All I had t' do was arrange for it t' come fallin' down at the right moment.

Gettin' up t' the rafters was a pretty neat trick, especially since I need t' do it real quiet-like. I found the ladder, but my hands weren't real good at grippin' the rungs. Demon Girl escaped from the principal about the time I made it to the top; I hurried over t' the latch for the chandelier and started tryin' t' figure it out as she came in, callin' Morgan's name in this innocent, little girl voice. The hook went there, it locked shut there... I grabbed the right part and looked back down t' find Demon Girl, just as she went under where she was supposed t' be.

*Damn*. I didn't say it out loud, but forced myself t' sit back, keepin' my hands on the latch. That was a dead end into the costume racks; she had t' come back out the same way. All I had t' do was watch, and wait.

She was lookin' for the kid, that was pretty obvious. Shovin' the costumes aside, she went behind the rack -- and stopped cold.

So did I. I froze, starin' at what she'd found, hopin' that if I looked long enough, it wouldn't be what I thought it was. But there was no way.

The demon had found what she was after; but she'd found it long before I'd caught up to her. Morgan was laying there, stretched on the floor, his eyes open and starin' in shock, and his head....

I couldn't make myself look at him, and then I forced myself t' look. I owed the kid that much. I'd screwed up, I'd promised him I'd protect him and I hadn't. He was dead because I'd pulled him inta this and there was nothin' I could do t' save him now. I'd screwed up again, and the kid had paid for it.

I was blind and deaf for a second, not seein' anything but my own guilt, and the kid's face. I didn't even notice the demon leavin' until she stumbled back through the beads. I didn't wonder why she was backin' off, I didn't wonder anything. I just knew this bitch was goin' down.

As she moved under me, I let the chandelier drop.

The noise got her t' look up, but even a demon couldn't move that fast. The chandelier got her right on the head and she went to the floor under its weight, out cold. I knew that wouldn't last for long, so I didn't stop t' celebrate, just hustled my piney butt across the catwalk and back t' that ladder as fast as it would move. Sure enough, she was awake before I even got t' the ladder, pushin' at the chandelier and tryin' t' get loose.

My case was still layin' at the edge of the curtain and I fumbled around in the lining, goin' right past the old picture to what I'd stuck there last night while Morgan was sleeping. The butcher knife was an awkward fit in my hand, but it seemed appropriate, and it would do the job. I was gonna end this, forever.

"Who ever's out there, I'm gonna hurt you! Badly!" Demon Girl threatened, still workin' at the chandelier. "If you just give me a minute...."

No chance, sister. Not a minute, not a second. You're gettin' exactly what you gave Morgan, and Emily and all the others that died under your scaly green hands. She shoved at the chandelier and it was almost enough. And then I was there, stabbin' the knife down towards her head.

But I wasn't fast enough again -- story of my damn life. She saw me comin' and those damn reflexes kicked in, lettin' her pull her head outta the way in time. I missed and tried again and again, my arms movin' so damn *slow*, stiff and wooden. She kept squirmin', and I couldn't duck as fast as she did; she got a hand against my chest and threw me about ten feet away.

I bounced t' my feet as fast as wood can bounce, but she'd already made a massive effort, shoving the chandelier off and wrigglin' out from under it. I cursed under my breath and made one last lunge for her, knowin' it wasn't gonna work.

And it didn't. She whipped her arm around and got me in the throat, slammin' me against the wall. The knife went skitterin' away out of reach. Before I could follow, she was on me, slammin' me back inta the wall and holdin' me there, leanin' in t' gloat. All this time, all this work, all these lives -- and I'd screwed it up again. It was over.

"You win," I said with as much contempt and hatred as I could muster. "Now you can take your heart and your brain and move on."

"I'm sure they would have made great trophies for your case," she shot back snidely.

Not a bad idea at that; remind the next demon that came along what happened when they messed with kids like Morgan. Not that it was gonna matter.... "That woulda been justice," I told her.

Yeah, except for one thing: you lost," she rubbed it in. "And now you'll never be human."

"Yeah, well, neither will you," I shot back on reflex.

Then her words sank in. Waitaminute.

*I'd* never be human? I knew that, that wasn't what the curse was about. She was the one who wanted....

I looked back at her and suddenly registered the expession on her face -- total and utter confusion. "What?" we demanded at the same time.

"Say that again?" she got out before I could say anything. "I am human, what are talking about?"

"You ain't human," I told her, but not as sure about that as I'd been a few seconds ago. "You killed my buddy Morgan for his brain, so you could stay *lookin'* human, but you ain't--"

"I didn't kill him," she said angrily, and she looked like she meant every word. "*You* did! You killed him to get a real body, but I'm not gonna let you enjoy it!"

What the hell was goin' on? This wasn't makin' any sense. She shoulda been gloatin', enjoyin' herself, not playin' this game. Either she was even crazier than your average, everyday demonic entity... or I'd screwed up even more than I thought. And the little voice inside my head had suddenly picked up, and was screamin' it was the second choice.

*Now* ya tell me!

"Who the hell are you?" Once again, we got it out damn near in synch, which pretty much confirmed what I'd figured already. She wasn't a demon -- she was one o' the hunters.

Which meant the real demon was still out there.... Morgan's murderer was still out there. And I'd made one mistake too many.

It took some fast talkin', but Blondie -- Buffy -- finally let me up. She took the knife though, and kept it real close, watchin' me every second. I didn't blame her, but I had a few other things t' think about. Like takin' care o' Morgan.

The kid was layin' flat on his back behind the costumes, in the same clothes he'd been wearin' the last time I'd seen him. There wasn't even much blood on 'em; most of it was on the floor.... I had t' look away, wishin' somethin' fierce that I could still cry. The kid deserved *somethin'* and the best I could do was carefully reach out and close his eyes.

I didn't hear Buffy comin' up until she leaned over from the other side and laid some kinda jacket over Morgan's face and head. She smoothed it out carefully, and the tears I couldn't give the kid were standin' in her eyes.

"We... We should call the police," she said, her voice kinda husky from tryin' not t' cry.

She was right; we should. But as much as I hated the thought o' leavin' Morgan here, there was still a demon out there. And I was still willin' t' lay serious money that the talent show was the key t' catchin' it. Every time my demon radar had gone off, I'd been in the auditorium. And if it hadn't been Buffy settin' it off all the time -- although she did give off a pretty fair imitation, which was what had thrown me so bad -- that only left one o' the kids.

And I knew somethin' that damn demon didn't. Morgan was sick -- so the brain he'd been killed for wasn't gonna do the demon a damn bit o' good. I didn't know whether t' curse that the kid had died for nothin', or celebrate that there was still a chance t' get revenge for him.

I settled for tellin' the girl, "No, you can't call 'em. They'll come swarmin' around, the talent show'll be cancelled, and I'll lose my best chance at catchin' this thing before it finishes gettin' what it needs."

"A brain to match the heart," she supplied grimly. "So he can stay human."

"Yeah." I looked over at her; she was serious and determined, but not shocked -- this kid was real well informed. "How'd you know about that?"

She grimaced. "Giles kinda specializes in knowing things nobody else really wants to know."

Giles? Oh, yeah, the Brit. "Good. Then maybe he can help out." I got t' my feet and Buffy stood at the same time, leavin' me alone with Morgan for the last time. "So long, buddy," I told him quietly. "You did real good."

Then I turned and walked away.

It took us a few minutes -- okay, it took *her* a few minutes -- t' move the clothes racks so Morgan's body would stay hidden until after the show. We'd call the cops as soon as I nabbed Demon Boy, whoever he was; Morgan would've understood.

As soon as we had everything in place and I'd stashed my knife back in my case, I told Buffy, "You better carry me back t' the library t' see your pals; that principal of yours has a real attitude problem and he'd better not get any more ammunition."

She made a face, then realized what she was doin' and tried t' hide it. "Um... okay."

I snorted. "Relax, kid, I ain't happy about it either. But ya gotta do what ya gotta do."

"Right." She sighed heavily, then reached down and picked me up gingerly. I settled down in her arms like a baby and.... Okay, so I didn't actually mind. She was sure nicer t' snuggle up to than some o' the guys I've had t' deal with.

We made it back t' the library, which looked t' be this crew's home base, without runnin' inta anyone else. All of the students had taken off soon as last bell rang and even the Gestapo principal had disappeared. But her crew was still in the library -- we could hear 'em freakin' a hundred feet away from the door.

"How could it have just left?" the Brit was demanding. "Xander, if this is some sort of joke, I'm not amused."

"Do I look like I think this is funny?" Idiot Boy shot back. "I looked up, it was gone -- I think that makes a pretty good case for demon possession!"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Looks like no one's going to win any Sherlock awards this time around," she muttered. I wanted t' make a few choice cracks about Idiot Boy's average chances at any kind of intelligence prize, but since I wasn't exactly a contender for 'em at the moment myself, I kept my mouth shut.

"Look, maybe someone came in and took him while you were studying, Xander," the little redhead interrupted. "I mean, that could have happened."

"It was English, Will," Idiot Boy replied, like that said it all. Maybe it did, 'cause the redhead didn't say anything else.

"Regardless of what happened, we'll simply have to find Buffy and warn her," the Brit said, soundin' flustered.

Buffy knew when t' take a cue -- she shoved the doors open with her free hand and strolled through like she was comin' on stage. Not a bad entrance. "Everyone calm down, it's under control. Well, sort of," she corrected herself when I gave her the eyeball.

The redhead, the Brit and Idiot Boy all froze lookin' at us. Buffy ignored 'em, walkin' straight past 'em t' put me down in the little office behind the front desk. She stepped away fast, but I didn't hold a grudge.

"Ah, Buffy?" the Brit asked hesitantly, hoverin' in the doorway with the two kids hidin' behind him. "Ah, the ah, dummy, ah..."

"I know," Buffy cut him off, "He's alive. Like I told you all along. Next time, can we have some belief?"

"Ah, well, um, yes," the Brit stammered, shoving up his glasses.

The redhead ducked under his raised arm and came further into the room t' get a better look at me. "Will!" Idiot Boy tried t' get a grip on her and she ignored him.

"Sid?" she asked hesitantly. "Can you really talk?"

"Yeah, doll, I can talk," I answered, sorta politely. She looked like a sweet kid. "And do pretty much anything else you can do."

"And you're... not a demon?"

"Not the last time I looked." I stared past her at the two guys, who were still hoverin' in the doorway like they were afraid t' come in. "This ain't a zoo, and you look even stupider than usual with your jaw hangin' open, kid," I informed Idiot Boy. "Get in here -- we got a lot t' do and no time t' do it in."

Idiot Boy was too deep in shock from seein' me talk t' register the insult; the Brit, Giles, adjusted his glasses again, stuttered a little more, then came in. He stopped long enough t' put a kettle on his hot plate -- I didn't blame him, I coulda used a drink, too. But I would've gone for somethin' stronger than tea.

Buffy pulled up the big padded desk chair and sat down facin' me; everyone else followed her lead, settlin' down t' stare at me with total, blinkin' shock (from the two guys), wide-eyed curiosity (the redhead, Willow) and intense interest (from Buffy).

"So," Buffy started hesitantly, "what's going on? What are you and why are you chasing the demon?"

I shrugged. "This is what I do. I hunt demons." Everyone's faces got real puzzled, and I shook my head. I'm used t' that reaction. "Yeah, you wouldn't know it to look at me. Let's just say there was me, there was a really mean demon, there was a curse, and the next thing I know I'm not me anymore. I'm sitting on some guy's knee, with his hand up my shirt." That was the short, short version, but I didn't feel like goin' into details.

"And ever since then you've been a living dummy?" Willow asked, her big, sweet eyes soft with sympathy. Under some circumstances, I might've enjoyed it, but there was more important stuff t' do right now.

"The kid here was right all along," I sighed instead, lookin' at Buffy. "I shoulda picked you to team up with. But I didn't because...." Because I screwed up. And if I hadn't, Morgan would still have been alive.... Damn. Damn it t' hell.

"Because you thought *I* was the demon," Buffy filled in.

I shrugged again, tryin' not t' show how hard I was kickin' myself. "Who can blame me for thinkin'?" I pointed out, t' myself as much as them. "Look at you! You're strong, athletic, limber....nubile...." Oh, yeah; she was all o' that and more. Damn, it had been a long time... I shook my head and got my brain back t' business. "I'm back! In any case, now that this demon's got the heart and brain, he gets to keep the human form he's in for another seven years."

Actually, he didn't have the brain yet, but I wasn't gonna let them in on that. No sense in panickin' a buncha kids, maybe gettin' them killed, too....

The whistle o' the teakettle pulled me outta my funk before I could get really inta it; Giles got up t' get it, commentin', "I must say, it's a welcome change to have someone else explain all these things."

"There were seven of these guys," I kept on explainin'. " I've killed six. If I can get the last one, the curse will be lifted and I'll be free. I'm sure it's someone in that stupid talent show."

"Yeah, but now the demon has what he wants, he'll be moving on," Buffy pointed out. Good kid, keep thinkin' that. I was bettin' on the demon not knowin' yet what he didn't have; and even if he did, I had t' be at that damn show anyway, because he was gonna try for another brain.

But all I said out loud was, "So, once we know who's missing from the show...."

"We'll know who our demon is!" Buffy filled in happily. I really hoped it was that simple.

"The show!" Giles said abruptly from behind me.

"What?" Buffy asked.

"It's going to start!" he said, with the distinct sound o' panic. "I'm supposed to be there!"

I checked the clock; damn, he was right. Buffy was already getting up, telling Willow, "Okay, start pulling everyone's addresses in the talent show. If they're not there, maybe we can catch them at home."

Good thinkin'; this kid was gonna go far in the demon huntin' business, if that's what she really was. "And you," I told Giles, "get 'em all on stage, form the power circle. Then we can see who's a no-show."

He looked baffled again; I was startin' t' wonder if this guy had any expressions *besides* panicked and confused. "Um, the what?"

"The power circle," I repeated impatiently. "You get everyone together, and you get 'em, you know, revved up."

Apaprently he didn't know, 'cause he still looked confused as he said, "Right," and hustled out the door.

"How'd he ever get that gig?" I asked no one in particular.

No one was listenin' anyway. "Willow, computer, go!" Buffy ordered impatiently. "Xander, you and Sid go--"

"No way!" I interrupted her, "I ain't goin' nowhere with Idiot Boy here. My head's been pounded inta enough stuff tonight."

Idiot Boy at least looked embarrassed. "Look... Sid," he had t' fumble with my name, "I'm really sorry about that, I didn't--"

"Yeah, right, whatever," I cut him off, in no mood t' hear it. "Buffy, you and me, we can stake out the stage from that catwalk I was on before."

"You mean, when you dropped the chandelier on me?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah, that one," I admitted. "You still gonna hold a grudge over that?"

"Only if you keep holding one over Xander," she replied sweetly. Ouch. Game, set and match t' the innocent-lookin' blonde.

"Fine, right, whatever," I waved her off. "He's forgiven. Can we get this in gear now?"

She smiled triumphantly and picked me up without any hesitation this time. "Sure."

By the time Buffy and I got t' the auditorium, it was already a madhouse -- kids wanderin' everywhere, Miss Tone Deaf freakin' loudly about somethin', tubas and violins tunin' and Giles flusterin' at everyone he could reach, all of whom ignored him.

Buffy and I got past the crowds and back up the ladder t' the catwalk, sittin' on the edge so we had a real good view o' the stage and the circus backstage. We were both real careful not t' look back and down, to the costume racks and what was beneath 'em.

We were both workin' so hard at not seein' anything that the silence got real heavy. I broke it with the question I'd been meanin' t' ask anyway. "So, what's your deal, kid? I don't figure you for a demon hunter." She was too young, and had too much backup; hunters work alone, no bystanders t' get in the line o' fire. You'd think I woulda learned that by now.

"I'm a vampire slayer," she told me, swingin' her legs over the edge like a little kid.

"You?! You're the Slayer?" I shouldn't've been surprised -- it explained one hell of a lot. Giles was probably her Watcher, which explained even more. Watchers always were pretty useless outside o' their books. "Damn! I knew a Slayer in the thirties. Korean chick. Very hot, we're talking *muscle* tone. Man, we had some times." Sweet Su Lin, nineteen and smarter than anyone in the room, and dead for more than three times as long as she'd lived. Damn I missed her.

I caught the look Buffy was givin' me and hid the flash of grief fast. I'd rather have her thinkin' I was a hopeless lech than that I needed sympathy or anything. "Hey! That was pre-dummy, all right? I was a guy."

She smiled, a real pretty smile for someone whose career was killin' bloodsuckin' creatures of the night, and changed the subject. Unfortunately, she changed it in the wrong direction. "So, you kill the demon and the curse is lifted, right?"

"That's the drill."

"You don't actually turn into a prince, do you?" she asked, kinda wistfully. "I mean, your body--"

"--Is dust and bones," I confirmed. My mom buried what was left of it in San Francisco sixty-three years ago, when they found it on the floor o' that warehouse next t' Su Lin's. Talk about leavin' your heart.... "When I say free--"

"You mean dead," Buffy finished flatly.

"Don't get sniffly on me, sis," I warned her. Like I said, I didn't need anyone's sympathy, and I didn't want it. "I've lived a lot longer than most demon hunters. Or Slayers, for that matter."

She looked down at that last crack, bitin' her lip, and I got hit with a quick stab o' guilt. Way t' go, Sid, remind the kid of a Slayer's life expectancy. Su Lin would've given you holy hell for that. I distracted her the fastest way I could figure, puttin' her hand on her knee and leanin' close suggestively. "Of course, if you want to snuggle up and comfort me...."

She took my hand off and dropped it away, already looking better. "So, that horny dummy thing really isn't an act, is it?

I grinned cheerfully. "Nope."

She made a face. "Yuck." I didn't mind the reaction -- at least she wasn't lookin' depressed any more.

Below us, kids started streamin' on stage, herded by Giles, and we both sat up straighter. "Okay, here comes our line-up," I muttered.

"Quickly, everyone! Um, power circle," Giles was sayin'. The kids had some clue -- they got inta a circle and joined hands, lookin' at Giles t' give a speech or somethin'. He was too busy lookin' up at me an' Buffy; we were busy checkin' the faces of all the kids. At least, Buffy was -- I was listenin' t' my little voice.

It went off, loud and clear. One o' those kids was the demon. Problem now was figurin' out which one.

Giles cut the circle loose without doin' anything else; the kids trailed off-stage lookin' confused. There was a kinda "green room" set up (more like a corral, t' keep the kids under control in between acts), and everyone was supposed t' wait there until Giles cued 'em on stage. Which would give us some room t' work with, and keep all o' the kids in a crowd, and safe. Not bad.

As the last of the kids headed off-stage t' mill around in back, Giles looked up at us again, and Buffy ducked under the catwalk railing. "Hold on," she told me, before droppin' the thirty-some feet t' stage and landin' perfectly. I forgot how annoyin' Slayers could be.

But there was no way I was "holdin' on" anywhere; the second Buffy was gone, I got t' my feet and headed away as fast as I could move. I had a job t' do, and part o' that job had become tryin' t' keep the Slayer and company outta this.

No more kids were gonna die for this thing, not if I could help it.

I made it t' the stage door before the kids managed t' round up their gear and head for the green room, some kinda basement room under the stage. I hid in the broom closet by the stairwell and settled in t' wait as Giles started shooin' the little anklebiters out o' the auditorium. We had about ten minutes t' curtain -- they'd all have t' come past me and when Demon Boy set off my radar, I'd be ready.

I could see the kids goin' by through a crack in the door, clatterin' down the stairs. A couple of 'em looked ready t' throw up from stage fright, and Miss Tone Deaf was complainin' loudly about her hair, but most of 'em were talkin' and laughin' like they didn't have a care in the world.

I envied 'em. I don't remember ever bein' that young, not any more. Hell, if I was still human, I'd be gettin' ready t' die of old age. Sixty-three years in a wooden body makes even dyin' in my sleep sound pretty good. But I was lookin' at the end of it, of the whole thing. I'd get this damn demon and then I could finally say "Sayonara" t' this whole crazy world.

Don't get me wrong; I wasn't expectin' the Archangel Gabriel and the Heavenly Host, y' know. I gave up believin' in God and Heaven about the time me and Su Lin died. You see as much as I've seen, as much death and destruction, and you sure as sin believe in Hell. But I ain't seen a thing t' convince me I'm gonna have anything but a whole lot nothin' starin' me in the eyes when this is over.

At least there won't be any demons t' hunt. That alone'll make it Heaven.

I'd been keepin' track as the kids went by, and by my count, that was pretty much all of 'em, not countin' Buffy's crowd. I could still sense her back on stage, nigglin' at the corner of my mind. The aura must've been somethin' all Slayer's give off -- I wondered if Su Lin had had it. I wouldn't have been able t' sense it pre-dummy, and after... Well, there'd been nothin' t' sense after.

Although... What I was feelin' didn't feel much like Slayer. It felt more like...

The little voice in my head got tired o' bein' subtle and set off a load a fireworks in what I used t' use as a brain. I was outta the broom closet and headin' for the stage in a flash, and the hell with anyone who saw me.

The stagedoor I'd come out of was locked, and the bad feelin' in my gut got worse. If I'd had a real body, I'd've kicked the door down like old times. But this wasn't old times, and I had to go around.

I raced out the doors inta the night and around t' the other side o' the auditorium, runnin' as fast as my wooden legs could carry me and cursin' every second they cost me. See, I'd just realized who else I missed seein' come out o' the stage -- Giles hadn't come past. He was a Watcher, which automatically qualified his brain as primo Demon Chow, and I'd been so busy concentratin' on the kids I hadn't even considered anything else.

Maybe it was time t' finish this -- I was gettin' old.

I made it through the main doors and raced for the backstage door on that side. It was unlocked, but even before it was open, I could hear the shouts and thuds comin' from inside.

My case was right where Morgan had left it, the knife where I'd stashed it after my little showdown with Buffy. I grabbed it and ran for the stage.

It was the stupid little magician. Sonovabitch. I should've known, what the hell else would a demon masquerade as? He didn't looks stupid or little any more -- he'd ditched the human routine and was his own scaly green, ugly self. Buffy was takin' him on and doin' a pretty good job o'f it.

Behind her, Giles looked t' be trapped in Demon Boy's guillotine prop, which was only bein' held up by Idiot Boy's grip on the rope; judgin' from how frantic Willow looked as she chopped at the thing, tryin' t' get the Brit out, I was bettin' that blade was no prop.

But I wasn't really watchin' all that close -- my attention was reserved for Demon Boy. I lifted the knife high and, as he got Buffy by the throat and slammed her against the wall, ready t' kill her, I jumped him.

"I found you, I found you!" I half-screamed, half-chanted, slammin' the blade inta his back over and over, fightin' through a red haze. It was almost done -- no more kids were gonna die, no more Slayers. I had him and he was gonna die!

The demon backed off from Buffy, howlin' in pain and tryin' t' throw me off. Buffy kicked him in the head once, then again, and I saw where she was steerin' him. I bailed off just as Giles got loose and Buffy kicked Demon Boy onta the guillotine platform in his place, shoutin', "Let go!"

Idiot Boy reacted pretty quick, all things considered. He let go o' the rope and the blade came slammin' down like an act o' God.

Demon Boy twitched once, then went still, as its head fell t' the stage and rolled away.

Willow winced and had t' look away, and even Buffy looked a little green around the gills. Idiot Boy -- Xander -- was breathin' hard, and Giles just sat on the floor, feelin' his head t' make sure it was still there.

"I must say, all of you," he finally stuttered, breaking the shocked silence, "your t-timing is impeccable."

I nodded grimly and picked myself up off the floor, getting a grip on my knife again. Morgan's knife, the one from his house. Usin' it was justice. "And now for the big finish," I announced, settin' the knife right where it belonged, over Demon Boy's heart, and bracin' myself.

"What are you doing?" Buffy asked, comin' up behind me. But her voice, soft and sad, said she already knew but didn't want t' admit it.

"It's not enough," I told her anyway. "He'll come back. You have t' get the heart -- then all of this'll be over."

My voice went weird on me on the last sentance, showin' a lot more than I wanted to. Buffy heard; carefully, she held her hand out for the knife. "Let me."

I knew what she was offerin'; I knew there was a chance that, if I didn't kill the last demon, the curse wouldn't be broken. I could go on livin', go on walkin' and talkin' and existin'.

But that wasn't life, and it wasn't what I wanted, not any more; I was too old and too damn tired. Chasin' the seven bastards who'd killed Su Lin and turned me inta this wooden thing had been the goal of my life for sixty-three years -- what I used t' keep myself goin' every day and night. When that was gone, there wasn't gonna be anything left, and I didn't want t' spend any more time trapped in this mess.

It was time t' deal myself out.

"I got it," I said , turnin' my head t' look at her. If I was only gonna see one more thing in this life, her face was a helluva sight t' go out on. "Thanks," I told her, and I meant it.

Then, before I could think about it, I lifted the knife and plunged it home.

I had a second t' hear the demon's dyin' roar, t' pull the knife back out and t' know -- *know* -- that it was really, finally, over.

Then there was just the fade t' black.

So, that's how it happened, how I got the last o' the demons and finally broke the curse. Guess it was justice, too, that a Slayer helped me do it -- kinda like finishin' a circle right back where it started. I left a note for Buffy in my case, askin' her and the others t' burn it, along with the dummy's body I wore for such a long time, and bury the ashes next t' Morgan. She's a good kid, she'll make sure it gets done.

I told her t' keep the picture though -- it'd be nice if someone remembered.

And as for me -- well, let's just say there was more than nothin' waitin' for me. I ain't gonna go inta details, but Su Lin says t' say "Hi!"; so does Morgan.

Sayonara, people.



Written for the Chaos POV challenge over at The Sunnydale Slayers, where the challenge was to retell a first-season episode from the POV of a character who was not Buffy. We were really, really bored that first summer. < g > I fought Sid off as long as I possible could, because I did not want a puppet with delusions of 40's detective-hood in my brain, but the little jerk just would not shut up!!! There's a prequel to this that I've been successfully supressing for more than five years -- hopefully, that will continue. Although, I'd kinda like to meet Su Lin....