This one hit me when I was trying to sleep the night after watching "Helpless" in third season. After trying to ignore it for several nights... I finally gave in, and wrote it. My thanks to my beta readers for all your comments. I couldn't have done it w/o you.
France, 728 AD
There was a small crack somewhere in the cave ceiling. It went unnoticed in the first few minutes after the cave-in separated them from the hungry vampires in the outer cavern. As the minutes and then hours passed, it represented hope of escape, despair when they realized it was far too small to permit passage, and then merely a welcome source of light. They would not have to face their end in enveloping darkness, and it was enough light to distinguish shapes, if not features.
There was no hope of rescue. Their deaths would be recorded in the chronicles, the next Slayer would be called, and the world would go on.
Tamsin felt alternately guilty and furious about the entire fiasco. She was the oldest of the Chosen Ones and the most experienced. She should never have let this happen, should never have come to France, and should *never* allow herself to be talked into aiding Frederic's mad scheme.
"They're still digging," she said. Her ear was pressed gingerly against a large flat stone in the midst of the fallen rocks. Tamsin could barely hear the vampires, but she could imagine them laughing as they worked. They were hungry for blood; they always were. As she stepped away, she was careful to avoid stepping on the slim arm that stuck out stiffly from the bottom of the pile. Josiane was dead, and there was nothing she could do about it.
"Oui?" Isabelle's voice was calm and soft. She was always calm -- even when she was fighting and methodically staking vampire after vampire.
Tamsin could barely see Isabelle even though the young woman was sitting on the ground only a few feet away. Isabelle was wearing a new dress that her husband had given her only last week. The white sleeves stood out in the dark, while the dark green of the tunic and skirt melted into the background. It was a pretty dress, clothing a pretty woman, and perfect for luring vampires.
The night had started so well. She had dressed in her brown woolen hose, tunic and cap; playing the besotted young "man" of their group. Isabelle was in her pretty dress, and Josiane followed as the unwelcome little sister tagging along. They were all set for Josiane's first night as a Slayer.
It had all started so well....
"C'est pas... it not your fault, Tam." Isabelle tugged at Tamsin's sleve, the weak pull a mockery of what her strength had been only a week ago.
"There should be only one Slayer, one Chosen One." Tamsin's voice was rough and bitter. "If I survive... I will kill Frederic; tear him away from his books and potions, and then rip him limb from limb."
Tamsin finally moved away from the pile of rocks and followed Isabelle back to the far wall of the small cavern, where they sat down side by side. Isabelle leaned against her, her head nestled between Tamsin's head and shoulder. A minute passed, and Tamsin put her arm around Isabelle, hugging her closer. The cave was cold, and the sense of death approaching made for unwelcome company.
"I wish I had never had that accident, that you had never been Called." Tamsin whispered.
Isabelle giggled silently, her shoulders shaking with repressed, if slightly hysterical, mirth. "Accident? Mon English is not good, but is drowned for being witch an 'accident'?"
Tamsin shrugged, and then released a short chuckle of her own. "Well... they should have been after Frederic, not me. With his books, spells, and rituals."
The memory of his last spell two nights ago overwhelmed her. Frederic had sent Isabelle outside to stop anyone from entering, and Josiane had sat obediently and silently on the other side of the pentagram. Remembering, Tamsin felt the air stifle in her lungs again until she could not breathe, could not speak, could not see....
"I think sometimes that Frederic t'aime pas... not like you."
Tamsin had known him since she was five, and he had taken her away from her parents and the village where she was born. In those first few years, she had been closer to a servant or serf than a potential Slayer. "I do not think Frederic likes *any* woman. He is a good Watcher, but not a nice man... or a good one. He wants to be on the Council, and poor little Josiane was to be his great achievement."
A few small rocks scattered down the pile of rocks, and the two young women fell silent. Death -- or worse -- was waiting for them on the other side of those rocks.
"Damn Frederic to Hell!" Tamsin reached beneath her tunic, and pulled out a stake. It was her last, one of good fire-hardened ash. Her hand was shaking with weakness, and revolted with herself, she dropped the stake. Her hands had not shaken so much since her first kill when she was thirteen. Now, at almost eighteen, most of her memories were filled with vampires, demons and the chaotic madness of the past two seasons since Frederic had pulled her out of the water, and they had learned a new Slayer had been Called.
"He did not know, Tam." Isabelle protested.
"He is my Watcher. He should have known." Tamsin stared at the dim shape she knew was Josiane's arm, fiercely glad that the rest of her body was underneath the rocks, and that they did not have to look at her accusing eyes.
"I was strong." Isabelle sat up and stared at her hands, clenching and unclenching them. "I was strong. You was strong. He did not know."
"Did I ever tell you how I felt after Frederic pulled me out of the water? Stronger, I felt stronger." Tamsin picked up a small rock, and threw it at the pile-in. It struck three feet from where she had aimed it, barely made an impression, and skipped down until it found a resting place next to Josiane's hand. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I remember feeling stronger, but I do not think that I was...."
"Vampires are evil. Two Slayers c'est bon. Three Slayers..." Isabelle reached over, picked up Tamsin's hand and lifted it to her mouth for a brief kiss. "I was strong... I do not regret."
"You should. We ruined your life." Tamsin picked up another rock with her free right hand and threw it. She left her other hand in Isabelle's grasp. "Your husband barely speaks with you, your confessor will not listen to you, and your neighbors believe you to be a witch."
"Michel est..." Isabelle shrugged. "I do not regret."
Minutes passed, and Tamsin sat still as Isabelle fell into an exhausted sleep, her body resting limply against hers. Tamsin hugged Isabelle's slim frame, trying to give what warmth she could. It was only a matter of time until the vampires found them, and Isabelle deserved what little rest she could get before they entered a battle they had little chance of winning while they were both so weak.
If only Frederic had been happy with two Slayers. If only she had not been so overconfident in her own skills.
Josiane had been Called barely a day when Tamsin had noticed the tremors in her hand, the weakness in her arms. She had thought it a sickness, such as she had had when she was a child, and did not tell Frederic. Isabelle had not mentioned her feelings of weakness either, and poor little Josiane never knew enough to be worried.
They had gone hunting, and the tremors grew worse with every hour. When they had come across the band of vampires attacking a pair of hunters bedded down for the night... she had not been alert enough to recognize it for the trap it was. With the two poachers drained and risen before they arrived, the tide had turned against them.
They had been forced to run; to run endless miles, to run filled with fear. Josiane had started to cry, her sobs a counterpoint to their every helpless stagger as Tamsin tried to get them to somewhere defensible, somewhere where they stood a chance of survival.
Tamsin clenched her eyes tightly shut, and hugged Isabelle closer. Isabelle was the sister she had never had, the companion Frederic had strictly forbidden her. If they both died tonight... she did not regret this past half year either.
She was so very glad that Josiane could not stare at her.
Tamsin shook Isabelle awake. "Josiane is dead."
"Hmm?" Isabelle shook her head sleepily. "Je sais. Elle est mort."
Picking up the stake from the floor, Tamsin gripped it tightly. "Josiane is dead, and we are not getting any weaker."
Those last few moments were a jumbled blur of images that failed to make sense. They had reached the cave, and Tamsin had tossed Isabelle a stake. While they were fighting, a vampire had latched onto Josiane and was feeding hungrily. Tamsin had noticed the unbalanced rocks, and latched onto the hope of bringing it down on one or two vampires so that the others could escape. It was all the could think of. It had seemed like she grew weaker every minute, but she had torn at the balanced rocks with all her remaining strength.
Memories… She had seen Isabelle pulling at Josiane, trying to get her away from the vampire. "What did you feel when the wall caved in? You were touching Josiane."
Isabelle looked at her questioningly. "The wall fall, and Josiane die."
"Did you feel anything when she died?" The wood underneath Tamsin's fingers was reassuringly familiar -- even if the weakness in her fingers was not.
Isabelle shook her head, shrugged and hugged herself tightly. "Peut-etre. Je ne sais pas. Josiane was dead, it hurt, and I was so cold."
"Are you any stronger?"
"Oui… non. I do not know."
Isabelle started to shake, and Tamsin gathered her up in her arms. Gentle, almost silent sobs racked Isabelle, and Tamsin tightened her grip. Guilt stabbed at her again, sharper than any knife. Safe from the daylight outside, the vampires could take their time moving the rocks and finding their "treat". If they were lucky, the vampires would simply play with them and then kill. If they were unlucky....
The stake was in her hand, now resting in the middle of Isabelle's back. Isabelle grew still, and then pulled away. "Kill me." Her voice was gentle as she took hold of the hand that held the stake and pulled it in front of her own chest.
"No!" Tamsin stood up, and backed away.
"They are vile. They will hurt me. They will kill me." Isabelle stood up. She was a pale thin outline against the solid darkness of the walls. Tamsin could not read the expression on her face.
Tamsin's hands shook, and she forced them to stop. She was the strong one, the experienced one -- the oldest. She could not kill herself, she knew that in her bones. When the vampires came, she would go down fighting. Isabelle... Isabelle should never have been called.
"You can be strong again." Isabelle stepped forward and wrapped her own hand around the stake; her fingers entwined with Tamsin's.
"That's stupid! It was a stupid idea! It's wrong... it's all wrong, and it will *not* work!"
There was another fall of rock, and Tamsin thought she saw a smaller patch of black near the top. The vampires were closer to getting in. It might be only another few minutes. They would kill Isabelle, and there was nothing Tamsin could do. She took hold of the stake more firmly, and stepped in front of Isabelle.
Isabelle stepped back until she was pressed against the cave wall, her hand on top of her heart. Tamsin knew she would need more leverage than if she was at normal strength. She positioned it carefully, and felt Isabelle move it slightly, and then saw Isabelle's hands wrap below hers on the stake.
"Tell... Tell Michel I am sorry."
Tamsin did not realize she was crying until she felt a drop of water fall onto her hands.
Isabelle's flesh was more resistant than a vampire's. Tamsin clenched her eyes shut when Isabelle screamed, and pushed the stake all the way in. Blood gushed over her fingers, and then Isabelle went limp. The body dropped to the ground, Tamsin wiped the tears on her cheeks, and left a smear of blood in its place. Her hands felt so cold….
A flood of strength filled both her body and soul. It filled an emptiness she had not even realized was there. It was all wrong, so wrong.
More rocks tumbled inside the inner cavern, and a vampire, laughter and all, started forcing his upper body through the hole.
Tamsin leaned over and pulled the bloody stake from Isabelle's chest. She had work to do, and then a Watcher to find even if it took her last breath. She had to make sure that this *never* happened again.
She would force him to admit his mistake. There must be only one Slayer. The Chosen One was never *meant* be so helpless.
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