The Vampire of Steel
“That’s it,” said Supergirl. “I’m calling the Justice League.”
“Oh, dear,” said Giles, and folded his glasses before putting them in his pocket.
Supergirl was already on her feet, headed for the telephone. Buffy ran to her and grabbed her arm. “Kara, wait.”
“Wait for what?” She turned to look at the Slayer. “Wait for Zol-Am to open that demon portal you have underneath this town? When I can help stop him just by making a call? I think the time for waiting is over with, Buffy.”
“You may be right,” said Buffy. Kara was already dialing a number, holding her body to prevent Buffy from shoulder-surfing. “But then again, Giles may have a point.”
“What point?” Kara’s finger was hovering over the last button to push.
“The Justice League might be able to stop this guy. Or they might get corrupted. It isn’t their usual beat.”
“They don’t have a usual beat.”
“Okay. All right. Let’s admit defeat. Let’s just go ahead, call in the troops, and let them raze Sunnydale. I have enough of a time keeping my own activities a secret, Kara. Do you honestly think we can keep the lid on things when the Justice League come to town?”
“Start making sense.”
“I am! Do you know how strong most people’s sense of denial is? In some cases, it’s the only thing that keeps them going. Look. What do you think would be the effect when people all over the country learn that vampires really exist?”
The Kryptonian girl considered it. “They already know a lot of evil things exist, Buffy. Super-villains, criminals, alien enemies from dozens of planets.”
“True enough,” conceded the Slayer. “But supposing they learn that there are really things out there in the night that want to kill them, suck their blood, and make them like a recruiting poster with Dracula pointing at ‘em and saying, ‘I Vant You’?”
“Very creative, Buffy,” said Xander from the other room.
“Thanks,” she responded. “Vamps and demons and werewolves are a whole other psychological mix from crazies that can fly and punch through walls, Kara. If you have to, put the League on alert, yeah. But if we can handle this ourselves----“
“Oh? Like we handled it last night?”
“—if we can handle this ourselves, like I was saying, you won’t have to. It’d be better if they weren’t rung in at all. It’s like sending in a whole army where a tiny band of guerillas will do. You follow?”
“I follow,” said Kara, leaning against the wall and holding the phone, “but I’m not so sure I agree.”
“Fine,” said Buffy. “Do me something. Just 48 hours. That’s all we need. Just 48 hours to beat this thing. Then, if you want to, call in the Justice League, the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, even the, I don’t know, the Challengers of the Unknown. You’re on our turf, Kara. Please? For me?”
Kara Zor-El sighed and shook her head. “Give me a minute.”
Buffy watched as she touched the last button.
After a moment, Kara spoke one word: “Supergirl.” She paused, then said, “Ralph? Yeah, it’s Kara. I’m fine. How is Sue? That’s good. Well, I’m on a case. You’ve already got my location, right? I expected as much. Now, listen. Can you keep a secret for 48 hours? I don’t know that expression, Ralph, I never heard of ‘pinky square’. Does that mean you will? All right. I’ve been called in to help a bunch of friends with a problem. I’m going to leave a message on Kal’s response line. If I don’t contact you before the deadline is up to tell you it’s over, or if I call for aid, I want you to access that message. Got it? Because, Ralph. We want to handle this on our own. Understand? Good. Thanks. Yeah, I wish Atom’s marriage had worked out, too. You take care. Say hi to Diana. Bye.”
Buffy bore a look of amazement and curiosity. But she held her peace as Kara pressed the plunger down, then let it up and dialed another number. After a moment, Supergirl said the word, “Kara.” This was followed by a large number of words in a language which Buffy had never heard before. Afterward, Kara put the phone back on the hook.
“Was that...your native language?” asked Buffy.
Kara nodded. “Kryptonian. Now, why don’t you do a favor for me?”
“Dream up a way to take down Zol-Am.”
Buffy fell against the wall. “I was hoping you wouldn’t define that as ‘anything’.”
Zol-Am was in his coffin, mulling things over in preparation for sleeping. As a military man, he’d learned to catnap, to sleep when and where he could and thus maximize the efficiency of his waking time. As a vampire, he had to stay under cover during daylight hours, and about the only thing you could do during that time was sleep.
Of course, as a Kryptonian, he could do with less sleep, but needed the dream time. Nonetheless, every good general knows when he’s gone as far as he can during a day, and when to leave it to other hands. There were soldiers on his side, capable of operating in daylight—the monstrosities Earthers called demons, and Kryptonians called k’nyaak, in their legends—and to them he left certain responsibilities. Such as making sure more recruits were gained for his Army of the Night, and that they would show up in the right place at the right time for an important meeting.
The problem, as he saw it, was that this rabble had never been organized as an army. It was no wonder that small bunch of organized and trained commandoes had been able to stymie them. Soldiers think and act as a unit, or they die as individuals. But, given the proper instruction and motivation, his bloodsucking brethren could be making advances the likes of which they’d never known.
Physically, they were tougher than any normal human. Better yet, their ranks could be increased by simple killing and bloodshare. That was better than any recruitment appeal or draft. The appeal to a commander like Zol-Am was palpable.
Of course, to get their loyalty, he needed more than just brutality. A concrete show of what their forces could accomplish, would accomplish, would be necessary. Zol-Am had two things in mind.
First, he would open their Hellmouth.
Then, he would kill the Supergirl, the Slayer, and all that stood beside them.
After that, Zol-Am estimated he’d have at his disposal an army old Dru-Zod could only lust after in his wildest dreams.
“Dream on, General,” whispered Zol-Am, and finally went to sleep.
Buffy awoke, heard voices from below, and figured that Kara was up before her. Again. She threw on a robe and slipped on her houseshoes and went downstairs.
Mom had French toast and bacon fixed and she and Kara were scarfing it up. From the looks of her, Kara didn’t have to worry about carb intake, and Buffy immediately felt a pang of jealousy. She smiled at herself. It was nice to be jealous of somebody else’s power, for a change.
“We’ve got yours in the microwave, honey,” said Joyce. “It’s all set, just press the button.”
“I could warm it up with my heat-vision,” offered Kara, helpfully.
“Don’t bother,” said Buffy, heading over to the machine. “That’s why God gave us microwaves in the first place.” She activated it and then poured herself some coffee. “So. It’d be really helpful if we could get this finished up pronto. School and all.”
“Yeah.” Kara nodded. “I’ve got to go back to work soon, too.”
Joyce marveled at them both. “Well, I must say. I mean, here you both are, here we all are. There’s a kind of super-vampire out there, something neither one of you can take on by yourselves. You say it wants to open the Hellmouth, and your big worry is about getting back to school or work on time?”
Kara nodded. “I want to save the world, but I don’t want to get fired. Hunting jobs is tough.”
“So’s school,” said Buffy. “I’m in enough trouble academically right now. We gotta live in the world after we save it.”
Joyce half-smiled. “Guess that’s an admirable perspective. I’ve got to set things up at the art gallery. Will you girls be too busy to help?”
Kara, in her dressing gown, said, “Is there anybody at the gallery right now?”
“Well, no. Not for another thirty minutes or so.”
“You have your keys?”
Kara was not in the chair anymore. A second later, she was beside it, in her Supergirl costume. Buffy and Joyce could scarcely credit their perceptions. She took her cape off and wrapped it around Joyce. “You’ll have to tell me what you want done.”
A whoosh of air later, Kara and Joyce were gone.
Buffy stared at the space where her mother had been sitting. The door had opened and closed so quickly that the sound reached her ears an instant after it occurred.
“Up, up, and away,” she sighed.
Not long after that, Willow Rosenberg got a call from Rupert Giles. She came over to his home, found him fully dressed in gray shirt, brown pants, Oxfords, and his inevitable glasses. “Willow,” he said, taking her hand. “Glad to see you on the usual short notice.”
She tried to smile. “Oh, Giles, I’m kind of used to that. You know, Slayer duty comes, all of us are on 24-hour call, especially if you like need some witchy spells or stuff. You do need that, right?”
Giles nodded and drew her towards his dining room. “Precisely that, Willow. I’ve something in mind that may be able to help us dispatching our vampire from Krypton.” He gestured to the table with his free hand.
There were only five normal stakes upon it, made from teakwood.
“And these are different how?” Willow examined them closely.
“Right now, they’re not,” said Giles. “But with a little help from yourself, they should quite efficient.”
“What kind of help?”
Giles looked patient. “Willow, do you recall Supergirl discussing Kryptonians’ two primary weaknesses? Kryptonite, and what else?”
A look of comprehension. “Magic,” said Willow.
Giles nodded. “So, if you can lay an enchantment on these stakes—“
“They might be able to kill him! Oh, Giles, that’s wonderful!” Willow clapped her hands together, then caught herself. “Uh, I didn’t quite mean it like that.”
“Understood, Willow. I’ll be here to supervise you. Now, if you please.”
“Sure. Just let me get the stuff.” Willow went to a certain place in a certain room of Giles’s house, came back with the necessary accoutrements, and, after doing the necessary things with them, began her incantation.
Rupert Giles looked on, and hoped that the Powers That Be were listening.
“You there, dead boy?”
Angel turned over and opened up one eye. “Harris. Go to hell and let me sleep.”
“Nope. First, I ain’t playin’ messenger boy for your old pals. Second, you can miss an hour and still bounce back tonight. Am I right?”
Angel, aka Angelus, aka one of the most ruthless vampires in history until his reaquisition of a soul, sat up in his coffin in his p.j.’s and looked bleary-eyed at Xander. “If you don’t get out of my house in twelve seconds, when I get up this evening, I’m gonna bounce you like a basketball and make 17 points with you down at the hoop down the street, and I promise you, it is not gonna be nothing but net. That’s a promise.”
“Ten is such a cliche.”
“Angel, I wanna talk. Is that so bad?”
“Always. With you, it’s always bad. You haven’t got the courtesy of a mollusk.”
Xander sat on the edge of the coffin. “Peace, brother. I just kinda wanted to talk about myself. And especially about Buffy.”
“Oh.” Angel sighed and slung an arm over the side of his casket. “So now I’m Dear Abby as well as Dead Boy? Go home, Harris. We can talk later.”
Xander paused. “You’re sure of that?”
“Sure, I’m sure. Go put on some coffee.”
Xander grinned. “Two sugars for you?”
“Absolutely not. You think I want to rot my teeth?”
Angel’s mansion was heavily curtained to keep the sun out, and even Xander Harris had a tough time getting in. But it did have the comforts of home, though they weren’t used much during the daytime. Angel favored Folgers, though around Giles’s digs he usually had to settle for Taster’s Choice. Irregardless, they were both drinking decaf in Angel’s kitchen.
“So. You’ve fallen in love with Supergirl, right?”
Xander looked up from his cup. “Hey, now, wait a minute! No!”
Angel smiled. “New one for you, Harris. No teachers that turn into praying mantises, no age-old mummy women, not even a Ninja spirit. Just a girl in a cape and hotpants.”
“Would you cool it? This is not about me. Extremely not about me. Well, mostly extremely not about me.”
“I think Kara’s upsetting the applecart, and I’m glad she’s only here for a short stint,” confessed Xander. “Provided, of course, we stop this Krypton vampire guy and he doesn’t open the Hellmouth, take over the world, destroy us all, and that sort of thing. I mean, I’m taking the positive spin version of things.”
“Of course,” said Angel.
“Don’t get me wrong. I am totally not opposed to the idea of a super-powered flying woman who can outspeed light and lift mountains, on principle. I am, like, a big fan of Superman, and I will confess that I find Miss Kara totally hot.”
“Why wouldn’t you? She’s female. That meets all your qualifications.”
“Ha ha. But, look, Angel. I don’t think Buffy is operating at peak efficiency with the Krypton Hottie around. Think I’m right?”
“Deponent stands mute.”
“You don’t think I’m right?”
“I think you need to keep talking.”
“Okay. Okay, I will. Here’s my theory. One, Buffy is used to being the most powerful one in our bunch. Which, of course, she is. Slayerhood and all its privileges, not the least of which is super-powers. I’m sure you know about them, being similarly endowed, but...”
“All right. Two: now that Supergirl is here, Buffy is relegated to being number two, power-wise. Let’s face it, Miss Kara has points that knock her straight off the board. Right out of the comic books. She can survive a nuclear explosion. She can fly into the sun.”
“But she can get hurt by a vampire bite,” said Angel.
Xander stopped in mid-mouth-opening.
Angel continued, “She also has a problem with magic. Most of the baddies in this town, last time I looked, were based in that. She’s out of her turf here, Xander.”
“Uh, yeah. Theoretically. But...”
Angel held up his hand. “No, Harris, let me talk. It’s true, Buffy is way outclassed in the power game with Kara. Not even in the same ballpark. But Buffy has something that Kara doesn’t have, in this league. Experience. Know-how. Supergirl’s picking things up, but she’s still on the farm team. Nowhere near the majors, yet.”
“Huh. Does that put me in the scrubs?”
“Your words, pal, not mine. Though let’s just say you’re a decent guy to have in the bullpen. Don’t take up chewing tobacco just for me, all right?”
“Have we run out of the Field of Dreams analogy yet?”
“Just don’t try to sing the Star-Spangled Banner on opening day either. It’s like this. Supergirl is like a cop Buffy has called in to help with a case, because she has some knowledge of the perp and his m.o. Capish?”
“Uh, so far.”
“Good. Now, said consultant may be good, and in fact, is. Damn good. But she’s still out of her regular beat. Miss Kara, you may have noticed, doesn’t have much of a taste for hanging around graveyards, rousting out demons, or staking my kind. Buffy does it as a matter of course. Often without thinking about it.”
“Point being that yes, Buffy may be a little overshadowed, in her own mind, by Kara. But she knows, deep down inside, that Kara is a friend and a good hand to have around, especially when the perp they’re looking for has more power than both of them. Agreed?”
“Well, definitely. Supergirl is also not acting arrogantly, am I right? You’ve been up a lot more than I have, so you’d be able to tell better than me.”
Xander considered. “I haven’t seen her as much as the Buffster has, but, no, I don’t think she’s acting Miss Haughty-Snotty. She seems like a nice enough babe. I mean, gal. I mean, woman.”
“Uh huh. Also ten years older than you, Harris, plus.”
“Hey, I resent that. I’ve been hit on by women hundreds of years older than me.”
“And had to be rescued from them, every time. Suppose you had to be a consultant to help her out with Lex Luthor, if he decided to team up with, I don’t know, let’s say Spike. You might be able to help out with Spike. Don’t ask me how. Maybe handing out the crying towels or something.”
“Just let me ramble, Harris. But how do you think you’d do against Luthor?”
“I don’t know. I mean, the guy doesn’t have powers. I’ve heard he does have a warsuit, though. That might be pretty tough. Unless I could put sand in his joints, or something.”
“I might be no good at all with Luthor. But then, theoretically, I might be great. You never can tell.”
Xander’s face fell. “I would undoubtedly suck.”
Angel sighed. “But, if you had a stake in one hand, a cross in the other, and a vial of holy water in your belt, you’d know what to do with Spike. If he let you. Right?”
“And you’re worried about this when we’re facing a vampire who has power enough to crush just about the whole world in his bare hands.”
“Well, at least you’ve got your priorities straight. What else?”
Xander looked at him. “Uh? I implied there’s an else?”
“You said you wanted to talk about you.”
“Oh. Me. Well, it’s just that I’m upset over Buffy. She’s a friend, and if she’s uptight, it makes me uptight, too, by osmosis. Empathically. Not exactly like the Corsican Brothers, but a much lesser analogy of same. You know?”
Angel scratched his forehead. “And you think you’re falling for Kara.”
“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t have that heart on your very short sleeve, kid.”
“I don’t know, Angel. There’s feelings there, but not strong ones. I feel like a dope.”
“Because you feel like you’re transferring feelings from Buffy onto Kara?”
Xander stared at him. “Where’d you get your doctorate in psych?”
“Transylvania U. But don’t worry. It’s normal, it’s natural, and it’ll go away when she does and leave a beautiful memory.”
“You really think so?”
“Sure, kid. Take it from Dead Guy. I’ve had centuries of experience.”
“Gosh.” Xander smiled. “Put her there, Dead Guy.”
Angel shook his hand. “Now, Harris, one more piece of advice. And you absolutely have to take this one, okay?”
“Sure. Anything. What?”
“Get the hell out of here and let me sleep!”
Buffy got the call from Giles around lunchtime and went with Kara to see him and Willow at his house. Giles led both of them into the dining room, where Willow and the stakes were waiting for them. He gestured to the wooden weapons. “Behold. Giles’s and Willow’s Enchanted Stakes. Though perhaps I should put Miss Rosenberg’s name first.”
Willow, sitting at the table, smiled nervously. “It’s kind of a first for me. I never really tried enchanting a stake before. But when you think about it, it’s logical. I mean, if this Krypton vamp has a problem with magic, and vampires have a problem with stakes, put them together and whoomp! There it is!”
“Whoomp,” agreed Buffy. “Could be a great idea. What do you think, Kara?”
Kara, still in her civvies, reached out, took one of the stakes, pointed it at her chest, and shoved it home.
“Kara!” Buffy cried out in fear.
The wood splintered against her chest in all directions, like a cigar pushed against a tabletop.
“Oh,” said Giles, in concern. “Oh, dear Lord.”
Supergirl said, ruefully, “Not that it wasn’t a good idea, you two. I can feel a scratch on my breastbone. But it just wasn’t good enough. The enchantment is there, but the wood itself isn’t strong enough to penetrate me.”
Willow said, “But, Kara, what if it’d, well, gone through you?”
“I wouldn’t have pushed it in, if I’d felt more than a scratch,” Kara assured her.
Buffy sat down in a kitchen chair, somewhat crestfallen. “Okay. Then it’s back to square one, right?”
“Not necessarily,” said Supergirl. “Good idea. Just lacked one element.”
Giles adjusted his glasses. “And, Kara, what would that be?”
She took him aside and whispered in his ear. Giles’s eyebrows rose. “Well. That’s not a bad idea at all. If it works, and if you have time.”
Willow and Buffy both looked hopeful. To Buffy, Kara said, “Like to take a trip with me? Hopefully, it won’t take that long.”
“To, um, where?” Buffy looked at her suspiciously.
Supergirl shucked her jumpsuit and stood revealed in costume again. “Let’s make it a surprise.” She took her cape, wrapped it around Buffy’s body, opened the back door, and turned to Giles and Willow. “We’ll be back before nightfall,” she promised.
“Should I shut my eyes?” asked Buffy, holding Kara’s hand.
In another second, Kara’s super-speed had taken them from view.
Willow said, “And, they’re going...where?”
Giles rubbed the back of his head. “Somewhere I would really give one of my eyeteeth to see.”
The trip was so rapid Buffy Summers didn’t have time to be airsick, only to consider the concept. Everything about her was a blur, and she could tell by the red aura around Supergirl that Kara was picking up a lot of air friction heat. That, she supposed, was why Buffy had the super-cape wrapped about her.
Buffy was travelling faster and farther than ever before in her entire life.
Then, in a matter of minutes, the flight was over. Kara set Buffy’s feet down in crunching snow, faced her, and bathed her in low-level heat vision. “Just so you don’t shiver yourself to death,” said Kara. “But keep the cape around yourself for now.”
She had been set down outside a huge, snow-covered mountain in icy territory. The only part of the mountain that wasn’t covered by white stuff was a huge, golden metal door with a big keyhole in the center. Buffy looked upon it with wonder, and clutched the red cape around her throat with one hand.
This was unreal.
A few seconds later, a great oblong shadow was cast on the ground. She looked up, and saw a gigantic golden key, being carried and propelled by a small, blue-and-red blur at the back of it. An instant after that, the great key was shoved into the keyhole. Kara turned it in the lock, as easily as if she was trying to get into an apartment. Buffy gaped at her strength.
Then Supergirl, keeping hold of the end of the key, pulled the door open, flew back to Buffy, wiped her hands on her hotpants, and grinned. “It’s warmer inside.”
“I don’t ever want to get you mad at me,” murmured Buffy.
“Don’t worry.” Supergirl took her by the hand and led her within. Once they were inside, the door closed, on its own, or maybe not. Buffy reflected that Kara had been right. The place, wherever it was, was warmer on the inside. So much so, that Supergirl was reclaiming her cape.
They were in a hallway, lined with gray-green stone.
Further down the way, in the near distance, Buffy was certain she saw something that looked like an ocean liner suspended from the ceiling on chains. Kara saw her looking.
“Welcome to the Fortress of Solitude, Buffy,” said Supergirl. “Step right this way.”