Peggy watched Aster cross the parking lot toward the front door of the Thorny Crown and thought, well, at least they’ll blend in. As soon as they had gotten inside Peggy walked around the parking lot, cutting across the last bit to get to the back of the bar.
The music was bleeding through the walls so loud she could almost pick out what was playing. If she knew more metal music she probably could. To her, it all sounded the same. Raging guitar and growling vocals and somebody just absolutely losing their fucking mind on a drum kit. Put all that on an album and slap some illegible scribblings on it in white or red and you’ve got yourself a metal record, my dude. She’d seen a few brave souls attempt one metal song or another at Dinah’s. Only one of them sounded any good and managed not to hurt themselves, and last she had heard he was fronting a local band. That could be them playing inside right now.
The Thorny Crown was on a corner. The back door of the place led to a strip of pavement big enough for trucks with deliveries to pull through. Then there was a thin strip of grass, then sidewalk, and then the road. This fight – if it happened at all – was going to be out in the wind, for anyone to see. Peggy sighed, watching as a few cars drove by in either direction. Her only hope was that no one would be surprised by a fight behind the metal bar. At least, not surprised enough to call the cops. Or worse, try to step in.
She realized her heart was racing and her vision was beginning to tunnel. Adrenaline. No good. Peggy started bouncing up and down, back and forth, trying to burn it off. When she realized how stiff she was she started stretching her arms and doing lunges, too. The last time she was in a fight…four years ago? No, five. Five years ago. With her mother. A fight she might have won, if her mother hadn’t been the one to teach her how to fight in the first place.
“Just a fight,” she said to herself. She held her hands in front of her, frowning. If she’d known she would have taped them up. “Just a quick fight. With a vampire. That’s all, just a fight with a vampire. You’re a quarter-god, this’ll be a snap. Just…punch, punch, stab. That’s it, that’s all it’ll be. Punch punch stab.”
The door to the back of the Thorny Crown burst open and slammed against the bricks. Aster practically fell out, tripping over their feet, not sparing a look back.
“Behind me!” Aster shouted. They got behind Peggy and spun to a stop.
Peggy settled her feet and bent her legs. The stake was gripped in her hand.
The open door sat still, the only thing coming out of it the waves of the thrashing and growling.
Aster stood to look over Peggy’s shoulder.
“She was right behind me,” they said. “I thought-”
Kristina with a K launched out of the doorway. Fast. Too fast, maybe, for Aster to see properly. But Peggy could see every muscle twitch. Kristina sprinted at them, expecting to knock them down. Peggy pulled Aster away seconds before Kristina reached where the two of them had stood. She pushed Aster back gently as she kept her eyes on Kristina.
She got nearly to the street before she managed to stop herself and turn around. Her blonde hair was down and stuck in her lipstick, and she pulled it away. A grin revealed her fangs were already down.
“I knew there was something about you,” Kristina said, taking slow steps toward Peggy. “I can practically smell it. What are you? Fairy? Witch?”
“Nothing you have to-”
“I’ll have you know she’s part god!” Aster’s call rolled over Peggy’s quiet statement. Peggy sighed.
“What they said.”
Kristina looked back and forth between Peggy and Aster. Her face became an over-exaggerated sneer, and Peggy knew where this was going.
“The fuck you mean ‘they?’ All I see is-”
Peggy launched herself at Kristina before she could finish whatever hateful garbage was about to come out of her mouth. Kristina readied herself. She clearly had no idea how strong Peggy was. Maybe Peggy didn’t either. Even with the blonde bitch lowering her center of gravity Peggy still managed to knock her over. Her head hit the pavement with a smack violent enough to have killed a human. Peggy rolled over her, landing on her feet.
“Do you know how hard it is,” Kristina growled as she pulled herself up to standing, “to get blood out of your hair?”
“It’s called a shower, you gross asshole.”
They threw themselves at each other and the fight really started. Peggy focused on avoiding Kristina’s punches. Biding her time until she could get a hit in herself. Peggy was stronger than a usual human. She was stronger than Kristina thought she would be. But she wasn’t stronger than Kristina. Wasn’t faster either.
Kristina got her with a solid punch. Right upper chest, in the ribs. Peggy’s lungs froze and she staggered back, holding her ribs. She looked up in time to see Kristina coming for her again, fist pulled back.
With a scream Aster jumped onto Kristina’s back. Kristina stumbled. For the first time Peggy noticed she was wearing stiletto heels. One heel snapped in half, sending her reeling forward. She put her hands out, not to fight but to catch herself. Leaving herself exposed.
All Peggy had to do was place the wooden stake in the right place. Gravity did the rest.
Kristina howled. Anywhere else and everyone inside would have heard it. Not here at the Thorny Crown. It was inhuman. It faded into a wheeze. Her skin was rotting. Her muscles desiccating. Within seconds there was nothing underneath Aster but a skeleton, and they fell to the ground.
“Christ,” Peggy spit out. She was bent over, clutching her side, panting. “I think she broke a rib. You good?”
Aster scuttled over to the grass and began throwing up with vigor.
Wincing with every other step, Peggy went to Aster and patted their back as they upchucked everything they had eaten in the last three days. When the dry heaves finally stopped, Aster spit.
“That was gross,” they said, their voice weak.
“Yeah. That was part of why I didn’t want to do this. A big part.”
Aster tried to sit down, but Peggy grabbed their arm and dragged them up back.
“No, no. Let’s not linger between the huge pile vomit and the bones, shall we?”
“Oh. Right. Good point.”
They walked back the way they came, significantly slower this time. Aster was still the palest Peggy had ever seen them. As slow as she was walking, cradling her side, Aster didn’t try to go any faster. They were only a block away from Dinah’s when Aster took off their beanie and ran a hand through their hair.
“That was fucked up.”
Aster stopped and looked at Peggy. “You going to live?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You heal faster than normal, too, huh?”
“…maybe a little.”
“Lucky bitch.” But Aster was smiling, and Peggy couldn’t help but smile back. “We actually did it. We killed a vampire.”
Aster held out a hand for a high five, and Peggy reluctantly put her hand up. She winced as the force of the slap rolled through her ribs.
“Might not be so lucky next time,” Peggy said, heading for Dinah’s again.
But Aster only stood there, staring at her. “Next time? There’s going to be a next time?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“But you did. You said the words ‘next time.’”
“I didn’t mean-”
“Look at us! We should get costumes. Masks, at least. You’ve got to tell me everything that could be out there. I’ll need to get books. I was actually good at studying in college, right up until I dropped out. Aster and Peggy, defenders of Pacific City! We’re going to make a difference.”
With their last word they slapped an arm around Peggy. Peggy screamed and winced away, trying to turn it into a laugh. A young couple – the same couple from before – stopped at the doorway to Dinah’s and stared at them.
“Shit, sorry, I keep forgetting. Come on, I’ll buy you a beer.”