Autumn looked up at her through frightened eyes before Buffy threw her into the far wall again. Even as she hit, Buffy was there, moving far faster even than a 'normal' Slayer, grabbing Autumn by the hair and slamming her face down into the mat on the floor. There was no fight left in the girl, but Buffy did not let up. She listened as Autumn's breath sobbed in and out of her. Buffy took her wrist and twisted, driving it almost to the breaking point behind her shoulder blade.
“Buffy, please, please. I'm sorry. I won't do it again.” Buffy could hear the pain and exhaustion coloring Autumn's voice. She didn't care. She'd had enough of her crap. Of her disregard for others. Especially men. Back at the Slayer house, it hadn't been a big deal. Xander, the most eligible man there, had been involved with Willow for some time, and even Autumn wasn't willing to cross her for any reason. But here, surrounded by mostly men, it was quickly turning into a cluster fuck. One that she couldn't afford. Thus the lesson.
Not that it had started out as a lesson. Buffy had planned a stern talk. But Autumn, even while saying the right words, wasn't even remotely sincere. Even she wasn't really capable of lying to Buffy however, and had come clean. Buffy had tried to discuss it with her, despite the subject being the last one she wanted to talk about, but Autumn's body language had shown how unlikely that was going to be. Buffy had even given her the option of going home, to be replaced by someone else. Autumn had told her that she was staying. Finally, Buffy had ordered the girl to the basement and the work out room there.
Now Autumn was reaping the reward for her stubbornness. Buffy had bounced her around, doing far worse to her than she'd done to Eve, as evidenced by the impact craters in the concrete block walls. But then this situation was far worse. Eve had been stubborn, but had her heart in the right place. Autumn had...
Buffy didn't like to throw around terms like attempted rape lightly, but didn't know what else to call what Autumn had done. It was disturbingly similar to what Faith had done to Xander back in high school, and while Xander might have been ultimately willing, it had still been sex through force, the very definition of rape. Ultimately, Faith had realized that what she'd done was wrong and had apologized to Xander, a fact that Buffy had only found out about a few months ago. Now if she could figure out a way to make Autumn see the situation through her eyes...
Buffy realized that she was approaching the situation from the wrong direction. While normal Slayer discipline often required an element of physical violence, this was beyond that. There was far more at the root of Autumn's problem than just normal Slayer dominance issues. And Buffy was the only one who possessed the ability to find out what had happened to the girl to push her into the direction she'd gone. Now Buffy only had to decide to use her ability. Grimly, she decided to do so.
Buffy released Autumn's wrist. Fully straddling Autumn's prone form from behind, Buffy placed her hands on the sides of Autumn's face. Bringing forth her power, Buffy enveloped them both in a golden glow as she delved into Autumn's mind.
This was the first time that Buffy had used her ability to do something like this. Through healing Slayers, Buffy had caught... glimpses of their thoughts and emotions. Deep down, she'd known that it was possible for her to enter their minds as well as heal their bodies, but Buffy had resisted the idea. She already had a tremendous influence on the other Slayers. As she'd told Willow and Xander, they were hers
! So she had resisted the idea of touching their minds any more deeply than those glimpses when healing them. Because somewhere deep inside, Buffy knew how easy it would be for her to change those minds, to turn Slayers into unthinking slaves. Slaves. And no one should have that power over another person. It was wrong.
But to help Autumn, Buffy would gamble that she was strong enough to resist temptation, that she could find the source of the problem without trying to change Autumn. As Buffy entered Autumn's mind, she could feel the other girl submit to her. There was no resistance as she slid effortlessly into Autumn's psyche. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. Buffy could see memories and thoughts fly by as she lost herself in the mind of a girl named Autumn Jones...
Twelve-year-old Autumn sat on her bed. She was twelve years old today and was having a huge party to celebrate. Even though her parents were having problems, they'd wanted today to be special. The party had been planned for over a month. She even had a new dress to wear. And all of her friends were coming. She was the happiest she'd been in months as she looked forward to the fun she would be having. Then she heard the voices coming from downstairs. Angry, loud voices. Her parents were at it again.
Getting up, Autumn walked from her room to the top of the stairs. Here, she could clearly hear what was being said. She flinched as insults were hurled, some stupid, some deadly. Most had nothing to do with her, but not all. She was spoiled. She was worthless. She was lazy. Autumn closed her eyes as the insults washed over her. Tears spilled. Slowly she walked back to her bedroom, shutting the door, trying to shut out the sounds. Crawling into bed, she pulled a pillow over her head. As she lay there sobbing, Autumn wished she could just disappear...
Thirteen-year-old Autumn lay in bed trembling. She was alone in the house except for him. Her stepfather, George. Mom was in Minneapolis on business, leaving her alone with him. Alone with the man who had been staring at her recently. Staring at her whether she was sitting at the table doing her homework or laying in her bikini by the pool. Staring in a creepy way that made goosebumps go up and down her spine.
Autumn had been happy for her mom when she got remarried. While she resented anyone taking Daddy's place, she had kept it inside of her so that her mom could be happy. Then it had started. At first, she didn't think anything of it. Casual looks had turned into stares, making her self-conscious. It had gotten to the point that she'd felt uncomfortable walking around in a nightgown without a robe. Lately, though, it had gotten worse.
Autumn knew she was pretty. Maybe even beautiful. She had been told she was by a lot of people, ranging from relatives to boys. Recently, though, she had undergone some changes as she had approached her first period. While she hadn't gotten any taller, her body had changed fundamentally, curves that she'd never possessed before had suddenly sprouted. Now she got second looks from older boys and even men. Worse, the stares she'd gotten at home had increased ten-fold.
The other day, while getting dressed after her shower, the door to her room had suddenly opened. George had stood there, taking in the scene while she had futilely tried to cover herself. From the doorway, he had stared at her, letting his eyes roam up and down her naked form. There was a sickness, a wrongness in his eyes that had twisted Autumn's stomach. She was wondering if he was going to come into her room when he had suddenly stopped, listening. He'd then stepped back, closing the door. Frightened, Autumn had quickly dressed.
Autumn thought she heard footsteps. She hugged Barry to her tightly. Barry was short for Barry Manilow, her stuffed bear. She'd had him since she was little. Barry had...
Autumn heard it then. The knob to her bedroom door was turning. Slowly the door opened. A dark figure stood in the doorway, looking at her. Then he entered her room. The door shut behind him. As Autumn lay trembling, the figure approached...
Autumn stared down at the graves. Somehow it seemed wrong that her mom was being buried next to him. Not that she really cared. Autumn felt numb inside. She hadn't really felt anything since that first night that he had come into her room and spent the entire night there. It hurt to think about it, so Autumn didn't. Her thoughts roamed to the accident.
The three of them had been driving back from the restaurant, the night ruined. It had started out as a celebration of her mom's one year anniversary being married to him as well as an early birthday dinner for Autumn. After a time, Autumn had lost it, listening to the lies. She had screamed accusations at him. What he had done to her. And her mom hadn't believed her, slapping Autumn to get her to shut up.
As she had sat in the backseat, listening to the two adults talk about her, how to handle her, as if she wasn't there, Autumn had grown angrier and angrier. She was finally feeling something. As she had met his eyes in the mirror, a smirk of satisfaction coloring them, Autumn had lost it. She'd launched herself at him, trying to tear out those eyes. The next few minutes had passed in a blur.
The screams of all three of them. The other headlights blurring as they careened down the road. The horrible crunching sounds. The pain as she was hurled away from the twisted wreckage. Then the blast of light and heat as something had ignited.
Five lives had ended that night. Two in the other car, her mother's, his, and Autumn's. Oh, she was still breathing as she stood at the graveside. But she wasn't alive. After all, to be alive, you had to feel...
Fifteen-year-old Autumn lay on her back in the backseat, Jeff on top of her. She could feel one of his hands on her left breast as he kissed her neck, whispering that he loved her. His other hand was between her legs, touching her under the short cheerleader skirt she wore.
As he stroked her between her legs, Autumn ran her hands over Jeff's back. She felt alive for the first time in the last two years. Coming to live with her dad had been difficult. He didn't have time for a teenage daughter, something he told her over and over. So she found other ways to keep herself busy. School and cheerleading were two things she did. But her favorite was this. Time spent with Jeff, Bill, or Ted, as they entered her, using her body. As she used theirs. To feel something. Anything...
Sixteen-year-old Autumn lay under Edward as he forced himself inside of her. She struggled uselessly as the senior moved in and out of her. She could hear his grunts of enjoyment as he used her. She couldn't understand why he would do this to her, hurt her like this. It wasn't like she hadn't been planning to have sex with him at some point tonight. But from the beginning, Edward had treated her like dirt, degrading her, hurting her. He had slapped her when she wouldn't suck him off. Then he had gotten worse.
As she lay beneath him, tears streaming down her face, Autumn promised herself that she would someday be strong enough to stop being a victim. Strong enough to take what she wanted for herself for a change. She would make all of the Georges and Edwards of the world sorry...
Buffy struggled with the feelings of rage and hate as she existed within Autumn's mind. She'd never known what lay behind Autumn's ferocious sexuality, but it had worried her. Now seeing the source, Buffy wished she'd tried to do something before now. Although what she would have done, she wasn't sure. Just as she wasn't sure about what she was going to do now.
“Worthless! Whore! Slut!” Buffy wanted to put hands over her ears as words without sound thundered around her.
Tentatively, Buffy tried to communicate with Amber. “You're not worthless. You're a Slayer. You're my Slayer.”
Buffy could feel Autumn's surprise and shock as she touched her mind. Then the same feelings came back, even stronger. Anger. Hate. Fear. Sorrow. And a sadness so bleak and encompassing, that it tore Buffy up to feel it, even second hand. Shaking her head figuratively, Buffy managed to distance herself from the feelings. She knew she could try to psychoanalyze Autumn, but it just wasn't her thing. Her brief stint as a high school counselor had shown her that. So Buffy did the only thing that was left to her: She loved her.
Bringing forth her feelings, Buffy touched Autumn's mind in a deeper, more intimate way. Running mental fingers through the mind of the young girl at the same time her physical hands embraced her head, Buffy threw her feelings into the void of the girl's mind, trying to fill the emptiness there. They seemed to disappear as if into a bottomless well. Then Buffy redoubled her efforts.
“I love you. I love you. You are worthy of living. You are worthy of being happy. I love you. You are mine.” It seemed as if the last words made the biggest difference. Ruthlessly, Buffy repressed her own feelings at the idea of her owning another person. Because she did. Too many people belonged to her. Buffy focused on the task at hand.
“You are worthy. I know you are worthy. I love you. You are mine, Autumn. I love you, Autumn. I would die for you. I would kill for you. You would do the same for me. Autumn. Sister. Daughter. I will always be there for you. You are not alone. Never again will you be alone. Dearest Autumn.” Buffy's thoughts whispered through Autumn's mind, gradually quieting the turbulence there. Without having to check, Buffy knew that Autumn's heartbeat had slowed to match her exactly. Dizzily, she wondered if her EEG would match as well, as she continued to touch Autumn's mind.
Buffy could feel as Autumn's spirit healed, as something dark slowly faded in her light. After a time, she began to extricate her mind from Autumn's, despite the girl's efforts to hold on. Buffy soothed Autumn, then continued exiting, finally emerging back in the real world. She opened her eyes, the lights seeming extraordinarily bright, almost surreal. Breathing deeply, the air seemed to have a taste and texture to it that it hadn't had before. Maybe Autumn's healing had done something for her as well, Buffy mused.
Looking down at the girl whose body she still straddled, Buffy slowly stroked Autumn's hair. The bruises had all disappeared, as had the broken bones. The tender caress finally woke the girl from her reverie. Buffy felt Autumn turn her head and press her lips to Buffy's wrist. Buffy froze, not knowing what to do, when Autumn turned cat-quick beneath her. Looking up at Buffy through luminous eyes, Autumn pulled Buffy down into a heated kiss, her tongue probing Buffy's mouth. Suppressing her first instinct, which was to pull away as quickly as possible, Buffy kissed Autumn back for a moment, then gently moved back. Ignoring the disappointment in Autumn's eyes, Buffy got to her feet.
She reached down to help Autumn to her feet. Pulling the taller girl up, Buffy stood in place. Autumn slowly put her arms around Buffy, resting her forehead against Buffy's. Buffy gently hugged Autumn, then pushed her back to arms length. “Autumn, we need to talk.”
Autumn sighed, the shrugged. “It's okay, Buffy. I know you don't swing that way. I just wanted to say... thanks. I've never felt that close to anyone in my life. It was... nice.” With that, she hugged Buffy once more, then started to walk away. Abruptly, she stopped and turned around.
“I don't want to leave you.” Autumn's whisper was quiet as she looked deeply into Buffy's eyes.
Oh crap, Buffy thought, looking back into Autumn's eyes. Autumn looked completely besotted with her. Buffy was trying to figure out a way to tell Autumn in a way that wouldn't hurt her, but couldn't think of one. Not that she thought it would matter. Autumn looked almost drugged as she stared dreamily at Buffy. She started to reach out and touch Buffy, then seemed to catch herself.
“Autumn, listen carefully to me. The feelings you have are because of me, what I did to you. They're not real. I don't want you to do something you'll...”
Autumn interrupted her, still smiling, “I know that, Buffy. I know you did something to me, but I don't care. I feel so good. I don't hurt inside. I don't feel empty anymore. I'm full of light.”
This last was said in a soft whisper, too quiet for anyone not a Slayer to hear. She wanted to reach out again to Autumn, but needed to avoid touching the girl. Whatever Buffy'd done, it had affected her almost as much as Autumn. Buffy found herself feeling more affection that she ever felt before towards the raven-haired girl. Studying her face, Buffy realized just how truly beautiful Autumn was. Her face, usually sporting a smirk or frown, currently wore an expression of quiet happiness. She seemed to glow, even her dark eyes possessing a quiet light within.
“Buffy, I'm so sorry for being such a bitch. I know I've been the biggest pain in the ass for so long...”
Buffy reached over and put a finger over Autumn's mouth, silencing her. “Sshhh. You don't have to apologize. I understand. But, hey, today's a new day. Starting today, you get a chance to be a new person. Today, you're going to be Autumn Jones, the most wonderful person in the entire world. 'kay?”
Autumn smiled and nodded. “Okay.”
Buffy smiled and held out her hand. “Come on, let's go back upstairs. I don't want the girls to think I've killed you...”
“Okay, what did you do to Autumn?”
Buffy slowly turned at the sound of Dawn's voice. Her sister stood in the doorway of Buffy's room with her arms folded wearing a smirk. At Buffy's annoyed look, Dawn just stared. Finally, Buffy asked, “What do you mean?”
Impatiently, Dawn strode forward. “You know what I mean. Don't pretend you didn't make with the Slayer-mojo and brainwash Autumn. She's being nice! She's never nice! So spill. Did you suck her brain? Make her into a pod person? Spill, Bitca.”
Buffy frowned thoughtfully, sitting silently for a moment. Finally, she said, “Look, I can't tell you what's going on with Autumn. It's private.” Absently, Buffy took a sip of coffee from the cup sitting on her desk.
“Hah! I knew
it! She seduced you didn't she? Ewww...” This last was aimed at the spray of coffee that had just enveloped Dawn as Buffy spit it out in astonishment.
“Huh? What? Huh?” Flabbergasted, Buffy couldn't get her thoughts organized. Staring at Dawn who walked past her into the bathroom, apparently in an effort to get some of the coffee off of her, Buffy tried to come up with a reply. Finally, she did. Walking over to the bathroom door, Buffy said, “When I said private, I wasn't talking 'Lesbian Spank Inferno'. I meant exactly what I said. Where the hell did you come up with that fantasy?”
Dabbing futilely at the spots of coffee dotting her favorite blue top, Dawn stared grumpily at Buffy. “Okay, maybe I went a little astray of what actually happened. But how can you blame me?” Ignoring Buffy sarcastic mouthing of what she'd just said, Dawn explained, “It's not as if you've ever definitively turned down the lesbian lifestyle. Plus anyone who ever saw you and Faith back in high school caught the that whole vibe between the two of you...”
“What vibe?” Buffy, outraged, almost shouted out her question.
“You know exactly what vibe. I mean, Xander and Willow still talk about it. I think it's one of their little fantasy games.”
Horrified, Buffy stuttered out, “H-h-h-o-w do-o you know tha-at?”
Dawn shrugged. “I eavesdrop. It's not as if you all ever tell me the good stuff. I have to figure it out myself. If it was left up to you all, I would die a virgin.”
“Hey! What's wrong with being a virgin?”
“Nothing, Little-miss-lost-my-virginity-to-a-240-year-old-vampire. I have needs you know. I can't take care of them...”
Buffy put her fingers in her ears. “Nah nah nah nah nah nah.”
Dawn tried to hold back a smile at the ridiculous picture her sister made, sitting with her eyes shut, her fingers in her ears, singing out a nonsense song. Finally, though, she got tired of it. Reaching over, she started to thump her sister on the nose, but Buffy caught her wrist half a second before impact. “Ouch.” Dawn rubbed her wrist with her other hand as Buffy smirked at her. “Okay, fine, I won't talk about it. But I am going to get a boyfriend. I'm eighteen years old, Buffy. I'm not a little kid anymore...”
Buffy sighed. When had the discussion turned from her supposed tryst with Autumn to a discussion about Dawn's social life? She knew Dawn was unhappy with her lack of boyfriendage, but she couldn't blame Buffy could she? It wasn't Buffy who had threatened Justin with an axe before Dawn's first date with him. That was Xander. It wasn't Buffy who had flashed the next one, Derrick, before Dawn's first date with him. That was Faith. All Buffy had done was casually show up at the movie theater where Dawn and Rob were sitting in the back making out and throw popcorn on them until they stopped. So what if she said something casually about removing hands at the wrist if they touched inappropriate places? Conscious of silence, where before there'd been sound, Buffy focused back on the here and now. Guiltily, she met Dawn's eyes.
“Did you hear anything I just said?” Dawn demanded.
“Of course I did. I know you're not a little kid. It's just that I'm having a hard time seeing you as anything other than my little sister.” Buffy tried to be as reasonable as possible.
Mollified, Dawn shrugged. “Okay. So you don't mind if go out with him then?”
Mystified, Buffy hesitated, then plunged in, “No, I don't mind.” At Dawn's squeal, Buffy nearly put her hands over her ears.
“Ooooh! Thank you, Buffy. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I never thought you'd be cool with that. You are the coolest sister ever. I won't even ask you anymore about Stepford Slayer.” Dawn turned around and practically ran from the room, her excitement palpable.
With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Buffy watched her go. “Wait. Dawn. Dawn! What did I agree to? Who are you going out with? Dawn!” What had she done?
Buffy strapped on the heavy pack, making sure she could reach everything from her sword, to her machine gun thingy. She then turned to the two waiting Slayers. “Is everyone ready? Vi? Molly?”
Vi nodded, hiding a grin. “Yep. You're the last, Buffy.” She looked over at Molly then.
Molly nodded as well. “All of my girls are ready to hit the trail. Are you sure we have to take jabbermouth?” At this, Molly pointed at Eve, who was currently interrogating Lt. McDaniels about everything from the 'upside down flushy thing' they were going through to the reason why all of the BDU's had to be either blue or green.
Amused, Buffy watched him try to answer one of Eve's questions only to be interrupted by another before the words left his mouth. “Eve, grab your pack. We're heading out.” McDaniels gave her a grateful look at the interruption, nodding vigorously, then hurried off. As soon as Eve headed her way, Vi and Molly moved the opposite direction. Buffy sighed as Eve bounced in front of her. Where did the girl get her energy from? Buffy was supposed to be Super Slayer and Eve made even her feel old.
Eve pouted. “Awww, Buffy, I was having fun.”
“Wow, you've almost got it. Keep practicing. Besides, it's cruel to tease the a guy like that.” Buffy tried to keep a straight face herself as a huge grin displaced the pout on Eve's face.
“I know, that's what made it fun. I don't think he liked my pink and purple sneakers.” Eve looked down at the offending shoes as she spoke.
“Well, I'm not sure the Air Force is ready for pink or purple as part of their regulation uniform.”
“But it would be sooo cool! The least they ought to consider is letting women wear pink blouses. I mean, Sam would look so pretty in a pink blouse.” Looking around to make sure they weren't overheard, Eve leaned in and whispered, “I bet the Colonel wouldn't mind seeing Sam wearing a pink blouse.”
Buffy almost lost it at that. Out of the mouths of babes... Eve wasn't the only one who saw the sexual tension between the two officers and was curious to see if something would happen. “I don't think those two are going to need any help.” Buffy couldn't hold back a grin as she said this, although she somehow avoided laughing out loud.
“What two are those?”
Buffy whirled as the voice spoke behind her. Graham stood there, a quizzical expression on his face. Buffy tried to think of something on the fly. “Oh, pink and blue. Those two colors don't need any help. I mean, they go so well together.” She smiled innocently at the faint suspicion on Graham's face.
He shook his head as if to clear it. “That's okay, I don't really need an explanation. So, Eve, you looking forward to your first trip off-world?”
“OhmygodIamsoexcited!” Eve's expression was animated as she rushed her words out so quickly it sounded as if she'd said one long word rather than several shorter ones.
Graham winced at the volume, then said, “Do you mind if I talk to Buffy alone a sec?”
“Oh, no problem. Don't do anything I wouldn't do.” With an exaggerated wink, Eve sauntered off towards Vi, who seeing her coming, moved the other way.
“Cute kid. Reminds me of my little sister.” Graham looked at Buffy, then away.
“She reminds me of Dawn too. Except without the sullenness, the sarcasm, and the sheer unmitigated brattiness that was Dawn at thirteen. What's up?”
“What is up with Autumn? She actually came up to me and apologized for what happened the other day.”
“She was going through some things then, which have since been dealt with. I think you'll have a lot fewer problems with her.”
Graham smiled uneasily. “Okay, if you say so. I have to admit I'm glad not to have to worry about her climbing into my tent anymore. She's cute, but I like to be the pursuer, not the pursuee.”
Buffy smiled wickedly. “I'll bet.” Score, he was blushing again, albeit faintly. And he also seemed to want to say something else. “Did you have something else on your mind?”
“Yes. I wanted to give you a chance to back out of the bet. I'm taking unfair advantage of you. I don't want you to h... I mean, I don't want to do that. It's not right. Plus, maybe bringing Eve along isn't the best idea.” Graham face was serious as he said the last, but with the faintest blush coloring his cheeks.
Buffy smiled as she contemplated her secret weapon. “I wouldn't think of backing out and depriving you of your chance to show me up. And I promised Eve that if we had any training missions on a weekend, she could come, as long as it wasn't dangerous, which Colonel O'Neill assured me it wasn't. Are we leaving anytime soon?”
Smiling uneasily, Graham looked unsure, then nodded hastily. “Okay, if that's how you want it. Riley's getting our final orders now from the Colonel.”
“Sweet. Don't worry, Graham, I won't say I told you so after this is all over.” Ignoring the stunned look on Graham's face, Buffy sauntered off. She looked with interest as Riley stood just below the ramp. He seemed to be getting ready to say something and Buffy didn't have to wait long to find out what.
“Attention, everyone! They're dialing up the gate right now. I hope everyone's ready?” Waiting for the chorus of 'ayes and sure's' to die off, Riley continued. “This is your second training mission, Slayers. I don't need to tell you to be careful. It's an alien world, no matter how much it might resemble Earth. Don't let down your guard for a moment. Because each and every one of your trainers ARE out to get you.” Behind Riley, the gate dialed out, with the requisite flushing look. “All right! Let's go! Our next stop is P3X-4991!” With that, he turned to head through the gate.
Buffy froze. P3X-4991? That wasn't the world she'd asked Sam about in exchange for letting her test Buffy's sword. Hurriedly, Buffy pulled the training schedule out of the pocket of her BDU's. She'd told Sam PXX-5473, which was their final training module. That was the one Sam had briefed Buffy on, even up to the minor Goa'uld presence on the planet. Buffy didn't have the slightest idea what surprises P3X-4991 held. Maybe I should have taken Graham up on his offer, Buffy thought, worried for the first time. Oh well, all of us are Slayers. How bad can it get?