The Girl opened her eyes. She could sense the sleeping mind of the Other lying just beyond the veil of the mind-glow. It lay much closer to her than ever before. It would be good not to disturb her.
The last thing she'd expected after falling back into the Not-Place had been to ever emerge from it again. But somehow, she'd stayed behind, even after her protection was no longer needed by the Other. Perhaps it was a reward. Or a punishment. The Girl did not know the will of the Spirits.
Rising, the Girl surveyed herself. She was as she had been, except she was clad in tight binding skins beneath her other dark skins. It was an odd, unpleasant sensation. The Other must have done it for her own reasons. Shrugging, the Girl decided not to remove them.
Moving through the great hut, the Girl searched for the Woman. She needed to find her and let her know about the Other. The Woman would know what to do. The Girl continued on, then finally spotted Fire-hair Man, sleeping lightly, holding his weapon. The Woman would be nearby. Ahh, there, lying upon soft skins, lay the Woman.
Squatting down next to her, the Girl saw Small Hunter gazing at her with intent eyes. She greeted him without words, then gave him a light pat. He patted her back with his small hands. The the Girl gave her attention to the Woman.
The Woman slept lightly. The Girl touched the Woman's face and her eyes opened. She did not cry out though, but studied the Girl with calm eyes. The Girl knew she had done the right thing. The Woman would know what to do...
Honor opened her eyes in the dark. She could feel the presence of a predator next to her. It was the feeling she'd come to associate with Athena. Except Athena was gone and Buffy was here in her place. However, staring into the eyes of the girl next to her, Honor could tell, even in the dimness, that nothing human was home.
“Athena?” Honor used a soft, calm voice to speak to her. From Nimitz, Honor knew she meant no harm, but there was no reason to startle her.
Athena pulled on her arm, urging her to move. Obediently, Honor got to her feet, picking up Nimitz, and followed Athena down the companionway. Finally, they entered a space in the back where they were alone. Again Honor tried to communicate with the girl. “Athena? What's wrong?”
Athena seemed to be struggling. She opened and closed her mouth several times. Finally, with fierce concentration, she spoke, “Me not theena. Me Girl.”
Stunned, Honor stared. “You can speak?”
Athena nodded. “Me talk. Other here. Close. Me feel Other...” Athena touched her forehead. “Here. Me know what Other know. Me know mouth talk. Little.”
Honor wasn't sure what to believe staring into the fierce eyes of the young woman who squatted across from her. Nimitz still fed her images of a great predator. He had not shifted from that view of Athena. However, as before, none of his images came associated with any sense of danger to either of them. “Your name is Girl?”
Girl shook her head. “Not name. Am Girl. You Woman. You...” Girl seemed to searching her mind for a term to use. “You boss. Others obey. Is good.”
“Girl, who is the Other? What is the Other?”
Girl grimaced. “Other is Other. She here.” Girl pressed her hand to her chest. “Me here little time. Other wake soon. Me go away. Me need mouth talk Woman.”
Honor slowly nodded. The 'Other' was Buffy. She'd bet money on it. “Buffy is the other? What do you need to talk to me about?”
Girl looked confused. “Boofee? Me not know. Other is. She not lie. Woman believe. Other is... “ Again, Girl looked like she was trying to search for a word. “Other is strong. Other is SLAYER.” With fierce emphaticness, Girl completed her sentence.
“If the Other is the slayer, what are you, Girl?”
“Me First Slayer. Dead much time. In Other. In Not-place. Dark men take me. Hurt me. Make me Slayer. Kill Eaters of Men. Me. Kill all.”
“Girl, you are the First Slayer? You're inside of Buffy? I don't understand.”
Girl looked frustrated. “Believe Other. Truth. Me there. Girl see black men hurt Other. Other hide. Strong. Hurt bad. Girl come. Hurt them. Kill. Other rest in Not-place. Heal. Now Other here.”
Honor slowly nodded. Girl had somehow emerged from inside of Buffy's mind when she retreated from reality. She'd occupied Buffy's consciousness while Buffy was gone. Whether she was a figment of Buffy's mind or an actual real being, Honor couldn't know. “Girl, how did you heal me?”
Girl looked startled. “Girl make hurt...” She made a waving gesture. “Blood special. Girl must...” Girl scowled fiercely. This she shrugged and looked apologetic. “Not know sound. Head hurt.”
Honor said softly. “How did you save Buffy?”
“Small Hunter know.”
Small Hunter? Honor looked down at Nimitz, who bleeked softly in agreement. “Nimitz? What does Nimitz know?”
“Small Hunter see here.” Girl touched her head and her chest. “He know. Girl like Small Hunter.”
Honor's mind reeled. Was Girl claiming to be an empath like a treecat? However, she didn't appear to be able to read emotions...
“Small Hunter strong. More strong than the People. The People they know little. Small Hunter know much. Strong. He touch here.” Girl touched her forehead again and almost smiled in satisfaction. Then she looked alarmed.
“What's wrong?” Honor worried about her.
“Other near. Waking. Girl come more. Other sleep more. Me tell more soon. Me talk to you soon, Woman. I'm going to catch the butterflies, Mommy... Huh?”
Honor stared at Buffy as a flood of emotions crowed her link with Nimitz. Instead of a the steady sense of a predator sizing up prey, now there was happiness. But already fear, sorrow, pain, and a strong sense of loneliness encroached upon whatever happy memories Buffy had called forth in her dreams. Buffy hurt so badly, her pain called to Honor.
“Honor, what am I doing here?” There was a tenseness to the question, that told just how upset Buffy was even without the empathic link. Honor could feel her need to know what had just happened.
Honor told her the truth. “Your alter ego woke me up and pulled me here. She spoke to me, after a fashion.”
Buffy eyed her skeptically. “You know, you're asking a lot, expecting me to buy into the whole Sybil deal. Now, she's talking?”
Honor felt confused for a moment (Sybil?), but eventually figured out Buffy's connotation. She met Buffy's eyes steadily, trying to communicate a sense of reassurance. “Buffy, I can't begin to say what I believe and what I don't. Not after the last day. You probably feel the same. But you came to me tonight, or rather someone who called herself Girl did. Her speech was broken, as if she hadn't ever spoken before. She said that I should believe you. She said that she was the first slayer. That she had been taken by the dark men and made into the slayer. That she had died, but still existed inside you.”
Buffy looked poleaxed. “I...”
“What is it, Buffy?” Honor used her gentlest voice.
“Giles,” Buffy whispered. “He told me one time that the First Slayer was older than mankind itself. That whoever had made her into the Slayer had done so after the last pure demon was forced from our reality, almost half a million years ago. There has been an unbroken chain of Slayers ever since. For her to be the First Slayer, she would be older than... anything.”
Honor's mind reeled. Half a million years? It made the two thousand years that had passed since Buffy was born seem like yesterday. I'm referring to that time as if I believe it, Honor thought. At that moment, Honor realized that she did believe. She believed Buffy. Too many thing matched. Carson's knowledge. Girl's knowledge and abilities. She'd communicated with Nimitz, a feat no one but Honor or another treecat could do.
Honor was startled by a surge of emotion from Buffy. A slow tear ran down her face. Honor didn't need Nimitz to know just how hurt she was. Honor leaned forward and gathered the younger woman into her arms with a tenderness that, while not foreign to her nature, she'd had little chance to exercise.
Honor slowly rocked Buffy as tears became crying, which turned into gasping sobs. In between, details of Buffy's life came out. Her time as the Slayer. Her friends, Willow and Xander. Her mother. Angel. Giles. And the things she'd survived, but that had almost broken her. Her death. Sleeping with Angel. His reversion into something evil. The death of friend and fellow slayer, Kendra. Being kicked out of her home by her own mother. Killing Angel. Acathla. Leaping into the portal believing she was destined for Hell. Killing men. Being raped. Losing herself.
All of these things slowly came out over the next few hours. How much time passed, Honor only found out later. But with every whispered confidence, her understanding of the girl grew deeper. The girl who had sacrificed her humanity to save the human race. Who had died for them once already, and who had fully expected to again when she had leaped into the unknown.
She felt honored by Buffy's confidences. Honored and humbled. When it was over, the slight girl was asleep. Honor didn't need to be able to tell the future to know that Girl wouldn't be back tonight. Buffy was too exhausted by those painful emotions.
Honor met Nimitz's green eyes as the first sounds of morning sounded. “Well, Stinker, are we going to keep her?”
Nimitz looked back at her solemnly. “Bleek!” Then he sent her a picture of a giant treecat as big as a house with Buffy's face and a eyepatch covering one eye. Laughing, Honor carefully picked up her burden and carried Buffy back forward. She wasn't sure what she would do, but there was no way that she was letting Buffy go...Two weeks later...
Buffy woke, dreams of being held down and forced vying with other dreams of crushing the life from those same men, of tearing out their hearts, their blood hot on her lips. Instead of the terror she expected, only a fierce exultation filled her. Silently she stared around the sleeping area, the darkness only the merest twilight to her enhanced senses.
Briefly, she thought about going and waking Woman, but decided not to. Then she stopped in her tracks. When had she started referring to Honor as Woman? The answer was that she hadn't.
“Are you there?” Buffy asked silently.
After a moment, a strange voice answered, feeling as if an alien thought had intruded in Buffy's head. “Girl here.”
Shocked, Buffy stood silent. Whatever else she'd expected, it hadn't been that the strange presence in her head would answer her back, despite the increasing closeness to the surface of her thoughts that it maintained. Finally, Buffy said, “What is happening? Why are you still here?”
“Me not know. Not sure. Think me you become.”
“We're becoming one? Holy crap! Err... who's going to...”
The voice grew sad. “Not me. Me fade. You belong. Me soon become... echo is word. Me become echo.”
Buffy's thoughts filled with that predator fierceness again. She no longer feared it. Instead it was a welcome part of her. “Thank you for helping me. I won't forget you. So long as I live, you'll be alive in my memories.”
Her inner voice assumed a tone of satisfaction. “Other smart. Girl ready. Become one...”
Honor looked up as a familiar mind glow entered her range. Then she stared, astonished, as Buffy gazed back at her. The predator mindset which Buffy wore felt more like Athena. Still, there was a lingering sadness there. Into this, Nimitz sent an image of great predator, ten times the size of a hexapuma. The creature wore Buffy's face and a look of wisdom completely at odds with the faintly confused expression the real girl standing in front of her carried.
“What happened, Buffy?”
For a moment those fierce eyes saddened, then grew thoughtful. “It's Girl. She's... gone.”
Honor was surprised at the sense of loss she felt. Athena was long dead, a product of a species that predated modern man. Still, there had been a strength and fierceness to her, a joy of living, that wasn't easily forgotten.
“Don't be sad for her.” Honor looked up, startled, at Buffy's words.
“How did you know what I was...”
“Feeling?” Buffy's mouth quirked. “Girl. She's gone, but it's not like she died. Instead, she and I merged. I feel different. More at ease with my life than ever before. More able to cope.”
Honor met Buffy's eyes. There was a familiar look in them, as if Athena was just a step away. “What else?”
“I can feel everyone. Not strongly. It's more as if I have a sense of their emotions. That's the closest I can come to describing it.”
“So she really was an empath...”
Buffy met Honor's eyes squarely. Then she said, “Yes, she was. She felt what others felt. She was also more. I think she was telepathic, at least a little, although I can't talk to Nimitz. I still don't understand how she was able to deal with what those animals did to us. But she could.” Buffy should have been feeling pain, fear, and sadness, but except for faint amounts of the latter, her emotions were completely neutral.
“She was strong. That's obvious. And brave, if such an emotion can be described to such a person.”
“Maybe.” Buffy wanted to tell Honor about what else Girl had left her, but couldn't begin to find the words. Words to describe a ritual of blood magic where sheer willpower wrought the thing which was desired. Buffy now knew how Honor had been healed. And she could do it again. At least she thought so. While she trusted Honor implicitly, as only an empath could, at the same time, this was something so special, so private, that Buffy didn't want to tell her. Perhaps one day...Two weeks later...
Buffy grimaced at the food. She pouted at Horace. “Is this seriously the only thing to eat?”
He gave her an oddly knowing grin. “Well, unless you want to eat what you killed last month. That's still in the cooler.”
Buffy shuddered. “No thanks. I'll deal.” She took another bite of what could be called beef stroganoff. If you were extremely generous. And had no sense of taste. Which she, being the Slayer, had a surfeit of. Sighing she put down her fork.
“Eat it all, Ath... sorry, Buffy. I told Jamie and Her Ladyship that I would make sure you ate.”
“Sorry, it's just so crappy.”
He laughed. “That's a pretty good description of E-rats, whether they're ours or the Peeps. Just remember though, that every possible vitamin you might need to survive is included. But to get them, you need to eat.”
Buffy picked up her fork. She took another bite and managed to get it down. It was still shitty, but unless she wanted her keeper to call Honor, she had better finish it.
The last few weeks had gone by so quickly. Whatever doubts anyone had possessed had fallen by the wayside, crushed under the twin blows of Carson and Nimitz. Buffy had found the history that Carson had told her interesting. She still didn't know who he was related to, but it was obvious from the first hand details that his oral history contained that the Clinkscales must be related to one of the Scoobies.
It hurt to think that all of her friends were long dead, banished into the mists of time. But they had probably lived good lives. It certainly sounded as if they had managed to banish the evil from the world for a time at least. Then that last Slayer, Melaka, had finished the job for all time.
Buffy tried to imagine a world where there was no need for a Slayer. A world where she could just be a normal girl. It was hard, but she was starting to believe. She'd consented recently to Honor becoming her guardian. Buffy had tried to tell her that she had to be getting close to eighteen, but Honor hadn't been swayed. As she put it, “Until you've lived in our time for at least three years, you can't expect to be able to navigate the complexities of it alone.”
It gave her a warm feeling knowing that she wouldn't be alone. And all because the First Slayer used her to save Honor's life. Buffy now understood exactly how Girl had healed Honor. But she'd been careful to continue to portray herself as ignorant. Fritz had been severely disappointed. But not half as disappointed as he would be if they ever made it back to civilization, Buffy thought. Because, despite her abilities, as far as Buffy knew, there wasn't anything that would give her away as other than an ordinary girl, no matter how sophisticated the instrumentation that examined her.
Buffy pondered what the future held. Oddly, she wasn't that worried. Because of her merging with Girl, she had changed dramatically over the months since she had arrived in this time. Things that used to cause her so much angst, seemed to be so unimportant. You couldn't live in the future or dwell in the past, Buffy decided thoughtfully. You could only live in the now.
Buffy finished her 'meal,' and shuddering, threw the carton into the recycler. She wondered if she dared go have a look around, or if Jamie would have a cow. Apparently, being the ward of a Steadholder meant you inherited your own set of bodyguards, of which Jamie was the first. Buffy had thought Honor was joking the first time she had mentioned it. She still kept expecting a punch line. But, instead, she got followed around wherever she went and told what to do. Her, the Slayer, told what to do to keep herself safe.
It was going to take some getting used to. Oddly, it was Carson who had managed to give her a healthy perspective on the whole bodyguard thing. He'd told her not to look at them as someone who was trying to keep you from harm, but instead as those who were trying to keep you from wasting your life uselessly. Carson told her that no Steadholder's guard would consider trying to keep her from doing her duty in the Grayson or Manticoran Navies. Of course, Buffy just couldn't see herself doing something of that nature. Still, she had thought about it, which was saying something for her even to be considering joining the Navy. And not just because of the uniforms.
Buffy had been severely conscious of just how uneducated she was compared to pretty much every single one of her companions. Not that she was stupid, but they knew all kinds of history and math, including math for piloting ships between the stars, that Buffy had never imagined. Even the relatively normal things that they took for granted, like those neat little handheld computers, that they called pads, were something that Buffy had never dealt with. So she had Horace there to help her.
Horace and Scotty that is. They seemed to be a matched pair, the young Lt. Commander and the grizzled old missile tech. They had ended up volunteering to be her... teachers would probably still be the best term. They designed lesson plans for her. They tested her to see where her deficiencies lay. They held little mini-classes for Buffy between all of the million and one other duties they had to take care of. They even kept an eye on her while Jamie took the odd nap or shower. In return, she was teaching them some of the fighting arts that she practiced. Both men were rapidly becoming good friends of hers.
Thinking about sparring made Buffy check the time. Crap, she thought, she was going to be late for her spar with Honor. Jumping up, she ran down the passageway of the shuttle, then jumped off the edge of the hatch, falling the ten feet to the ground. Three meters, she corrected herself. Gotta love that metric system. Sprinting, she made it just as Honor arrived carrying Nimitz...
Honor repressed a smile as Buffy came running up. The girl was barely sweating in the heat of Hades' atmosphere, and for all of that activity, she wasn't even breathing deeplly. Considering just how hard Honor had had to work to regain her form, she rather envied her ward. Buffy was incredibly strong and fast with amazing stamina. That, coupled with her natural energy, made her a handful to keep an eye on. Jamie could attest to that, and had at some length the one time that Honor had asked him. He had been so exasperated with Buffy, but there had been resigned affection mixed in as well.
It had made Honor happy that they were getting along so well. It also relieved her of a burden of guilt that she had been carrying around for months. Jamie's near-death had hurt so badly with his return a miracle. Yet another of the things she had Buffy to thank for. So, the first and last thing Honor thought about was how to keep him safe. Assigning him to guard Buffy accomplished that. Even if she chose to enter into the Navy, it would at least two years before she had the educational foundation for Sagnami Island, then it would be another two to four years there before she graduated. By that time, the war might be over and her armsman safe. Well, as safe as a man in his profession could be.
Nimitz patted her cheeks, crooning at her in an effort to make her let go of her dark thoughts. “Sorry, Stinker.”
Buffy, who was obviously itching to greet Nimitiz, hovered a few feet away. “So, what did you do now?”
Honor smiled, then grimaced. “Dark thoughts.”
Green eyes met chocolate brown in perfect understanding. Both had been through terrible times in the last year. Arguably, Buffy had been treated worse than Honor, but she had two advantages that Honor lacked. First, she had had an alter ego that protected her. Second, she lacked the hostages to fate that Honor carried around in the form of Nimitz and her friends. Still, both women understood the mortality of life and that thanks should be give to every day, as if it were your last.
Shaking off her morbid thoughts, Honor announced, “So, are you ready for your first defeat?”
Buffy looked at her in amusement. “You always
say that. But you haven't even scored on me yet.”
Honor shared her amusement. “Maybe not, but every time you and I spar, I get better. Even if I don't ever beat you, I'll still be the best practitioner of coup de vitesse around. That, coupled with that hodge-podge that you call a fighting art, should make me unbeatable.”
Buffy gave her a mock glare. “Hodge-podge?”
Honor gave a little, airy wave. “I know, I know. The truth hurts.”
Buffy's eyes narrowed. “I'll show you hodge-podge...”
Hesitantly, Buffy apologized, “I'm really sorry, Honor.”
“It's okay, Buffy. I zigged when I should have zagged.”
“I think I'm still getting used to being so strong. Whatever else you can say for it, being possessed by the First Slayer is good for your fitness.”
Honor shifted the icepack around her now swollen eye, and curious, asked, “How much stronger have you become?”
Buffy shrugged. “I don't know. And I'm not even sure that stronger is the right way to put it. Maybe it's just more accessible. I've always been pretty strong since becoming the Slayer. My first Watcher, Merrick, said that I was one of the strongest Slayers he had ever heard of. Of course, then he said it didn't make up for being such a klutz at sensing vampires. But back to my strength; I rarely used more than a small fraction of my strength most days. I didn't need to, even against most vampires. Now, it's like I can't lock it back up. It's always there. Does any of that make sense?”
Honor nodded. “I think so. You think you've inherited Athena's willingness to use all of her abilities to the absolute maximum.”
Buffy's eyes lit up. Vigorously, she nodded. “That's exactly it.”
Diffidently, Honor asked, “Speaking of Athena, any more visitations?”
Buffy nodded, then shook her head. “No real visitations. Not since the merging. But, almost every other night, I get dreams of her life. Lots of primitive huts, short, hairy cavemen types, and no bathroom facilities. It's bad enough that sometimes I'm not sure if I'm dreaming of her life, or if I'm her, dreaming of my life. Know what I mean?”
Honor looked doubtful. “In this case, not completely. Still, as long as you feel okay?”
Buffy smiled. “I feel fine. I'm better than fine. I haven't had a nightmare since I started the dreams. Maybe she's still guarding me, only in my sleep?”
Honor wore an odd smile. “Maybe you're right...”