Disclaimer: Buffy belongs to Joss Whedon and Anita to Laurell K. Hamilton. I make no money off this.
A/N: So this is it, the big second to last part of the series (as it stands right now). Not much left to say at this stage except a big thinks to the usual suspects and reviews are always welcome. More than that, actually. But if you do review, do me a favor and don't bug me about Wish
? That kinda makes me cranky. Other than that, I hope the story doesn't disappoint after such a long wait.
Pairing/Category: The story is filed under Micah-pairing. Those of you that paid attention to Lunar might have noticed that I'm sorta steering toward an additional pairing for Buffy. So don't be surprised.
That’s how old she’d been when Edward had come running into the kitchen, grabbed her by the arms hard enough to leave bruises and run into the living room with her. She’d cried at him to let her down, to stop hurting her right up until the second she saw the bad men in the doorway. Daddy had told her that if she ever saw people like them, she had to runrunrun as fast as she could. Edward turned frantically, spinning her around with him and then he threw himself behind the sofa, curled himself around her tiny body and forced her face into his warm chest. She could hear his heart beating too fast and his fingers dug into her cheek as he clamped his hand over her mouth, muffling her sobs.
What had come next was forever branded into her memory. The screams, the curses, the sick sounds of flesh tearing and her mother’s pleas for mercy, turning into gurgling prayers and finally dying away completely.
That’s how many years had passed since that day and standing here now, watching the scene that had unraveled her life, had turned her into what she was, unfold in front of her eyes again was almost too much to bear. But just like they had all those years ago, the tears refused to fall.
+ Hours Earlier
Buffy moaned softly, swatting at the funny noise.Bangbang.
Her moan turned into a groan as she rolled onto her belly and felt the muscles of her back pull and ache.Bangbangbang.
Why was her back aching? She lifted one arm to pull the covers back around her and winced slightly. Why was all
of her aching? At her feet, something moved.
Right, full moon. Last night had been the full moon. Her…..seventh. Her seventh full moon as a wereleopard. They, her and the pard, had gone into the forest for the change. Elisabeth had challenged her and she’d smacked the bitch down. And then, ahh, there it was. The reason for her discomfort. Zane and Nathaniel had, just for the hell of it, started a game of tag that had lasted until everyone except Micah, Merle and Buffy herself had fallen asleep, exhausted. Merle had volunteered to watch over the pard, giving his Nimir-Ra and Nimir-Raj a few hours alone to race through the woods at speeds no-one else could match.
And now, she ached all over. And that stupid banging sound still hadn’t stopped. It almost sounded like Anita was banging the front door again, Buffy mused in her half asleep state.
Buffy rolled onto her back, squishing someone’s arm on the way. She kicked her blankets off, cracking one eye open half heartedly as her foot hit something that wheezed suspiciously like Cherry and then she hit the edge of the bed and landed in a crouch on the floor. Micah’s head appeared from a pile of pillows, eyes still closed, asking, “What’s up?”
Straightening, Buffy hissed and grabbed the nearest shirt, pulling it on. She missed his slight smile as she didn’t try to hide her discomfort from everyone as she had half a year ago and answered, “Find Nathaniel in there,” she waved vaguely at the pile of people still on the bed, “He’s got an appointment at two. Anita promised to drive him. And it’s already….one thirty.”
Then she was out the door before anyone else even had time to stir.
It had been Micah’s idea to move out of Anita’s house a couple of months ago. Buffy had slowly been carving a place for herself in St. Louis, taking not only Micah but also the pard and Jean-Claude away from the animator, bit by bit. Anita steadfastly claimed to not mind Buffy taking over the whole pard in a matter of months but it was obvious to all who cared to see that the usually irate woman struggled with the sudden changes, especially once she started dating Richard again. Moving out had seemed the only option.
Micah, knowing Buffy wouldn’t like him making such a big decision without her, had dragged her around for two weeks, house hunting. When they’d finally found a house that fulfilled the pard’s needs with the added bonus of being only a two minute drive from Anita’s place, the slayer had willingly forked over the necessary money from her Council sponsored retirement fund.
But that had been it. Being who she was, the idea of playing house, settling permanently and actually building a life with people other than her demons had scared her. Still did. But she tried. Every day, she tried. Micah had asked her if she wanted to live and even though she’d never given him an answer, mostly because she didn’t know it herself, she tried. She took an active interest in every breath she took, every smile she bestowed upon Micah, every joke Zane told, every story Cherry related more interestingly than it had been in the first place.
Sometimes it seemed like too much work, seemed too hard and painful to be only Buffy and it was tempting to just put on the happy mask she’d always worn for the Scoobies again and let herself be numb. But for some reason, every time that thought crossed her mind, Micah would show up out of nowhere and get her to do something silly and easy. Something that showed her that her efforts were appreciated.
And so, step by step, Buffy remembered what it meant to be alive and happy or at least content. And more than six months after her first change, she found herself slowly warming to the idea of life in general and in St. Louis in particular.
She even smiled as she opened the front door in time to watch Anita try to glare the defenseless piece of wood into submission.
“Don’t tell me you’re still sleeping?” She snapped, irritated already despite the early hour.
The slayer shrugged. “You should know better than to assume we’ll wake up on time the morning after a full moon.”
Anita sighed, forcing herself to uncross her arms and relax a bit. It was no use to be angry at things she couldn't change anyway, or so Buffy kept telling her. Instead she shouldered her way past the blonde and into the kitchen. “At least tell me there’s coffee?” She grumbled.
Buffy slammed the door with a resounding bang, not so subtly informing the people upstairs that they had better hurry up before following the other Executioner deeper into the house.
Nathaniel came stumbling into the kitchen ten minutes later, still fumbling with the buttons of his jeans. He was damp from his morning shower but thanks to sleeping in, there had been no time to wash his hair. Instead he absently handed Buffy a brush and sank to the floor in front of her, trusting her nimble fingers to fish potential twigs and leaves out of his hair quickly.
Anita waved one hand at the two of them, offering a defeated, “You might as well take your time. We’ll already be late as it is.”
Nathaniel had the grace to look sheepish as Buffy dumped a clump of dried leaves in his lap. It was a riddle to her how so much dirt could get stuck in a leopard’s short fur. And she knew for a fact that the shifter at her feet had only changed back to human form on the front porch. His hair had never actually made contact with the forest bordering the back yard. Still, leaves and twigs. Lots of them.
After finishing her inspection, she separated the mass of hair into three parts, brushing them separately for convenience’s sake and then braided them with what seemed supernatural speed to Anita’s eyes. The blonde was just tying the braid up with a scrunchy when Micah came stumbling into the kitchen, making a beeline for the pot of coffee Anita had started almost fifteen minutes earlier.
Nathaniel climbed to his feet with a little less grace than usual, still stiff from his nightly adventure. “I’m ready to go, Anita,” he offered softly, in his very special way of apologizing. Against her will, the grumpy brunette smiled at him quickly and was about to stand when the doorbell rang.
The kitchen’s occupants exchanged glances. Fifty percent of the people likely to drop by were currently dead and other half was probably still sleeping as well. So who…?
With a shrug Buffy made her way to the front door, pulling the shirt she was wearing further down over her thighs almost as an afterthought. Then she swung open the heavy door and promptly froze at the sight of a rather stressed looking-
The woman in question, Edward’s long-time spouse and blissfully unaware fiancé of Ted Forrester, pushed past Buffy without a word, dragging a balking Becca behind her by the hand before sticking her head out the door again and snapping, “Peter, come here this instant!”
Her teenaged son appeared in the door frame, partially blocking Buffy’s sight of the black hummer sitting on the curb. Inside she could see her brother snarling into his cell phone. Why the heck would Edward bring his little play pretend family to St. Louis? Throwing cannon fodder into the lion’s den wasn’t the smartest move ever, especially when the cannon fodder wasn’t even aware of its status, or the fact that ‘Ted’ was one of the lions.
Closing the door with a defeated sigh, there went her calm morning, eh, afternoon, Buffy turned to face Donna. Edward knew where the emergency key was.
“Not that I’m not happy to see you, but why are you here?”
The older woman snorted angrily, pulling her daughter closer to her side. “Ask Ted! One moment we’re on our way to visit my sister and the next he gets a call and makes us completely change directions and come here instead. And when I tried talking to him, he simply cut me off!” Donna sounded scared. Buffy, never having approved of the woman in the first place didn’t know whether to feel sorry for her or pat her on the back for finally waking up and smelling the shit. Sure, the blonde loved her brother but she, better than anyone, knew what lurked beneath the surface and it made her insides clench to know that Donna let that soulless creature into her bed, let it touch her children, sit at her table.
Edward didn’t sleep in the beds of single mothers in their forties. Edward slept on beds of bones and he’d never, never be a fireman when the flood rolled back, mostly because he’d be part of the flood. That’s just how he was, how both Crane children were, under all the smooth tarnish. The only difference was that Buffy didn’t make a secret out of it.
Offering a reassuring, “I’m sure he’ll explain now that you’re here,” she waved a little hello to a scared Becca and nodded toward Peter before leading them all toward the kitchen.
Peter was another reason Buffy wanted to yell at Dona to grab her kids and run because Edward, bless his empty little soul, had somehow taken the boy under his wing. He was molding him like his father had molded him, taking his humanity away piece by piece and replacing it with something colder, something deadlier. And a long time ago, Buffy had promised never to let that happen. She’d promised to make sure that she and her brother were the last ones of their line, the last monsters in human skin. And she’d failed.
“Make yourself at home,” she offered as she reclaimed her seat behind Nathaniel who’d sat back down when Anita did, at the sight of the new comers. “Nathaniel,” the brunette said without taking her eyes of Donna standing in the doorway looking unsure of all the people, “Your appointment is off for today.”
He nodded just as Micah asked, “Who’re our guests, Buffy?”
The slayer leaned back in her chair, smoothing Nathaniel’s braid automatically. “That’s Donna and her kids, Becca and Peter. My dear brother dragged them here on the way to Donna’s sister. Something’s obviously very wrong for him to bring them here.”
“I didn’t know he had family,” Nathaniel remarked from the floor where he was eyeing the shy seven year old hiding behind her mother.
Before Buffy could answer, Anita snapped sharply, “He doesn’t.”
Donna acknowledged the woman with a nod and a cool look. From what Buffy had gathered over the years, Donna was under the impression that Anita was after her man. And Anita couldn’t set her straight without revealing some uncomfortable facts about just who Donna was jumping into the sack with.
Nathaniel being Nathaniel, simply took that for an answer and gave a little wave to the frightened girl. She hesitated for a moment before waving back, looking less scared. Probably because the leopard on the floor was the only one in the room completely dressed, besides Anita. And everyone agreed that Anita was just plain scary.
“Hi, I’m Nathaniel,” he offered, smiling gently.
The little girl took half a step away from her mother and offered a shy, “I’m Becca.”
Zane, his timing immaculate as always, picked that exact moment to walk into the kitchen, wearing nothing but a sleepy frown and boxer shorts. He managed to walk past the three new comers and pour himself a mug of coffee before he noticed something was off. “Eh,” he mumbled, too tired for anything else as he rubbed a hand over his face and through his bright blue hair. Becca’s eyes grew wide as saucers while Peter, having parked himself in the far corner next to the back door, watched everything with detached interest.
Micah finally interfered ordering calmly, “Get dressed, Zane, and tell the others to put on some clothes as well. And while you’re at it, bring me and Buffy something to wear, would you?”
Nodding, the shifter in question grabbed his mug and stumbled out the way he’d come, leaving behind a bunch of very silent people, half of them amused and other half dumbstruck.
Buffy slouched lower in her chair for a moment before noticing Peter’s gaze on her and realizing that the shirt she was wearing was inching higher by the second. She straightened again and hoped, for everyone’s sake, that Edward would finish whatever he was doing in the car soon.
The usually subtle and soundless assassin came banging through the front door in a display of anger no-one in the kitchen would have thought possible, except Buffy. He marched past Donna and Becca without a second glance, giving Anita a barely civil nod before stopping in front of his sister and asking, “What do you remember of the night they died?”
Ignoring him for the moment, Buffy reached around him to grab the pair of jeans Zane was offering. She stood, invading Edward’s personal space without a thought and pulled the soft blue denim on, unconcerned with the icy looks she was getting. She’d always been too good at riling the usually stiff frozen man up. Once the jeans were buttoned, she sat back down, calmly looking up at him and meeting his gaze. It should have been a submissive pose but nothing about Buffy was ever submissive.
“Why don’t you start from the beginning?”
“And why did you bring them
?” Anita either made no attempt to keep the sharp edge out of her voice, or she just failed horribly.
Edward didn’t even acknowledge her with a look, simply telling her to shut up in a voice like snow in December. Becca flinched back from him, hiding behind Nathaniel’s legs. The kid, Buffy figured, was the smartest person in the room. Then her brother repeated his question, “What do you remember?”
The slayer shook her head, feeling Micah slip in the space between her back and the wall more than she saw him. He had her back, literally and figuratively and the gesture was appreciated even if it was useless. “The beginning, Edward.”
Out of the corner of her eyes, Buffy saw Donna flinch at the name, eyes going wide. Until then, Buffy had always been very careful to call her brother Ted in front of the cannon fodder. Today, she didn’t have the luxury. If Edward brought the three of them here, things were already falling apart at the seams.
“We were on the way to Donna’s sister. I listened to my messages while we stopped for gas. Someone’s taken the contract on you.”
“What contract?” She asked, sounding neither surprised nor shocked. It would have been arrogant to think no-one was willing to pay money to see her dead.
“The one no-one in their right mind would ever take. It’s been out for years.”
“And you scared them all off, didn’t you?”
He gave her a sharp look. “If anyone takes you down, it’s me.”
Nobody in the room missed that he said ‘take down’ instead of ‘kill’. Donna scrambled toward Becca, grabbing the girl by the waist and pulling her as far away from her quasi-step-daddy as she could without leaving the room. She motioned for Peter to come to her side but the teenager ignored her, eyes fixed on the slayer.
Buffy slouched down further in her chair, making a point of not looking threatened. “Good to know. Who took the contract?”
While no-one else in the room understood the significance of the statement, Buffy certainly did. Every single muscle in her body tensed even as her face lost all trace of expression and her eyes turned cold as a naked child in the snow. And that’s how she felt. Like a child. A four year old girl, pressed against her brother’s chest listening to the end of her world, the end of all she knew and loved, the end of Mommy and Daddy who then became someone else. Joyce and Hank had become Mommy and Daddy after that one night, the night everything she was got smashed into tiny pieces and put back together the wrong way, put back together to form the girl she still was to this day, the cold girl. Auntie and Uncle had become Mom and Dad in the aftermath of tragedy and what was left was two names and vague faces, blurred by time, alive only because of Edward’s stories. What was left were Elena and Sam Crane, her birth parents.
And there was no question, no doubt, not even a single second where Buffy believed that Edward said ‘Sam’ and meant any other person than the one Sam they both knew. The one who had been dead for twenty three years. Her father.
“That’s not possible.” She sounded strange, far away and tinny.
Micah took a step closer to her, trying to wrap a comforting arm around her even without knowing what was going on but she didn’t let him. Staring into her brother’s dead eyes, there was no room for human softness. So many times Edward had accused her of being too soft, but meeting his freezing gaze she could feel it all wash away in the face of his solemn expression. There was no lie in his eyes. No deceit. Edward never lied. He had no reason to, not with her. Denial died on her tongue, excuses and feeble explanations. It all disappeared in a heartbeat until she stood there, half dressed, cold and hard as he was, the cold girl again, the girl he’d made her. Her past was slipping in through the cracks, seeping into her new life, this shiny thing she’d made for herself of love and acceptance. She would have hated him for it, if she’d known how but she didn’t. He was her big brother and he killed the monsters for her.
Anita stepped in front of Donna and the kids, a hand close to her gun. She saw, even when the others didn’t. Not yet.
“How?” Buffy asked.
“Think.” The same tone of voice he’d used when he taught her to disassemble a gun, precise, sharp, clear. Empty.
The screams, she thought, there’d been screams. She’d heard them, heard her mother cry and beg and then the terrible gurgling sound as she’d tried to scream through the blood filling her lungs. And then…”He never screamed,” she whispered, eyes flickering from person to person, absentmindedly. The humans all looked spooked, Micah worried. The rest of them, Zane and Cherry and Nathaniel, they just watched. Accepting, calm. They trusted her. She wondered if she deserved them but there wasn’t really time to consider it.
But the bodies, she’d seen them. Edward had carried her from the house, pressing her face into his shoulder, but she’d seen, over his back, seen her mother in her white dress with the cherries. Only there had been no white left, only cherry red. So much red. Her eyes had been empty and Daddy, “No body,” she added.
The funeral, though. There’d been a funeral. She’d held Joyce’s hand in one of her own, Edward’s in her other one, staring at the coffin. The single cherry wood coffin. She’d picked it. “One coffin, you said, just one so they’ll always be together. Forever and always. You promised.”
There should have been tears in her eyes, should have been tears running down her face in rivulets of betrayal and sorrow but there weren’t. Edward had done what big siblings do. He’d protected her the same way she’d tried to protect Dawn, with lies and omissions, stories that were safe instead of sharp and dangerous truths. She would have gone looking for him, if she’d known.
“They didn’t kill him,” she finally stated, more for her own sake than anyone else’s. She needed to hear the words spoken out loud. “They infected him. They made him one of the monsters. That was his punishment.”
Edward nodded. Cherry had tears in her eyes. Anita’s arm hung limply by her side, miles and miles from her gun. Micah’s arm crept up the slayer’s back, resting on her shoulder, almost too light to feel. She left it there as one realization after another cascaded through her mind, setting right scenarios that had never quite fit before.
“I woke up, the first night at Joyce’s house. You promised to be there, but you weren’t. You were with him, weren’t you?”
“Cleaned out the bank accounts, brought him some things and told him that if he ever got close to either of us, I’d kill him.”
Peter had gone pale, Becca was whimpering and crying and Donna looked scared, so scared. Her fiancé, the man she loved, stood in the middle of a nice suburban kitchen, in the bright morning sunlight, talking about death and killing, lies and fathers like the weather. Cold. So cold. She’d slept with a corpse in her bed for years and finally, after all the time, she saw.
“The old man I talked to, his colleague…” She’d never found out what had killed him so suddenly after her visit.
Another nod. “He was dead by the time I got there.”
“You’ve never seen him again?” It was formulated as a question but she knew the answer already. If father and son had ever crossed paths in the last twenty two years, they wouldn’t have been here now because one of them would have been dead.
A head shake. “I almost ran into him a few times, always missed him by a day or two. He stayed in the business, popping up occasionally for a job, nothing more. Taking the hit on you is two times suicidal and very out of character.” He gained a few confused looks for his strange phrasing for a moment.
“Three times, I’d say,” Zane finally broke in, seeming to understand what the assassin meant and reminding the siblings that there were still other in the room, listening to their every word. Buffy turned to him, one eyebrow raised. He shrugged sheepishly. “Well, it is. One time, because of what you are, two times, because of who you are and three times, because of who Edward is. I mean face it, the two of you together? Major overkill.”
“We still need a plan,” Micah reminded everyone, running the hand not resting on his girlfriend’s shoulder through his tangled hair. At least he tried to, before dropping his hand again with a grimace. He needed a brush. Well, actually, he needed Edward to not ruin his day so thoroughly but it was probably too late for that.
The assassin merely shrugged carelessly, “He broke the rules.”
The sound of an open palm meeting skin cracked through the room like a whip.
Edward turned his head with the blow, face turned to one side as Donna stood in front of him, face alight with rage and tears, chest heaving, Becca still clutching one of her hands. “How can you talk like that about killing
your own father
? And what the hell is going on anyway? Who are you? Who is Buffy? And who are all these people and why
do they call you Edward?”
Slowly, almost in slow motion, he turned his face back to face his fiancé. His face had lost all trace of emotion, slapped off with one simple motion and his eyes were as cold as they got when there wasn’t bloodshed and mayhem to be had. For a long moment, he just stared at Donna, not moving a single muscle as she screamed in his face, “Answer me, Ted! What is going on?”
Anita took half a step forward into the war zone, looking decidedly neutral. She liked Donna and her kids, but she’d always advocated Edward leaving them. They had no place in an assassin’s life.
“You shouldn’t have brought them,” she said, drawing the other woman’s attention.
“You knew,” she accused, “You know what’s going on here. Tell me!”
Buffy was there next to the other Executioner suddenly, pulling her back a few feet by her arm before she placed herself at the eye of the storm that was a confused and scared mother. “You know, Donna. You’ve always known. You listened to our whole conversation. You know who and what Ted is.”
“I don’t know a man who’d kill his own father!” She lifted Becca up on her hip, stroking the girl’s hair. The gesture seemed to calm her more than her daughter.
Buffy actually snorted. “It’s sort of the family business, you know? Killing? The Cranes have always been good at that. It’s why I always told Edward to send you away. Two generations of us are enough. There shouldn’t be more.” Unwittingly, her gaze settled on Peter who stood stock still and very silent next to the back door, watching the whole scene with cool interest. She could hear his accelerated heart beat, smell his sweat, but outwardly, he seemed calm. It made her feel just a bit sick.
“Is that your real name, Ted? Crane?”
Edward still refused to talk so Buffy spoke again. “Edward Samuel and Elisabeth Anne Crane, children of Samuel and Elena. Those are the identities we were born with. But it’s been a long time since we actually were those people.”
Donna’s eyes grew wider as her anger faded in the face of Buffy’s calm confidence and professionalism and turned into panic. Panic and fear. Slowly, ever so slowly, she was putting together the clues that had amassed in the three years she had known the man she called Ted Forrester.
“But how can you talk about killing your own father? Who’d do
something like that?” She sounded desperate. So very desperate. She didn’t even notice Zane shoving Cherry and everyone else who wasn’t needed out of the room or Nathaniel making funny faces for Becca to try and distract her from the adult conversation. Her eyes were fixed on the blonde woman in front of her, waiting for the words to make it all okay.
The slayer smiled sadly. “Wouldn’t be the first time I had to kill someone I love.”
Both women’s eyes flitted to Edward who had moved over to lean next to Anita against the kitchen island while Micah had distanced himself a bit from the man, deciding to keep a closer eye on Peter. For a moment, Buffy was ridiculously grateful that he hadn’t left her. Then she allowed herself a wry smile. Maybe Edward was right and she really was too soft. But relying on someone, relying on the people in this kitchen, didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Just a bit, just sometimes.
“And you?” Donna finally whispered. There was something in her voice, almost inaudible. Another question entirely: Do you love anyone at all?
Edward looked up at her through his fringe, not moving from his slouch, regarding her with polite interest. He wouldn’t say it. Couldn’t, probably and certainly never would. Hell, he probably didn’t know or realize it himself. Buffy knew that but Donna didn’t. Edward felt…something for her and her children. Something that was as close to love as he was capable of. But he’d die before he put in into words because that’s just who he was, who he’d made himself into. It was who Buffy had been, too, for a long time and she was still learning to be someone else. Someone who could smile and say, “I care.”
For a moment, the lovers stared at each other across the head of the little girl they’d raised together for years and for just a second, Buffy thought her brother might prove her wrong for once and speak. Then the second passed and Donna shrunk down visibly, all fight leaving her. She wasn’t stupid. This wasn’t the big revelation it might have been. It was just the cataclysm that forced her to admit what she’d known already. That no regular bounty hunter went on so many business trips around the world, coming back with broken bones and shot wounds more often than not. No regular bounty hunter knew people like Otto and Bernardo and scared Anita Blake. No regular bounty hunter went for his gun when his quasi-stepson slammed the door to his room on the other side of the house, two stories above.
She’d known these things for a while and once something is known, it can’t be unknown, even if you’d give your life for it. But it can be denied for a long time. Now, it was real suddenly and Donna broke, just a bit, standing there in Buffy’s sparkling kitchen in the mid of October. She broke.
“I’m leaving,” she finally said, through tears.
Buffy nodded and called softly for Zane. “Let Zane and Nathaniel drive you to a hotel, alright? You’re in no condition to drive right now but I can understand you don’t want to be here. But please, Donna, for the sake of your kids, don’t do anything stupid, okay? Things aren’t quite as terrible as they look at the moment.”
The older woman nodded and turned wordlessly, allowing her daughter to squirm her way to the ground and over to Nathaniel, who hugged her close and carried her to the front door, telling her stories already. Zane only needed a firm look of warning and the car keys before he too, followed the trio out. Peter was last, looking torn between Edward and his mother for a moment until Edward ordered, “Look after them.”
He nodded and walked out of the room.
Donna was gone.
Edward looked more defeated than anyone had ever seen him.
Anita pushed off the island, “I’ll call Rafael and ask him to send a couple of rats to look after them.”
Micah hugged Buffy close.
Half an hour later, order was returning to the house after the emotional upheaval Edward had brought with him. Zane and Nathaniel had brought Donna to a hotel where she and the kids had agreed to stay for now. The wererats had agreed to send two bodyguards over to keep an eye on the three humans and Zane and Nathaniel were currently on their way to inform Jean-Claude of what was going on as soon as he woke. Merle and Noah, the pard's only two fighters besides Nimir-Ra and Nimir-Raj were driving the rest of the pard home, making sure they were safe.
Buffy was taking a much needed if quick shower while Micah was preparing a belated breakfast under Anita’s watchful eye. Edward had retreated to the living room where he was staring blankly into thin air, not speaking. It set the animator on edge. She’d gotten used to the assassin being more open around her to a degree where she’d been able to even read his moods somewhat. But now, it was like trying to analyze the mood of a brick wall. She couldn’t tell whether he was about to run after Donna or go on a homicidal spree. It made her trigger finger itchy.
Finally she heaved a great sigh and grabbed the phone, putting her nervous energy into warning everyone. Richard was her first call, followed by Narcissus and then the on-duty members of the coalition so they would get the word out to all remaining shifters that a dangerous assassin and rogue werewolf was in town and aiming for the Nimir-Ra.
Buffy re-entered the kitchen just as she hung up the last time. Her hair was still damp and held back in a messy bun but she was wearing underwear and a real shirt with her jeans now and looking more alert.
Slowly, deliberately, she made her way over to where Micah was piling plates onto a tray and pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth. It was her way of saying ‘thank you for being here and standing by me’ because Buffy, too, would never say the words out loud. In that regard, she was very similar to her brother, although for different reasons. She’d been burnt too often.
Anita lowered her gaze away from the short couple, opting to grab a handful of mugs and the coffee and make her way to the living room. She had begrudged Buffy her relationship with Micah for a long time but it was hard to stay mad at them when they were so obviously much better for each other than Anita could have ever been for Micah. Besides, she was a kept woman now and so far, Richard and her actually seemed to be working. It never stopped amazing her.
She set the mugs down and poured herself coffee before sinking into the sofa. Unlike her own white living room, this one was held in shades of black and grey with purple accents. “Better for bloodstains and goop,” Buffy had informed her when the animator had expressed her opinion on the strange colour scheme. Right now, she could appreciate it. Her own sofa was taboo with coffee because of potential stains.
She took a careful sip before looking at Edward who hadn’t even reacted to her entrance. She was about to say something, anything to fill the silence and make him move, when Micah entered the room with a giant breakfast tray and Buffy trailing behind him. He set the tray on the coffee table and sunk to the floor in front of it after offering, “Help yourself.”
The slayer settled next to him, almost too close to be casual and grabbed a plate to start fixing herself some toast. She kept herself busy with the jam for a while before finishing the P&J toast and leaning across the table to dump her plate in her brother’s lap none too gently.
“Eat,” she ordered in her best ‘I’m the boss, do as I say’ voice. It seemed to work. Edward shot her a glare that would have fried anyone else in their socks and then grabbed the toast and started chewing on it slowly.
It was Micah who finally got back to the matter at hand. “We need a plan.”
The sun was already sinking outside when Buffy finally flung her arms in the air with a frustrated growl. “This is getting us nowhere, damnit!”
She could feel not only her cat but also the slayer rearing their heads inside her chest, both of them demanding action instead of futile attempts at planning. Buffy had been worried as hell about the slayer ripping her to pieces when the cat tried to take over on the full moon but against all predictions, the two females had laid their fight to rest during their host’s first change. Instead of fighting each other for dominance as they had once before on Anita’s living room floor, they had both submitted to the third side of their funky little triangle, to Buffy. They had found a balance that allowed all three to live together. The cat was at the forefront when Buffy was around the pard, especially Micah. The slayer took over when there were vampires around and, strangely enough, she seemed to have taken a real liking to Jean-Claude.
But then maybe not because for the last six months the Master of the City had engaged both Buffy and Micah in a strange courtship dance that included a whole lot of expensive gifts, shows of power and, to the infinite surprise of both cats, glimpses at the man beneath the vampire that no-one except maybe Asher had ever guessed was there. On the one hand, all three of them were pragmatic about the whole thing. Anita and Richard seemed to finally be getting their crap together and with every day, the walls they built between themselves and their third grew higher and thicker. They hoped that one day, the connection might be weak enough to be severed without resulting in bodies. If that happened, two-thirds of Jean-Claude’s power base would be ripped away in one simple act. But both Buffy and Micah could easily match and, in the slayer’s case, surpass the powers of Ulfric and Lupa.
But on the other hand there was the fact that Buffy knew that without Micah around, she could have ended up with Jean-Claude. He was pragmatic, powerful, sexy, smart, sarcastic and highly entertaining if he wanted to be. Her kind of guy. Except, he dressed better. Micah had, to use his own words, no problem with vampires, men and strange relationships in general and Jean-Claude specifically. He was, all in all, the most easy-going guy the slayer had ever met, except maybe Oz, and Buffy knew that even if he would never say it out loud, he felt a lot of the same things for the master vampire as she did.
Oh, she wasn’t jumping into bed with anyone except her Nimir-Raj anytime soon, but then she had time now. With the Powers out of her life and some joy and hope back in it, she was in no hurry. She could just float.
Except tonight she couldn’t. Because tonight, her father had come back from the grave to kill her and she did. Not. Have. A. Plan. And her darling brother was really starting to get on her nerves.
Their first idea had been to try and draw Sam out into the open. The obvious flaw in the plan was that Edward’s arrival had caused too much of a stir for Sam to believe anything they might stage. He had to know that Buffy knew and neither she nor Edward were the type to be careless or stupid. Not after so many years of constant fighting. Even if he didn’t know what Buffy was capable off, he had raised his son to know better than to parade such obvious bait in front of a fellow predator.
As such, the trick-Sam idea had been kicked to the curb almost as fast as it had been hatched by Anita, lounging on the sofa, slurping coffee and glaring at the world because her free Friday was ruined.
Micah’s plan had more merit, at least at first glance. They had close to two thousand shifters inside the city limits, half of them trained as bodyguards, soldier or just muscle. On top of that they had, if Jean-Claude was willing to help, over two hundred vampires at their disposal. With that amount of man power, it seemed like a good idea to simply comb the city and flush Sam out of wherever he was hiding. A battle of the supernatural though, Anita was quick to point out after her own plan was shot down, had one obvious flaw. If vampires turned out in droves, the humans, especially the police, were bound to realize that something was up. Vampires in groups larger than five or six tended to draw attention and not of the good kind. A single vampire was an interesting exhibit. Two vampires were like animals in a zoo. But much more than that and fear tended to finally overwhelm a human’s morbid curiosity and fascination with that which could kill them.
The shape shifters presented even more of a problem as many of them were so deep in the closet they couldn’t find their fur with, as Buffy put it, “Two hands, a map and a ball of red string to mark their way.” There was no way they would agree to help in such an endeavour, cutting the number of available helpers in less than half. Plus, there was again the factor of Dolph and his squad waking up and smelling the trouble. And after the man had made a real effort over the last few months, irritating him by breaking a whole bucket full of laws didn’t seem too wise to either executioner.
Besides, Sam had, over the years, gotten away from none other than Death close to a dozen times. He wasn’t going to get caught now.
So plan two died a quick and painful death and Micah went for more coffee while Edward started fiddling with his guns. It was extremely out of character for him and set Anita on edge, not helping their situation any. Buffy let it slide because, although it disturbed her deeply, it was also nice to see her brother show some human emotion for once.
“So what’s left?” Micah asked, looking around.
“Wait and prepare as well as we can?” Buffy shrugged and shifted so she could rest her head against his shoulder. She was still tired from the full moon. Micah smiled briefly but didn’t move to acknowledge the new weight on his shoulder. He didn’t dare to after watching his girlfriend become the cold girl again. She was as dead, if not deader than she had been when she’d arrived in town. Yet she was here, sitting next to him, with her head on his shoulder. It felt better than he thought it would.
Anita shrugged, not really agreeing but not seeing a point to disagree. She seemed more relaxed than usual in a crisis. Maybe because she knew Buffy could look after herself and none of her people were in mortal peril for once. Either way, she asked the room at large, “What do we know about your father?”
Edward glared at her for the phrasing but didn’t speak up. Buffy rolled her head so she could look at the other woman and started ticking facts off on her fingers. “Werewolf for more than twenty years. Bounty hunter since before Edward was born. Soldier before that, probably a hit man. And our father.”
She didn’t look happy about he last one and her brother noticed. “Is that a problem for you?”
She sat up, giving him a look too empty to be called a glare. “I killed Angel. I can kill my father if it comes down to it. That doesn’t mean I want to do it.”
“The question,” Anita cut in, getting tired of the siblings’ razor sharp tongues after being stuck in the same room with them for the better part of the daylight hours, “Is whether or not we can
prepare for someone that’s been in the business for longer than we’ve been alive. He’s bound to be good. Damn good. And we know nothing that could help us predict his moves. Only that they’ll be deadly.”
Buffy blinked at the other executioner very slowly. “Does anyone else find it scary when Anita is being level headed?”
Micah silently raised his hand in agreement.
For Edward that seemed to be the final straw as he barked, “Focus!”
Before he got the chance to say anything else, the front door swung open. Two of the four people in the room immediately went for their guns, while the other two merely sniffed the air probingly before relaxing again. A second later Zane poked his head around the corner and, noticing the two guns trained on him, grimaced carefully. “Don’t shoot me, I brought a visitor.”
The weapons were slowly lowered as Nathaniel slipped into the room, followed by Zane. Jean-Claude, dressed to kill, smirking snootily and shielding heavily brought up the rear. He stopped in the doorway for a small flourishing bow in the direction of the three St. Louis residents before turning to the single assassin in the room. “Monsieur Edward, a pleasure to meet you again, even under such dire circumstances.”
Edward, already fuming inside, cocked his head to one side, icy smile on his lips and aimed his Glock at the vampire’s head.
“Why,” Buffy suggested, voice even, “Don’t you grab your things and drive over to the hotel Donna is staying at? You should probably talk to her before you start shooting people. ‘Sides, Peter had this ‘I’m gonna do something stupidly heroic if you don’t stop me’ look when he left.”
It was a bare faced lie and everyone in the room knew it. Peter had had enough training to not run off stupidly and if he’d worn any expression as he’d left, it had been a dazed one. Still, the slayer had decided that her brother needed to leave, whether for his own sake or that of everyone else didn’t matter. She wanted him to not be here and in the strange and twisted way Edward and Buffy worked, he would comply to her veiled demand and leave.
Wordlessly he stood, grabbing his jacket and re-holstering his gun before sweeping out of the room with one last piercing glare toward the Master of the City. Zane shrugged it off and moved to sit beside Anita on the second sofa, while Nathaniel opted to sit at the feet of his two alphas, head resting against Micah’s knee.
“One might think,” The vampire commented as Anita relaxed into the cushions again, “That your brother knows of my pursuit of you.”
“He probably does.” Buffy admitted as she turned her head to avoid Jean-Claude’s greeting landing on her lips. “He wouldn’t be my brother if he didn’t spy on me randomly.”
With a delicate snort the vampire bestowed a similar greeting on Micah before sinking into the loveseat Edward had vacated. He crossed his stretched legs at the ankles, seemingly melting into the cushions in a heap of boneless grace. “I have come to offer my aid, mes chats,” he offered after they had all listened to Edward’s hummer leave the drive noisily.
It was Anita’s turn to snort, “Aid away then, we can’t even come up with a plan that has a minute chance at success.”
He directed a questioning gaze toward Nimir-Ra and Nimir-Raj, receiving two nods in return. “Drawing him out won’t work because he’d never fall for it. Hunting him down has failed in the past and if we put too much man power into it, it’s bound to draw attention we don’t need, especially you.”
That received a pleased little smile.
“Waiting and preparing only makes sense when you know what you’re preparing for and so we’re back at the beginning. No plan, lots of questions.”
For a long moment the vampire sat absolutely motionlessly with all the stillness of the dead, unblinking, un-breathing. His heartbeat, if there was one, was inaudible even to the shifters in the room.
“Maybe,” he finally broke the silence, clasping his hands over his stomach, “You have been considering this problem from the wrong perspective.”
“You have, as your nature dedicates, been looking at this from your usual perspective of predator. The problem is that, in this case, you are not the hunter but the hunted.”
“We know that,” Anita threw in, unhappy as always with the smooth vampire.
“And yet you try to plan your own moves as if you were the aggressor here. You are not. The moves that matter are that of your father, petite fureur. You must try to predict his moves or you….”
He trailed off as Buffy suddenly flowed to her feet too fast for human eyes to see, cursing violently. Without a word of explanation she sprinted to the door, grabbing her keys and the pair of daggers she always kept there without sparing them a glance. She was already halfway out the front door when Micah and Jean-Claude, the fastest of those present, caught up with her.
“Buffy?” was all they asked.
The slayer didn’t look at them as she jogged to her car, unlocking it impatiently. As she jumped into the driver’s seat she finally took a moment to call, “We’re not the ones setting him up, we’re being set up!”
Then she slammed the car into reverse and pulled out of the drive with enough force to leave black tire marks. A second later she was gone, leaving behind five very confused people.
Buffy didn’t slam the ball of her hand into the steering wheel like she wanted to. Denting the car wasn’t going to help. Besides, she knew that if she offered the cold rage burning in her gut even the smallest outlet, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She preferred the vague feeling of vertigo that had settled there as realization had dawned on her. It was simple, really, almost too simple. Sam had set everything up. From the call that had forced his brother to bring his family with him to the discord between them. He’d played them like toy soldiers and they’d been dumb enough to fall for it.
How many times had Buffy done similar things herself? Played the nature of her enemy against them? She’d used Willow’s need to prove herself to activate the potentials. Spike’s devotion to protect Dawn. Angelus’ and Glory’s arrogance to bring them down. Back in Sunnydale everyone had thought of her as wild and unable to follow a plan. But her brother had taught her all he knew about manipulating people, about plans inside plans inside plans.
And she’d been stupid enough, arrogant enough, to forget who had taught him. Their father. Sam knew them, knew their tactics and their tricks because at the root of them all, were his own. Buffy had known her father for only four years and yet he had, through her brother and a million little other ways, made her. She remembered Joe, an old soldier-cum-bar-owner asking Edward if he’d been the one who made her. He’d denied it, much to her surprise. Now she finally understood why.
Sam was doing what she would have done, had tried to do. Draw her out. But he was a werewolf. A loner in the territory of the most powerful pack in the states. He couldn’t use any of her people as bait because that would mean every shifter allied with St. Louis proclaiming open season on him. Her old friends were safe across an ocean, far out of reach. And her family? Her family consisted of Edward and a bunch of ghosts. Even as a human, Edward was anything but a weak point.
But he had one. A weak point. Three of them, to be exact.
She just hoped she’d get there before it was too late.
It was, to Anita’s endless surprise, Jean-Claude who figured it out five minutes after Buffy’s abrupt departure. They were still standing uselessly in the drive when he suddenly exclaimed, “Scare bleu! Of course. She has figured out who her father will use as bait! Merde.”
“But this is Buffy were talking about,” Zane argued. “She’s not exactly known for her weaknesses unless it’s Ben & Jerry’s.”
“Neither is Monsieur Edward and yet his one weakness will bring them both down in the end.”
“What-,” Anita asked as Micah’s eyes flashed yellow.
“He’s going for Donna and her kids.”
The Master of the City nodded. “Her brother is ma fureur’s only weakness and his weakness in turn is the family he has claimed as his own.” He laughed humourlessly, “So much emotion and trouble and still she calls herself a cold child. Your slayer is very silly, I’m afraid, mon chat.”
Micah nodded, smiling despite the circumstances. “Yet you seem to understand how her mind works perfectly well.”
“Maybe I too am silly.”
“Oh, cut it out,” Anita finally growled, waving her car keys in front of their faces. “How about we try to do something useful instead of standing here and waxing poetically, huh?”
“There’s no way we can get there in time now.” Zane argued helpfully.
“No, but we can be there for her afterward.” Micah decided.
Jean-Claude agreed, “That we can,” and the two men, as different as they were, had a moment of perfect agreement as their eyes met.
Nathaniel smiled happily as he watched his leaders hurry to the jeep parked across the street. No-one but him seemed to even notice Jean-Claude’s hand on the small of Micah’s back.
But then the wereleopard had a tendency to notice things others didn’t. Blindly, he reached for Zane’s arm, pulling the other leopard back toward the open front door.
“They’ll take care of her,” he said as the other man tried to protest.
And they would. Take care of Buffy that was. He was sure of it.
Buffy didn’t park the car as much as she simply stopped it and jumped out. Seconds later she was inside the lobby and on her way up to the third floor. 312, that was the number Claudia, one of the bodyguards Rafael had agreed to send, had given Anita over the phone. Claudia and Blaze, the other bodyguard, were both wererats. Former soldiers turned mercenaries after their infection and generally indestructible. Good for keeping helpless humans alive. At least that’s what Anita had told her. She really hoped the other woman was right.
The slayer flitted through the lobby without so much as a by your leave, ignoring the harried clerk at the front desk calling out for her to stop before flinging up his hands, mumbling something about nobody listening to him and stomping back into his office. Buffy, hearing his muttering only thanks to cat and slayer enhanced hearing, sped up her steps, breaking into a jog. People running through lobbies combined with her usual luck didn’t bode well. At least she was now fairly sure that she was right. Not that she’d been unsure before. Predators tend to think alike after all. It had only been a matter of switching perspectives.
She reached the lifts just as the doors of the nearest one swooshed
shut. Cursing wildly and drawing the reproachful glare of an elderly woman with a wildly growling dog in her arms, she spun on her heels and, spotting the door leading to the stairway, took of once more. She was wasting time.
She found Blaze on the second story landing. There was no need to feel for a pulse. His neck was twisted at a harsh angle and there was a knife buried deep in his chest.
She took the thirty or so stairs to the third floor in record time, almost falling over Claudia’s prone body. She came to a graceless halt a split second from slamming into the wall and spun in time to see the injured woman try to aim her gun at the slayer despite her badly shredded arm. Buffy ignored the weapon in favour of checking the other shifter over. Her heartbeat was steady and there was a lot of blood but not too much.
“Which way,” she asked. There was no need to ask what had happened. The answer was clear as the sky on a sunny summer’s day. Sam had happened. Her father
had happened. He’d killed or overpowered two trained mercenary shifters without anyone noticing.
Claudia spat out a mouthful of blood, lowered her gun and coughed briefly. “Third door on the right, across the hall. Knives, no guns far as I saw.”
Her last words followed the slayer out into the hotel hallway and a second later, she’d kicked down the door to 312, breath held, muscles tensed and ready for anything. At least that’s what she thought.
Anita was walking, or rather driving, a fine line between going too slow for any peace of mind and fast enough to be stopped by the police. She itched to go faster but getting held up would only cost precious time and get the police involved. They didn’t need that. So she withstood the urge to floor the gas and gripped the steering wheel tighter. It was funny, she decided, how the annoying blonde had grown on her in a few short months. She’d made Anita’s life easier in many small ways. And looking in the rear mirror at the two men there, the executioner knew that there were others who wanted Buffy to not do something stupid even more than she did.
“Anita,” Micah started from the backseat, only to be interrupted immediately.
“I’m going as fast as I can, Micah. Do you want the cops to notice us?”
The leopard shook his head mutely, leaning, unconsciously most likely, deeper into the side of the vampire next to him.
“Please,” Jean-Claude offered, “There is no need to fight.”
Anita turned back to the road, pushing the limit by another five miles per hour.
She was four, holding on tightly to her brother, hidden badly in the far corner of the room, knowing with the mind of a child that the bad men knew she was there but didn’t care about her. They wanted Daddy because Daddy had done bad things. She knew that too, understood it since the day she’d watched Eddie go head to head with Daddy because Daddy would have let her touch his shiny knives.
Daddy stood in front of Mommy, shielding her with his body, staring silently at the bad men while Mommy tried to stifle her sobs, terror making her eyes so big.
She was four and she knew that something was about to happen, something bad and there was no escaping it so she burrowed tighter into Eddie’s shirt and didn’t make a sound as he pressed his palm over her mouth.
Becca was almost eight but she clutched Peter as tightly as Buffy had clutched Edward twenty three years ago. They were curled up in the far corner off the room, wedged in between the closet and an end table. Becca was crying almost soundlessly but Peter’s eyes were dry. Dry and dead as his surrogate father’s and staring at the withered man standing between him and the door.
Donna was sobbing hysterically, curled up against the couch, dissolving more and more with every passing second as Edward stood between her and Sam stoically, silently, like a statue, a mahnmal
- war monument - of history repeating itself, of past ghosts come back to haunt, to kill what was left of a family.
Come back because he too, had done bad things, terrible things and this was the price he would pay. One more father turned into a monster, one more mother slaughtered, another generation of children dead inside so long before their time.
But there was one difference.
Buffy stood in the shattered doorway, eyes wide, staring at the scene in front of her, as familiar as her own nightmares but she didn’t cry. When was the last time she’d cried? She didn’t remember.
Her father, her father
, the bad man, every bad man, stood less than ten feet to her left, angled now to keep both her and Edward in his line of sight. He looked…old. Old and wild and so horribly familiar it made her teeth ache and her guts churn. She’d believed, had known him dead for so long, to see him alive now… It was too much. But things, Buffy had learned, were always too much. You just had to switch off and let your brain do the work your heart and mind couldn’t.
It took less than a second to check the three innocents in the room over. They were all unharmed. Good. Not that she really cared, not now but it was good. Edward would get a chance to explain himself.
“Sam,” she said and her voice was even, smooth and cool as water. Clean. Empty.
He had one dagger in each hand, arms bent for an attack but his face, deeply lined and horribly scarred fell a tiny bit even as he pulled up one corner of his mouth. He’d always smiled that way. She remembered that now. Edward smiled the same way. “You not goin’ to call me Daddy?”
His accent was heavy, his voice rough. He sounded old. Mutely she shook her head, asking instead, “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged but didn’t lower his weapons. She took another step in the room. “You know why I’m here.”
She nodded, looking at Edward. He stared back impassively, expressive as a mirror. Buffy wondered if he, too was reliving the end of his life, his childhood, his innocence. She wondered if Sam had planned this and even as she did, she knew the answer.
“You planned all this, didn’t you?”
His smile became a grin this time. “Had a hard time pullin’ all the strings just
righ’ ta get everyone here.”
He had never meant to kill Buffy. Taking the contract had been his way of getting Edward, and Donna and the kids, to St. Louis. He’d set them all up for…for this. For this exact moment, a flashback to twenty three years ago, a perfect replica of a perfectly horrible night. History didn’t repeat itself. Sam was repeating history.
“Why not?” He poked one dagger toward his son, making Donna sob harder. Becca’s face was buried in Peter’s chest, his hand stroking her hair tirelessly. He never took his eyes of the scene unfolding in front of him. “Sonny boy ruined m’life, darlin’. Wouldn’ even let me go ta my wife’s funeral, said he’d kill me if he ever saw me again. Took away all I had left.”
Edward gave a lazy boy smile but his eyes stayed cold and he refused to answer. Buffy did. “He did what you taught him to do. Get rid of the monster.”
“Am I a monster, Lizzy?” He didn’t sound particularly interested in the answer. Rhetoric, nothing more.
“By definition,” she shrugged, ”We both are. In a way, we all
are.” It wasn’t necessary to mention that the statement included Edward, the last human member of the family. They all carried their own brand of monstrous sociopath around, deep down. It was the Crane legacy.
Sam had picked a way for himself and he had taught his son that way. He’d sown and the next generation had reaped. He’d brought his way and his sins upon his wife and children, and then he’d left them with just enough knowledge to fight, to never be able to walk away and they in their turn had sown their own way in the hearts and minds of others, had brought death and destruction to others. Edward more than Buffy, Buffy less than Edward but in the end they were the same. They brought horrible things with them wherever they went. There was blood on their hands, too much blood. And now Sam was back, offering himself as a tool to destroy yet another generation, to make Becca and Peter reap what Edward had sown, what Sam had sown and maybe even what Sam’s own father had sown.
All her life, Buffy had tried to escape, to break the cycle. Now she knew that by doing so, she’d ensured she never would. She was the fly fluttering about the spider’s net, pulling the web around her tighter with every movement to escape. Only that flies did not turn into spiders themselves and Buffy had.
She was the monster.
And so was Edward.
So was Sam.
So would Becca and Peter be, rising from the ashes of their mother’s death filled with hatred and resignation.
And after that?
She laughed. She threw her head back and laughed, loud and long and painfully, hysterically.
Sam raised an eyebrow, “Ya find this funny, Lizzy?”
“Do you want me to cry?”
“Aw,” he said, his own face unreadable suddenly, “Did I raise ya t’be a cry baby?”
“You didn’t raise me at all.”
He acknowledged the point with a minute nod. “So, how do I fit in this little scenario? I don’t remember a female hero entering the fight the first time round.”
“Never had a sister, did I?”
Buffy shrugged. She didn’t know. Never had known. Never would. Instead she flexed her left hand, claws shooting from the skin of her fingertips, curling cruelly inward. She’d made a promise to an old man once. She’d promised him no more dead eyes, no more ruined families. She’d keep that promise, even if it meant nothing. Even if it meant killing her own father. What did one more death matter to her?
Anita knelt to felt Blaze’s pulse as Micah and Jean-Claude moved on, too fast for her to follow. She found no sign of life and with a sad sigh and an apologetic look at the corpse, she followed the men up the stairs. She didn’t find them. Instead she found Claudia, gun held loosely in her hand, smiling dazedly, blood on her lips.
“The next person to jump over me in a hurry gets shot.”
Grimacing and sinking to her knees next to the taller woman, Anita flipped open her cell phone to call Dr. Lillian.
Micah skidded to a halt just inside the smashed door, Jean-Claude less than a breath behind him. Buffy stood with her back to them, one hand clawed and twisted, her eyes as warm as a blizzard in January. She was staring at an old man whose eyes were the same colour as Edward’s and the same temperature as the hers. Edward was slowly back pedalling toward Donna and the kids, eyes fixed on his sister and father.
Jean-Claude opened his mouth to speak but was stopped by a warm hand on his arm. Micah shook his head. Buffy knew they were there.
Sam dropped his daggers to one side as he closed his eyes. Moments later, fur began to sprout on the back of his hands as they slowly grew claws. The transformation wasn’t as smooth as Buffy’s had been, but it marked him as an alpha just like her. His eyes snapped open as the transformation was finished, gaze shimmering gold as he fixed it on his daughter.
Daughter. It was a strange concept to her after all these years. To be someone’s daughter. To have a father. Even if he was…this. Even…even. But there was nothing more to say. His hands tipped in wolf’s claws, he would infect any human he injured now. Buffy wouldn’t let him. In her mind, it sounded all very simple.
She attacked at the very moment Edward grabbed Donna around the waist and flung himself behind the sofa with her.
The Master of the City had seen the slayer fight, had thought he knew why they called her the Rage. He hadn’t. He had seen her spar and fight and battle. He had never seen her enter a fight with only one intention. To end it.
Somewhere deep inside of her, where she tried to hide the dead parts of herself, she had found the determination to kill her father and she would do so without compromise, without hesitation. She’d made a decision. There was no going back now.
Jean-Claude did not know what killing her own flesh and blood would do to her but he knew that he would find out. She was the slayer. She made impossible decisions for the good of many. She sacrificed few to save the rest. She put everyone before herself. This was her duty. This was why she was so special to all who knew her. This was why she was such a tragedy. This was why he loved her.
His hand curled into a fist so tight his nails drew blood from almost bloodless skin. He would be there to pick up the pieces.
Sam ducked under her first swipe, spinning to one side with surprising agility for one in his late sixties. Then he kicked her in the back. Buffy used the forward momentum to push herself off the wall with one foot, slamming her elbow into his shoulder as she landed in front of him. She took the clawed punch he delivered to her side and kicked him in the kneecap as she spun out of easy reach again.
He came at her swinging and she ducked, bending to avoid the kick aimed at her face, slamming her heel into his knee again and bringing him down. Then, with raw strength, she threw herself on top of him, slamming her clawed hand into his shoulder, tearing skin and flesh as she nailed him to the floor, quite literally. This wouldn’t be a long fight.
The punch to her nose blindsided her, sending her flying once more. She hit the wall with her back first, landing in a crouch as Sam jumped to his feet. He was panting hard and bleeding heavily from his shoulder. With her human hand, Buffy reset her broken nose, making it a bit easier to breathe as she licked blood off her lip.
She shot out of her crouch with every ounce of speed she could muster, blurring to the naked eye. Her second hand changed and twisted in the split second she was airborne and by the time she hit her target, she had two sets of claws to slam into his chest as she drove him backward and into another all, pinning him there with his feet dangling off the ground.
He struggled, of course he did, but never enough to break free. Never enough to injure her further. He chocked and coughed as blood started to fill his pierced lung. He never blinked though as he stared into Buffy’s eyes unwaveringly.
She held him up for what seemed to be forever for the two of them. Then she took half a step back, lowering him to his feet. Behind him, blood smeared the wall. The fight was over, the room dead silent. Sam’s claws melted back into weathered human skin as he coughed hard, spitting blood. He slipped further down the wall as his knees gave out.
Buffy’s arm shot out, catching him under one arm, holding him up so they were eye to eye for one wavering moment. Then he slipped and the slayer took a quick step forward, keeping him standing with the force of her own weight. She leaned in close, one arm around Sa…. around her father, her face against his ear, her free hand stroking his withered cheek.
“You’re not,” she whispered. A monster. He wasn’t.
The sharp crack of a neck breaking echoed through the room as Buffy took a step back, staring sightlessly at the slumped form of her father.
A second later Micah and Jean-Claude were there, wrapping her up, safe and sound in their arms and together, they sunk to the floor. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Buffy cried, her tears soundless next to Donna’s and Becca’s hysterical sobs.
Dawn was only minutes away when Edward found Buffy on the roof of her house. Below, Micah and Jean-Claude were both asleep in her bed. The rest of the pard had, in silent agreement, cleared out of the house to give Buffy the privacy she needed to grieve for what she had done and never been and hours later, still held safely in the arms of vampire and shaptshifter, she had drifted off. Unfortunately, not for long.
Edward sunk down beside her almost soundlessly and for a long time he didn’t speak until, “Thank you.”
Buffy just nodded, too tired to be surprised by the first thank he had ever given her, the first apology, unspoken as it was. She had, to be honest, expected him to be mad at her for taking away his kill.
“Are you...” He went on and then trailed off. He had never asked how she felt before and really, Buffy didn’t feel all that much. She had killed Angel, stabbed Faith, thrown herself off a tower, fought Willow, sent teenagers to their deaths. And she had killed her father. Patricide, that was the word for it, right? Mostly, she felt numb. Empty. And relieved. Endlessly, infinitely, relieved because it was over. She had ended it, broken the cycle, saved what was left to save of her and her brother, her family. She’d fixed something that had lain broken inside of her for more than twenty years.
“I found this in his room. He checked in only minutes after Donna and the kids.” He handed her a small notebook. Its spine was broken, the covers held open awkwardly by dozens upon dozens of newspaper clippings and messy notes on the back of bills, paper serviettes and scraps of paper. Buffy placed the worn little thing in her lap for a moment, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes. Then she shook her head to clear away the headache that had settled there. It was a good headache, the kind you got from crying out all the pain inside. It was a headache of endings.
She opened the notebook somewhere near the middle. The first clipping was headlined Rise of Unsolved Murders in Los Angeles
, the second Student Burns Down High School Gym
. There were scribblings in the margins, dates, thoughts, little notes. And underneath, in a neater writing, Sam had spelled out a single sentence. Lizzy is the slayer.
She smiled weakly and turned the pages. Unsolved assassination in Cairo. The ad Joyce had put into the newspaper after reopening her gallery in Sunnydale. Bounty Hunter saves lives. It was a scrapbook of horror, a collection of everything she and Edward had done. The work of a proud father. Twisted, but proud. She leaved through until the end. There were no pages left. The last entry was on the arrest of SHA members all over the country six months earlier.
Carefully, the blonde closed the notebook, holding it out to her brother. He shook his head, refusing to take it. “I’d burn it,” he said, knowing that Buffy would not.
Again, they sat silently, watching at the sky turned lighter in the East until it shone a pale orange. Suddenly Edward spoke. “You know that he came here to die, don’t you?”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah. I do.”
He’d come to St. Louis, to his children, for closure. But not his own. He’d given them, both Buffy and Edward, the closure they’d needed to finally build lives without death and bloodshed. It had been his last, his only
gift to his children. His only legacy that was not made of dead people. He’d broken the cycle.
“He wanted you to kill him.” It was as close to saying there’s nothing you could have done
as Edward was ever going to get. The closest to giving comfort he knew.
Buffy nodded, leaning into him as she stretched her senses to the two hearts beating a story below. One of them would falter soon in the sun-proofed bedroom but that didn’t bother her. When she crawled back into bed later, Micah would be warm and Jean-Claude would be cold. And in between she would be just a girl, for the first time since the age of four, a girl without a past.
She would be new
But first, she’d watch the dawn.