Same Day Service
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
was created by Joss Whedon. Dragon Half
was created by Ryūsuke Mita. Not sure who owns the rights to these properties, but I don't, and I don't pretend that I do. I acknowledge all copyrights.
Whenever I write an AU fic, I like to quote or paraphrase bits of canon dialogue. Expect that to continue.Author's Note:
Okay, this will serve me right. I watched the Season One episode "Witch" only after
I'd posted Chapter 6, and it turns out I made some continuity errors. First, it was plain from Buffy's conversation with Joyce that the tryouts started on a school day, not a Saturday. That's a minor thing, easily explained as a sort of butterfly effect from Cordelia's disappearance. But later on, Amy says that her mom did the switch several months prior to the episode. Well…would you believe it was a flashback? No? Okay, I'll rewrite the last paragraph of Chapter 6 later on. Meanwhile, on with the show!
Same Day Service
"Thank you so
much for the lift," Buffy said to Joyce as she slid out of the passenger seat.
"My pleasure, honey," Joyce replied. "It was the least I could do, after all the help you gave me with those crates. You saved me half an hour just on getting them open."
"Gotta love that dragon strength."
Buffy reached into the back seat of the SUV and fished out her pompoms. She gave herself a quick once-over, smoothing the pleated red and white skirt and white pullover.
"How do I look?" she asked.
"Just great, Buffy," Joyce said. She hooked her purse over her shoulder and closed the car door. "Just like you did when you asked me in the driveway at home. And in the foyer on the way out. And coming down the stairs."
"So I look okay then?" Buffy prodded as she stepped around the car and onto the sidewalk.
"You look fine, Buffy." Seeing her adopted daughter's dubious expression, she put her hands on Buffy's shoulders and looked her right in the eye. "You look like a cheerleader."
Buffy smiled and nodded her thanks. She turned away from the parking lot to face the school. Joyce fell into step beside her.
"Um," Buffy said, glancing back at the car, "you don't have to come in with me, you know."
"I know, sweetheart. But I don't want to miss this."
Buffy's eyes widened in alarm. "Okay, seriously, Mom, it's not necessary."
"For heaven's sake, Buffy, I'm not going to embarrass you."
"W-well, no, of course not, but…"
Joyce stopped and faced Buffy.
"But what, dear?"
"But…some of the girls might not understand…they don't know how cool you are, not like I do…"
Joyce favored the girl with an exasperated, knowing smile.
"And that wasn't even slightly
a blatant attempt to flatter me into leaving, was it?"
"No, not even a little bit, despite your not buying it for a second."
Joyce chuckled under her breath and started for the school's side entrance once more, Buffy reluctantly joining her.
"It's okay, honey, I won't try to talk to anyone. But I want to see this 'Kendra' girl for myself. It's kind of disturbing that she's still here."
Buffy reluctantly nodded. "I know what you mean," she said. "Mister Giles didn't say why she was going undercover, but I have to think that maybe whatever she came here to deal with isn't over yet." She pulled the door open for her mother and they passed inside.
"And let's not forget that this is a dimensional thin spot," Joyce reminded her. "Other things are bound to crop up too. Rogue magic, demons…maybe I should be glad
"Just disturbed that she needs to be," Buffy replied in a quieter voice.
Ahead, they could hear the chattering of girls' voices. They stepped out into the main hallway of the school, where the main doors of the gym stood open. Willow was standing next to the doors, and she waved cheerfully at the two Summers ladies.
"Hi," she grinned. "Mrs. Summers, I wasn't expecting you to be here."
"Pass up a chance to mortify my baby girl? Perish the thought!"
Buffy bit back a groan.
"I was just waiting for you," Willow told her. "Xander and Jesse are already inside…pretending they're not ogling."
"Boys," Buffy said with an eyeroll as she and Willow entered the gym together, Joyce just behind them. "Is Kendra here yet?"
"I'm not sure, I haven't been inside yet…oh yes, there she is."
Willow pointed. Kendra was standing at the edge of the knot of new candidates, looking uncomfortable. She was wearing basketball shorts and a gray t-shirt. She was the only girl there who hadn't at least tried to emulate a cheerleader's uniform. Xander and Jesse had been standing off to one side, but Jesse had gone to speak to the Slayer. Xander saw the new arrivals and waved.
"Oh, hey," Willow brightened, "there's Amy! C'mon, I'll introduce you." She grabbed Buffy's hand and pulled her across the gym floor. Buffy looked back at Joyce and gave a quick wave with her free hand before surrendering to the inevitable.
Joyce waved back, then looked around. There was a refreshment table and some folding chairs against one wall; two or three other parents were chatting as they helped themselves to doughnuts and coffee. She headed over to join them.
"Kendra," said Jesse, "hi."
Kendra glanced up, nodded hello, and went back to warily scoping out the room.
"How do ye do," she said.
"You, um, you look great," Jesse told her.
She turned to look at him again, puzzled. He met her gaze for a moment, then looked at the floor. He shuffled his feet, coughed, and looked up again. Kendra had gone back to watching the other girls.
"I…am not comf'table wit' dis," she said quietly.
"Oh," Jesse said. He looked out over the room too. He raised one hand and smoothed his hair nervously. "Well," he ventured, lowering his voice, "you're not actually trying to make the team, right? So, you know, no pressure."
Kendra sighed. "If I'm too bad at dis," she said, "won't dey wonder why I came at all? I've been watchin' videotapes of cheerleaders practicin'," she said. "T' prepare for today. I don't t'ink it was enough."
Jesse shrugged. "Maybe you should think of it like a martial arts exercise," he said. "Like you're practicing katas."
Kendra blinked in surprise and turned to face him. "Dat's an interestin' idea," she said. She didn't smile, not really, but she looked less severe.
"Uh, yeah," Jesse said, facing her in turn. "If your routine is technically okay, they won't wonder, and you can fail on performance and personality. Um," he added, suddenly realizing how complimentary that didn't
sound. He dropped his eyes to the floor again and kicked at something imaginary with one foot.
"So," Kendra said, "you t'ink dis will work."
Jesse straightened up and nodded. "It's a good, workable plan," he said. "Probably as good as anything Buffy could have come up with."
Kendra nodded thoughtfully, and then suddenly realized that she and Jesse were looking directly into each other's eyes. She quickly turned back to the knot of girls that had gathered around the head cheerleader. Her face felt hot. Why did her face feel hot?
Jesse, too, had suddenly focused his attention on the proceedings. "Anyway," he said, "looks like they're about to start."
"Aye," Kendra responded. Then, thinking back on what they were just saying, she looked back at Jesse. "What did ye mean," she asked, "de best plan dat Buffy
could ha' come up wit'?"
Jesse hesitated. "Oh," he said, "it's just that Buffy was never really marginalized at her old school. There's a better way to go about it, but I'm not surprised she never thought of it. Not that there's anything wrong with --" he indicated the room -- "this. This'll work."
Kendra gazed coolly at him for half a beat. "What's de better way?" she finally responded.
"Well," Jesse said. He was suddenly nervous again. He folded his arms close, as if he were cold, and spoke with an air of casualness so forced that even Kendra noticed it. "I, um, I get together with some friends every Sunday afternoon." He unfolded his arms and rested his hands oh-so-casually on his hips. "To, to play this game?" he continued. "It's pretty much a total nerd's game; everyone knows it. If you wanted to, maybe, come along some time…"
Kendra frowned in thought. Jesse carefully gulped and shuffled his feet some more. Finally Kendra nodded.
"Maybe," she said. "If dis doesn't work out, I'll t'ink about it."
Jesse released the breath he'd been holding. "Great!" he smiled. "I mean," he added, folding his arms again and dismissing the smile, "yeah, sure, whatever."
About fifteen feet away, Xander shook his head. Jesse was just getting over Cordelia, and now this. Man, was he ever glad he
wasn't hung up on anybody like that.
"Okay," the head cheerleader called out, "I think we're ready to start."
The chatter in the room died down. Joyce settled into a chair, deliberately choosing one several seats away from anyone else.
As the moderator continued her opening remarks and consulted her clipboard, Joyce took note of where everyone was standing. Buffy and Willow were exchanging remarks with each other, and with a new girl -- obviously Willow's friend Amy. Jesse and Kendra were at the far end of the assembled aspirants.
Joyce looked around to make sure everyone's eyes were on the proceedings. As expected, they were. She nodded to herself, put her coffee on the floor by her feet and opened her purse. Inside, among her other things, was a stiff piece of white cardstock, on which she'd carefully drawn the same complex hexagram that she'd scrawled in haste several weeks before. This copy was much more detailed and precise, allowing her to be fast and loose with the ritual instead.
Without removing the card from her purse, she lightly touched her fingers to it and muttered an abbreviated invocation under her breath: "Oh you Gods of Truth and Knowledge, grant me the Flame of Arcane Vision."
The head cheerleader announced the first performer, Amber Grove, but Joyce was looking at Kendra. She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were faintly glowing with a soft blue light.
Kendra's physical features were all but impossible to make out now; instead, Joyce was seeing auras. The Slayer's was brighter than most, which didn't surprise Joyce at all. There was power there, for sure, of a type she didn't recognize. But woven through it was a strand of darkness, a pulsing twist of something that made Joyce feel very uneasy.
It didn't seem malevolent, nor did it seem to be controlling the girl, or even influencing her behavior -- at least not at the moment. Nevertheless, the darkness in it was almost palpable, and something about it seemed…predatory.
And now, as Joyce studied it, it began to stir.
Jesse felt more than saw it when Kendra stiffened. She started looking around the room, every sense alert.
"What?" he asked.
"Dere's somet'in' here," Kendra said. "Somet'in's watchin' me."
Jesse looked around too, and felt a little thrill of fear when he saw Mrs. Summers looking their way. The soft blue light was almost impossible to spot if you didn't know what to look for, but only almost. Thinking quickly, he pointed to the windows that lined one wall near the ceiling.
"Something outside, maybe?" he asked.
Kendra took the bait and focused her attention on the windows.
Joyce realized her danger at once, and was just flustered enough to be unable to dispel the magic she'd called up. She quickly ducked her head and turned it to one side, raising a hand to rub her forehead in a gesture that just happened
to hide her eyes from the Slayer's point of view. She took a deep breath and tried to force herself to be calm. It didn't work.
One aura was blazing energetically in the middle of the room, moving in time to the music. There was no supernatural power in it, but the performance clearly had her "up." The other girls were nearby. Joyce recognized Buffy's aura at once; it was all swirling flames and red-gold glitter. Willow's was next to her; it was calm on the surface, but rippled in a way that suggested deep, powerful currents. The one next to it --
Joyce kept her hand up, but only as an afterthought. What she was seeing was taking all her attention. It looked like…
"Sweet devas," she breathed. She looked at the dancing cheerleader again. There was supernatural power there now, and it was building. But it wasn't the girl's own.
Joyce squeezed her eyes shut. "Flow break," she muttered, and felt a stab of pain as the Arcane Vision spell snapped. She opened them again, and the world looked normal once more, apart from the afterimage of a hexagram floating in her stunned retinas -- not to mention the blurring and double vision. She squinted, trying to make out who was standing to Willow's left.
Kendra left off peering at the windows. "No," she said, "not dere." She scanned the room quickly. "And now it's gone."
Jesse was staring at Amber Grove. "Maybe not," he said, pointing. The girl's pompoms were giving off smoke.
Buffy gasped in horror as Amber dropped her pompoms and screamed. Her hands had just burst into flame. In the corner of her eye, she saw Kendra sprinting for the school banner that was hanging from one wall. Without stopping to think, she darted out to grab at Amber's flaming wrists, to stop her from fanning the flames by waving her arms around.
A moment later, Kendra was there with the banner, and she threw it over Amber's burning hands. As the stricken cheerleader sank to her knees, her screams changing to wails of pain and terror, Buffy and Kendra managed to smother the flames. Buffy threw her arms around Amber's shoulders.
"It's out, it's out, it's out Amber, shh, shh, it's out," Buffy kept repeating. Amber's wailing gave way to sobbing as the banner slid away, revealing her ruined hands. Buffy couldn't bring herself to look at them, but Kendra could and did. She looked up and caught Buffy's eye.
Her usual stoic expression had gone grim and angry. She nodded to Buffy, who nodded quietly back as she continued trying to soothe the sobbing girl.
The paramedics had had to sedate Amber pretty heavily, so they had her on a gurney as they wheeled her out to the waiting ambulance. The crowd of girls watched somberly as the doors closed behind her. A low muttering began to spread among them, until the head cheerleader spoke up.
"May I have everyone's attention, please?" She called out. Once silence fell, she continued. "I hate like anything to sound cold-hearted," she said. "What just happened was a terrible, terrible thing, and I'm sure all of our thoughts and prayers are with Amber. But…unfortunately, we really do need to assemble a cheer squad."
She checked her watch. "We'd already arranged for the cafeteria to serve a light lunch in about half an hour. Let's take a bit of extra time, and start the tryouts again at, shall we say, one o'clock?"
There was a murmur of general agreement. "Until one, then," Amber said. The crowd began to disperse toward the gym's main doors. Joyce, Buffy, Willow, Xander, Jesse and Kendra stayed behind, standing in a rough circle.
"I've never seen anyt'in' like dat before," Kendra said. "I…I need ta talk to me Wa-- me guardian." She glanced around the circle. The other four teenagers exchanged knowing nods with her. She turned and headed for the door as well.
Watching her go, Willow noticed someone else in the quickly dwindling crowd.
"Amy!" she called out. "You okay?"
Amy turned and started walking towards them.
"I think so," she said. "That was… Wow. I can't find the words."
"You should go eat something," Joyce said to her. "Or at least, you know, sit down."
Amy nodded. "Yes. Yes, I think I should. Thanks, Mrs…."
"Summers," Joyce smiled. She held out her hand for Amy to shake. "I’m Buffy's mother."
"Nice to meet you," Amy smiled back. She shook Joyce's hand and started to turn away, but hesitated for a moment. "Willow," she asked, "do you want to come along?"
"No," Joyce said. Willow blinked in surprise. Joyce smiled again. "I need to talk to Willow about something. Why don't you go ahead? She'll see you later."
"Sure," Amy shrugged. She gave Willow a wave. "See you," she said, then turned to catch up to the last stragglers at the door.
Willow started to say something, but Joyce held up her hand for silence. Puzzled, the redhead watched Amy as she left the room. Finally, the five were alone.
"Okay," Xander said, "what was that all about?"
Joyce turned to face them, her expression grim.
"That wasn't Amy," she said.
"Spontaneous human combustion," Giles mused. "Fascinating."
"Her hands were severly burned," Kendra said. "Second degree burns over most of de skin. T'ird degree in spots."
"I'll need to do a spot of research," Giles said. "We can't be certain if this was an outside agency, or an accidental manifestation of power from within the poor girl. All right. And the sensation of being watched -- do you think it might be connected?"
"I don't…know," Kendra said carefully. "I'm fairly certain dat was focused on me."
Giles nodded. "Anything else to add?"
"One t'ing more; not directly related. About Buffy Summers."
"Ah. Do tell."
"When we went t' put out de fire, she grabbed de girl's arms by de wrist, so I could t'row de cloth over dem," the Slayer said. "By dat time, her arms were afire to de elbow. An' Buffy's sleeves were singed, but her hands weren't burned at all."
Giles considered that carefully. He took off his glasses and started to clean them.
"Another piece of the puzzle," he said. "But as far as Amber Grove is concerned, that was clearly a, a paranormal event of some kind." He put his glasses back on and pondered.
"One common factor in cases of spontaneous combustion is rage. The victim was usually carrying a tremendous, deep-seated rage, sometimes well hidden. It might be worth finding out if Miss Grove ever showed signs of such…though I don't know how we'd go about it."
"Dat…might be somet'in' Miss Summers can find out. If we can really trust her."
Giles smiled a bit. "Rather convenient that she should turn out to be fireproof, isn't it? Still, she gives every indication of being on the side of the angels." He put his hands in his pockets and looked thoughtful.
"We can ask her to look into Miss Grove's background. Apart from that, there's really nothing more we can do except watch for similar incidents. We'll just have to keep our eyes open, that's all. This is clearly going to take time and patience."
"We have to move fast," Joyce said. "Strike that -- we have to move now."
She'd driven the four teenagers back to the Summers house, and the five of them were sitting around the dining room table, munching on hastily prepared lunchmeat sandwiches. Joyce had six pads of paper in front of her, and was scribbling notes on first one, then another.
Willow had only eaten a few bites of her lunch. She picked at it worriedly.
"I can't believe Amy's been -- what, possessed?"
Joyce nodded. "That's what they call it."
"For how long?"
Joyce shook her head. "No way to tell." She compared two pads, nodded, and wrote something on a third. The notes were written in a smooth, flowing series of glyphs that nobody else at the table could read. Probably nobody else on Earth, either.
Buffy spread some wasabi on her sandwich with a table knife. "You said she'd lost weight, didn't you, Willow?"
The redhead nodded.
"Then I'd say it's been at least a month, maybe more," Buffy said. "Whatever this thing is, it wanted its new body to be in shape before it started doing…whatever it's doing." She sprinkled chili powder over the wasabi and put the top slice of bread on.
"Do we even know what it is?" Jesse asked.
Joyce shook her head absently. She added two glyphs to one pad, then crossed off one each from three others. With each modification, the number of glyphs diminished, but the ones that remained were more complex.
"It could be a demon," Joyce said. "The power in it was dark enough. Then again, it might be a vengeful ghost, an obsessed dream shade, or…any one of dozens of possibilities."
Xander indicated the papers Joyce was working on. "And you're doing all this," he said, "to set up an exorcism, right?"
Joyce paused in her frantic scribbling. She slowly put down her pencil and raised her other hand to massage her forehead.
"I can't do exorcisms," she said quietly. She rested her elbows on the table and buried her face in her hands.
The four teenagers exchanged nervous glances, but none of them said anything. Joyce raised her head and dropped her hands to the table.
"I shouldn't be doing this," she said with a sigh. "I'm an enchanter. A journeyman
enchanter. I should be making glowstones, and self-heating bathtubs, and amulets of breath-freshening,
for Elthyrion's sake! This is a job for the Mage-Knights, or the Church Militant! I’m just…" She shook her head.
"But they're not here," she said. "They can't help Amy. All she has is me."
Jesse put down his sandwich. "If we're in over our heads," he said, "then maybe we should just tell Kendra. And, you know, Mr. Giles. Let them handle it."
Willow sucked air in through her teeth nervously.
"I…dunno about that," she said. In response to everyone's quizzical expressions, she turned to Buffy.
"You said she called herself the 'Slayer,' right?"
"Well, there's a lot of stuff about that on the Net -- most of it's contradictory -- but the consensus is that the Slayer is pretty much a warrior. We tell her about Amy, her first response is, you know, likely to involve slaying?"
"She's gonna bring Amy presents on Christmas Eve?" Xander asked. "And can we pretend I didn't say that?"
"She said she was going to talk to Mr. Giles when it happened," Jesse insisted. "Maybe they've already figured it out."
"And maybe they're sharpening some big ugly knives even as we speak," Willow shot back.
"Will has a point," Buffy said. "If we want to save
Amy, then we probably have to do it ourselves."
"If it's not too late already," Joyce said. "I don't know where Amy's soul is. But it isn't in her body. It might be contained somewhere…or whatever took her may have just thrown it away. It might be gone…wherever it's meant to go…for good."
In the silence that followed, Buffy reached out to take Joyce's hand.
"If that's the case," she said, "we call in the Van Helsing squad. In the meantime…what's the plan?" she said.
Joyce pulled one of the pads closer and studied it. She made no move to pick up the pencil.
"I'm trying to work out a quick and dirty enchantment," she said. "There isn't time for anything more. I'm going to create a set of talismans we can use to cast an amplified version of a spell I know. We'll only get one shot at it, but if it works, it should drive out the possessing entity." She dropped the pad to the table again, her eyes distant.
"The thing is," she said, "it wasn't designed for this. Even assuming Amy's still alive somewhere…it's going to be pretty rough on her."
"How long will it take you?" Buffy asked.
Joyce looked at her watch.
"I need to go out and buy some cheap mirrors," she said. "You kids can get to the school on foot, right? If you go now, you'll be there before one. Go back to the tryouts, act like everything's normal, and keep an eye on Amy. I'll meet you there before they're over. Then, one way or another, we'll end this."
The cheerleaders were gathered in the gym, doing stretches and warm-ups. The atmosphere was a bit subdued, and several of the applicants had withdrawn their names (or had been withdrawn by concerned parents), but everyone left was determined that the show would go on.
As Buffy and company joined the throng, the first person they ran into was Amy.
"Still in the running, I see," she said with a smile.
"Oh!" Willow stammered. "Amy! H-hiiii. What've you been up to? Lately?"
"Lately as in since you saw me two hours ago?" Amy replied with a bemused smile.
"A, a lot can happen it two hours," Willow said. "Like, the first act of The Sound of Music, or a TV movie."
Xander put a hand on Willow's shoulder.
"Will, remember our talk about coffee, and how you should only drink it under no circumstances whatsoever?"
"Uh, a ha ha ha ha ha," Willow forced out. "It makes me jumpy," she told Buffy. "I'll see you later," she said to Amy, "but now I have to go sit in the audience and be part of the audience." She ran off in the direction of the folding chairs.
"Don't ever change, Willow," Xander said as soon as she was out of earshot. He turned back to Amy. "She's rooting for you, you know."
"Great," Amy replied. "I'll take whatever help I can get."
Kendra and Buffy were doing some last-minute warm-ups before the next phase of the trials began. They were going to be broken up into groups of four to practice formation cheers.
Buffy knew it was a risk, but she needed to know. As she and the Slayer knelt to retie their sneakers, she leaned close and spoke in a low murmur.
"So, did you guys figure out what caused it?"
Kendra hesitated. "Not yet," she finally admitted. "Mister Giles told me ta keep an eye on t'ings here, but if one o' his t'eories is right, den not'ing more will happen."
"Okay," Buffy said. She rose and looked around the room. Over by the gym entrance, Joyce walked in and caught her eye. They nodded to one another before Joyce went to sit next to Willow.
"Amy," Buffy called out. "Want to join our group?"
Amy smiled distantly, her expression guarded. She studied Buffy and Kendra through heavy-lidded eyes while she thought it over. Then she nodded and smiled more broadly. "Sure," she said.
Buffy hung back, chatting with Amy in the locker room while other girls hit the showers -- including Kendra. When it was their turn, she hurried through her own shower and changed into green pullover and white slacks. A light, buttonless overshirt concealed the fact that the turtleneck was backless. Her ring-amulet was visible on its chain, rather than tucked away and hidden.
While Amy was dressing -- in a clean cheerleader outfit identical to the one she'd worn in the tryouts, no less -- Buffy met Willow in the hall, listening carefully to the redhead's hurried instructions. She and the boys had been helping Joyce get things set up. When Amy emerged from the locker room, Buffy was waiting for her -- alone.
"Hey," she said. "Glad I caught you."
"Yeah," Buffy said. She looked around, as if checking to make sure nobody was around. "Listen," she said quietly, "I really need to talk to someone about this. It's about, you know, what happened today. To Amber."
"Oh, yeah," Amy said. "I don't know what to tell you. We have councilors in this school--"
"No, you don't get it," Buffy said. "I think -- I think I know who did it."
"Who…you're saying someone did
that? On purpose?"
"Yeah." Buffy looked around again. "We're kind of exposed here. I think I know where we can talk."
Amy nodded slowly, staring at Buffy with a thoughtful expression.
Catherine followed the wretched blonde down the hallway. Is she on to me?
she asked herself. It didn't seem like it. Still, she'd realized during the tryouts that Buffy was going to have to be eliminated, so she might as well take advantage of the opportunity to steal one of the girl's personal effects. That ring she wore on a chain was probably something pretty strongly connected.
And if it turned out that Buffy really did suspect her, then it would be time to take a more direct hand in the girl's demise.
Buffy stopped in front of the door to the handball court. She looked around again, then pushed the door open. It was dark inside, so she held the door for Catherine as she groped for the light switch.
As Catherine stepped into the room, she began drawing in power. Not enough to darken her eyes, but enough to put the blonde in her place. Just in case.
As Amy stepped into the room, Buffy sidestepped behind her and gave her a shove between the shoulder blades. The possessed cheerleader staggered forward. At the same time, Xander snapped the light switch.
As the lights flickered into life, Buffy looked past Amy at the easel Joyce had set up. There was a wall mirror set up on it, with a single glyph painted on it in red fingernail polish. Pointing at it, Buffy shouted the first word Willow had told her to memorize.
The glyph began to glow with a bright, white light. Amy gasped as she saw it, but before she could say or do anything, Xander had stepped up to her left and a bit behind her. He held up a hand mirror, the reflective side pointed toward her and painted with a second glyph.
"ARTUS!" he shouted. His glyph lit up as well, and a shaft of white light stretched between the two.
"ILTUS!" came Jesse's voice from the left. This time, two shafts of light sprang up, completing a triangle with Amy in the center. She spun about wildly, trying to see everything at once, even as her eyes began to turn black. A swirling breeze began to blow through the room, in spite of the complete lack of openings.
"Buffy, hurry," said Joyce as she and Willow held up their hand mirrors. They stood to either side of the first mirror.
Behind Amy, Buffy allowed the door to swing shut as she shucked off her overshirt and reached behind her to tear open the Velcro seam just under the waistline of her pants. She yanked the amulet off over her head without waiting to open the chain. Willow had explained it to her -- the spell would disrupt all magic, so Buffy had to take the ring off or it would be destroyed.
As she grabbed up her own hand mirror from just inside the door, Amy turned to glare at her through ebon eyes.
"What the hell is this?" she demanded.
"An intervention," Buffy said. "You've got a problem."
"You've got a bigger one," the creature in Amy's body said. "Me."
She shot both her hands out in a shoving gesture, and Buffy was knocked back into the door by an invisible force. Since it opened inward, it held, but she sank to the floor, the wind knocked out of her. With a savage, triumphant grin, Amy turned to Joyce.
"You're clearly the one in charge," she said. "Do you really think you can hold me for long?"
"We don't have to," Joyce said. "Just long enough."
"Me," Buffy said.
Amy whirled back and took another look. Buffy had reverted to her true form. She stood tall -- as tall as Buffy ever could, anyway -- and her wings were flared dramatically. Her fiery red hair whipped about in the breeze.
"What the hell --?"
But it was too late. Joyce brandished her mirror and shouted.
"GANTAL!" Willow added, and now a new line was formed. When Buffy shouted her word, the shafts of light would form a perfect hexagram.
"BACTINE!" Buffy shouted. Nothing happened. "Wait," she said, "it'll come to me…"
"Buffyyy!" Willow shouted at her most exasperated -- not to mention alarmed.
"Try again," Amy sneered. She reached out toward Buffy's hand mirror, causing it to fly out of the dragon-half's hand and shatter against the far wall. "Oops, wait -- never mind."
Buffy met Amy's mocking eyes with a frightened gasp…but then she smiled and pulled something out of a side pocket.
"Don't mind if I do," she said. She held up the object -- the compact from her makeup kit -- and flipped it open. The same glyph was painted on the mirror inside.
"BACTAL!" she shouted, and the hexagram was complete. "Psyche," she added.
The wind swirling through the room kicked into high gear. Amy raised her hands, and sparks of red light began to form and drift around her.
"I will look upon my enemy," she began, but she seemed uncertain whether that was Buffy or Joyce.
"Look all you want," Buffy said. "We don't know who or what you are, but we know one thing for sure: That's not your body. You can't have it!"
"On three, everyone," Joyce said. "One, two --"
"I will look upon my --" Amy began once more, but five voices in unison drowned hers out.
The shafts of white light brightened until everyone was forced to squeeze their eyes shut. The fingernail polish on the mirrors began to sizzle and smoke. The swirling winds intensified until everyone had to struggle to stay on their feet. And then Amy's head tilted back, her mouth opened, and a scream ripped its way out -- an inhuman banshee wail that continued even after she sank to the floor and passed out.
Giles had just locked the library doors. He and Kendra turned to head for the front door, when the sound reached them. It was faint, but it was unmistakable. They looked at one another for a moment before Kendra took off running toward the gym. Giles followed at a slower pace.
The hexagram of light flickered and went out. The wind died down and vanished. Everyone lowered their mirrors hesitantly and stared at the girl sprawled on the floor.
Joyce swallowed, then said, "Boys?"
Xander and Jesse hurriedly dropped to their knees beside Amy. Xander put his mirror down and tried to find Amy's pulse, while Jesse held his over the girl's mouth for a moment before flipping it over and checking it for fog.
"No pulse," Xander said.
"Not breathing either," Jesse replied.
While Xander pulled her legs out straight so she'd lie flat, Jesse tilted her head back. They started two-man CPR, while the three women looked on anxiously.
"Is she gonna be all right?" Willow asked worriedly.
Joyce shook her head. "If her soul was still on this plane, it will have been freed from whatever vessel held it," she said. "It'll find its way back before too long. If not…then at least she's free." She put a comforting hand on Willow's shoulder.
"At least it's nearly over," Buffy quietly replied.
Slowly, painfully, Catherine Madison came awake. She groaned and tried to get her bearings. She was lying face down, her head turned to one side. Her right cheek rested in something soft.
She got her hands under her and levered herself up into a sitting position, her back against the couch. She was on the floor of her living room. The TV was on, and she was wearing one of her baggy floral print dresses. The something soft was clinging to her face. She scraped some of it off and looked at it.
The hand she was looking at was one she hadn't paid much attention to lately. It was her own, not Amy's. She was back in her own body…and she'd woken up face down in a plate of fudge brownies.
She slowly closed her fist, feeling fudge squish between her fingers. She'd come too far to turn back now. She was going to reclaim the body that was hers by right, and then…someone would pay. She had a pretty good idea who to start with, too.
Willow was biting her lower lip. Joyce still had a hand on her shoulder. Buffy's tail was twitching back and forth. Nobody was speaking, except for Xander's muttered counting as he pressed and released, pressed and released. Then Buffy turned her head toward the door.
"Guys," she said. Outside, they could all hear it. The sound of running feet.
Willow's eyes flew wide. She turned to Buffy and took in the sight of red hair, horns, wings and tail.
"Buffy," she gasped, "you're still --!"
Kendra slid to a halt in the hallway. A quick scan of the locker room showed nothing unusual, but looking further down the hall, she saw that the light over the door to the handball court was on, indicating that the lights were on inside. She paused outside for a moment, and then, in one convulsive movement, she twisted the knob and threw her shoulder against the door, slamming it open and stepping inside.
TO BE CONTINUED
(Ain't I a stinker?)
The "Flow Break" spell, and its accompanying hexagram, was cribbed from the anime series The Slayers,
another fantasy-comedy, though more serious in tone. There are at least three reasons why it was appropriate; can you find them all?
I don't own The Slayers
either, by the way.
Reviews welcome, even unfavorable ones (as long as they're, you know, constructive
criticism). And if you liked it, please rate it.