Down the Rabbit Hole
Summary: Response to challenge # 4843.
Disclaimer & Summary in first chapter
Laurel stood with her back flush against the tree she was hiding behind. She controlled her breathing carefully, just as her parents had taught her, as she notched an arrow in her bow. Her younger sister, Diana, was to her left, and doing the same with her own bow. Laurel couldn't see her brother but she knew he was somewhere to her right; he always kept them within his sight so he would see when they were prepared to let loose their arrows. It was vital that they took down their targets at the same time or they would risk losing their advantage. The sun was beginning to climb higher in the sky and she knew they only had one opportunity to get this right or their quarry would be gone and they would have failed. Laurel steeled herself, failure was not an option. There were too many people counting on them.
She looked to her left and Diana nodded. Silently counting to three, one count for each regulated breath, Laurel twisted to her left and left the cover of the tree, bringing her bow and arrow up as soon as her sister so her siblings would not be in her line of fire. Barely a moment later, their three arrows sailed through the air, each hitting a different target. It was not surprising. Laurel and her siblings had spent years perfecting their hunting techniques so that they were always perfectly synchronized. The rest of the herd of deer had scattered, but the three that were felled were motionless on the forest floor.
"Laurel," Galiander called to her, breaking her of her reverie. "Hurry, sister, we have no time to dally."
Laurel nodded, chagrined at her lapse, and moved to her kill. It was a large buck and would feed a good number of people, but only if they brought it to camp quickly. Yesterday's weather had been terrible and the hunting reflected that. Their caravan's food supplies were running dangerously low, so each day that they were able to hunt provided much needed food and the hides could be cleaned and sewn together to make blankets for the cold night air.
A sharp whistle pierced the air and Laurel looked up to see Diana with her fingers to her lips. Three horses came at her beckon. Like their father, Diana had a way of communicating with animals that neither she nor her brother shared.
They worked together quickly to secure one deer to each of the horses. They rode through the woods toward the camp, checking the traps they had laid in the early morning hours on their way to the hunting grounds. They had lucked out and managed to snare five rabbits as well. Laurel knew that one of the women in the camp excelled at making their supplies stretch further and would be able to do so with a venison-and-rabbit stew. They were still three weeks travel away from Badon Hill and the weather was only getting worse, which was likely to slow down their journey.
As soon as the camp was in sight, the three of them slowed down so they wouldn't startle anyone or any of the animals travelling with them. Laurel caught sight of her father riding toward them from the other side of the forest. Ever the scout, he had ridden out early that morning to map out their journey for the next day. They would spend one more night where they were before breaking camp tomorrow. It had been a long, difficult journey that began several months ago when blight had destroyed much of a village's crops. Much of the villagers’ livestock perished from lack of food or because the villagers had to slaughter them for food themselves. They had few hunters among them and some of those had abandoned them to their fate. The children were hungry and their parents were in despair. It was in this desperate state that her family had found the village.
After sending Laurel and her siblings into the woods to hunt, Tristan had immediately written a letter to the king and queen and sent his hawk ahead with the message. But, knowing King Arthur and Queen Guinevere's generosity, their mother, Buffy, had begun organizing their village into a caravan well before the reply had been received.
Several days later, they were met on their journey by the knights King Arthur had sent to help them. It had been almost a year since Laurel had seen Dagonet, Alecto and Lucan and she was glad to be in their company again. Although at all of thirteen-years-old, she was much younger than all of them, they valued her abilities and never doubted her well-honed skills. They were well aware of her parents' combined attributes and that they had taught their children well.
Diana had been disappointed that King Arthur had not sent Gawain and his son, Andreal, to aid them. Before they left, she and Andreal had been the best of friends and it had been accepted that they would marry in four years when she turned fifteen. He was a year older than Diana and would be a good match for her. Laurel had secretly been glad they were not the ones sent because it would have been likely that Gawain's daughter would have come as well and, although she was a capable woman, she had not been raised to hunt as Laurel and her siblings had. She also had an unrequited crush on Galiander and she felt bad for both parties. It really wasn't Meaghan's fault that Galiander was determined to wait for a wife who was as much a warrior as their mother. Laurel feared that he would be waiting quite a while.
The life of a warrior maiden suited Laurel just fine, in her opinion. She might meet someone one day that she deemed a worthy match, but if not, she was satisfied with her life. Between her father and her mother, she had been trained in every survival and strategic skill in their combined arsenal. She had actually been offered the opportunity to stay behind and become a knight when her family went abroad last year and, although she had been tempted to do so, her mother persuaded her to have one more adventure with her family before undergoing formal training.
"There you are," Galahad called from the doorway.
Dawn could barely hear him over the screams of their three-month-old son, but the relief on her husband's face was evident. They both knew that scream—their boy was hungry. Dawn dropped her iPad 8 onto the couch next to her and exchanged a grin with Annie; they would visit her cousins again later. Galahad lay the screaming infant in her arms and then scooped up Annie as he stood. Dawn situated Tristan so he could eat his lunch and watched as Galahad twirled Annie high in the air as their little girl screeched in glee. He stopped just before she made the tell-tale noise that indicated her breakfast would make another appearance and cuddled her close. Dawn loved that he was such a warm and loving father; after nearly fourteen years together, she never doubted that he would be. He looked different now. His beard was gone—her man really loved his electric razor—and he preferred a soft pair of jeans to leather these days, but in times of battle she could still see the strength and valor from his days as one of Arthur's Knights in his every movement. That was actually how Tristan had come to be, despite their decision to stop trying when Dawn miscarried twice after Annie was born. Neither of them had wanted to say 'never,' but they had taken precautions except for one night on the anniversary of the Battle of Baden Hill when, seemingly coincidentally, some demon had interrupted their private remembrance with an almost-apocalypse. Post saving the world, they had celebrated and eight months later, Tristan had arrived. He had been a little early and a little underweight, but now, three months later, he had more than caught up. Even at his age, he watched them with careful eyes and Dawn somehow knew that he would be very much like his namesake as he got older.
Dawn broke out of her reverie as movement caught her eye. Galahad was tickling Annie and she was giggling. When he stopped, he pressed a kiss her temple and asked, "So, what have you and Mommy been doing today?"
"We were visiting," Annie declared as she pulled on his earlobe. Dawn would never understand her fascination with Galahad's ears, but he didn't seem to mind it.
"Oh?" he asked. "And what were Aunt Buffy, Uncle Tristan and your cousins doing today?"
"The same thing they do every day, Daddy!" Annie told him cheerfully.
Dawn knew this set-up way too well and rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the smile that spread on her face at her husband's predictable reply.
"Try to take over the world?" he asked, his eyes wide.
Of all the amazing things she had shown Galahad, including the Parthenon, the library at Alexandria, Oxford University and the crater that was once Sunnydale, Dawn had no idea why he had fixated on Pinky and the Brain, but he had apparently shared that fixation with their daughter and she was always more than happy to play along with her daddy's silliness.
"No, Daddy. They're saving people," she told him seriously and Galahad nodded sagely. "They're heroes, you know."
"Aye, my Annie," Galahad agreed with her. "If anyone says otherwise..."
Annie sighed, "I won't call them a stupidhead even though they clearly are."
"Annie," Galahad warned.
Dawn hid her smile as she switched the baby to her other breast for the second part of his lunch. Galahad should know by now that his daughter was just as stubborn as her mother, especially since she had the same innocent look that Dawn had when she was clearly up to no good. Annie wouldn't tell him where she had learned her favorite new word, and Dawn knew that he suspected it had come from Xander. She wasn't about to admit to her husband that she had been the one to pass that little gem on to their first-born.
Instead, she asked, "What's on your agenda this afternoon?"
Galahad met her eyes and smiled warmly, "Well, first I am covering for Robin's weaponry class this afternoon and then, I thought I would take my lovely wife out to dinner."
Dawn made a face, "But, I'll have to put on real clothes."
She gestured to one of the many of Galahad's button-down shirts that she had taken to wearing while she was still breast-feeding. Fortunately, he had no objection to his dwindling wardrobe, and had expressed—quite forcefully—as soon as she was given the 'all clear' from the doctor how much he would enjoy seeing her in a pair of leggings and his shirts.
Galahad kissed her lips before pressing a gentle kiss to Tristan's forehead. He leaned in close to her and whispered, "Or, Annie could stay with Aunt Willow tonight and we could take another chance."
Dawn’s breath caught for one long moment as she searched Galahad’s eyes. He knew she had always wanted a large family and it was mostly for his sake that they had stopped trying before Tristan came along. He couldn’t stand to see Dawn in pain after the miscarriages and had begged her that they wouldn’t try again, but as she examined his face, she found only a small trace of the apprehension she knew he felt. He nodded and she felt tears threatening to well up, so she did her best to keep the mood light and take his mind off of the potential pain they might face again in the future.
"I suppose we should. Can't have Buffy beating us in the number of kids department," Dawn pretended to contemplate before a sultry grin spread across her face and she pressed a quick kiss to Galahad's lips before turning to Annie. "Hey, sweetie, how'd you like to stay with Aunt Willow tonight? I bet she'll make some yummy cookies!"
Annie screamed her delight as she took off like a shot toward Willow's office down the hall. Sure, it was dirty pool to send her little girl in there when she knew Willow couldn't say no to her little face, but Dawn didn't care. She was going to get some quality time with her husband, one way or another.
Galahad just shook his head, "You know Willow will be angry with you for doing that."
Dawn shrugged, giving him a mischievous smile. "But, hopefully, I'll be too wrapped up in post-coital bliss to give a crap."
"I think I can help with that," he told her as he leaned in for one more kiss before going to teach his class.
"Wife, they've been watching again," Tristan commented as they rode ahead of the caravan to scout for potential dangers.
"I know," Buffy replied with a wistful sigh. "I felt her."
"They are happy," Tristan reassured her for the thousandth time. "They have each other and they are making their life together as we have done."
As with every time he stated this, Buffy knew he was talking more about their relationship than her sister and Galahad's. Tristan was a man of few words and his quiet confidence rarely waned after that first moment when he questioned her desire to stay with him. They rarely said the word "love" to each other, but they had their own way of expressing their continued devotion. It was always a moment filled with reverence and reflection.
Their horses walked slowly side-by-side on the path through the woods and Tristan reached a hand out to her, waiting patiently as she grasped it and squeezed gently. Buffy thought about the three children she had borne. She loved her family back in Cleveland, but she would never trade her children for anything in the world. She was very certain that the decision she had made all of those years ago was the right one: she belonged in this time; she belonged with her husband, her children, her charges and her new duty to Britain. She still used her Slayer skills, but they were less of a burden now than they had been in her previous life. She used to feel as though her life was interrupted by the need to use her abilities; now her abilities were part of her everyday life, not because of demons running rampant, but because the people needed her abilities for their very survival. This realization had left her more fulfilled than she ever thought possible.
She smiled as she thought of their years together and of their children and offered the same response to Tristan that she had been telling him for over a decade, "It's a good life. I have no regrets."
ENDThank you to everyone who offered encouragement (and a kick in the pants) for me to continue writing and (finally!) finish this story. I appreciate every review, comment and recommendation! Thank you for taking this ride with me. Best regards, kayariley