A/N: I own nothing of Buffy or DC comics. If I did, I’d be rich. Since, as I’ve just taken a look around and beheld basement walls, all the evidence points toward me not being rich, I’ll just have to say I’m not an owner and put everything back where I found it.
I hope readers enjoyed the previous part of this series ‘Dark Knight, Grey Heart.’ I’d suggest reading that before reading this, as some things won’t make sense without context of that fic. If you don’t feel like going through it, well, your choice. Either way, enjoy.
Thunder rumbled overhead as the storm clouds moved in over Sunnydale. A vampire pushed a middle-aged woman in front of him, smiling with demonic glee. “Come on lady, we haven’t got all night. I like to have my meals when I’m all cozy and dry, and the more you piss me off, the longer I’m going to take with you.” As if on cue, the water began pouring down in that moment, and the young vampire sighed. “Figures. Now you’re going to get it.”
She whimpered as he grabbed her by the back of the neck. “Please, don’t hurt me.”
He smacked her across the face. “Hurting you is the least thing I’m going to do to you!” He pushed her into an apartment building, finding the room he and his pals had been slumming in. He yelled. “Hey guys! I picked us up a new toy!” When only silence greeted him, he called out again. “Guys? Come on, where are you? I told you I would be right back.” He swallowed the lump of fear that grew in his throat. He heard the rumors. An avenging spirit of the protectors of old had returned, slaughtering the monsters of the Hellmouth. He thought that’s all it was. Rumors.
The room’s lightbulb shattered, pitching the room into darkness. Acting quickly, he threw the woman against the wall, raising his hands to parry an attack. That didn’t come. Despite his undead status, he took a nervous breath, stepping back toward the door he just came through. It took a precious few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, and then a flash of lightning showed it. A dark figure with two sharp points emerging from the head. He charged at it, fists flying, but when he reached it it stepped aside and lashed out with a kick, smashing him against the wall.
Regaining his balance, he attempted an uppercut, but the figure simply caught his fist and bent it back, making him scream. The crushing of bones echoed in the dark room. His would-be prey whimpered in fear. Finally the figure released his hand, and new pain shot up his arm as the splintered bone within aggravated his muscles. With desperation, he tried to tackle the shadow he could barely see, but it just tripped him and sent him face-first to the floor.
Just as he tried to get up, there was a steely rasp. What was-?
Then there was dust. White eyes looked at the cowering woman, the dark figure sheathing her blade. With only the faintest nod, Batgirl strode off into the darkness. The frightened would-be victim did the only sensible thing.
Leo looked up in annoyance as the water started pouring down, wishing he brought an umbrella. He really didn’t like waiting in an alley at night for a client, but he was getting paid big bucks for this.
“Did you bring it?” A voice spoke from behind him.
Leo whirled around, his hand clenching around the briefcase in his grip. “Y-yeah, man. I got it. You got the money?” Leo couldn’t make out the man in the shadows, but he was definitely unnerved by the stillness of the man. It was like he wasn’t even breathing.
A bag fell on the ground in front of Leo. The thug picked it up, leafing through it quickly. “Hey! You trying to rip me off? The bill for this is ten grand! There’s only eight here.”
“I suggest you take it and go, kid.” The man spoke with menace.
Leo drew his gun, pointing it at the man in the shadows. “Don’t fuck with me, man. Now hand over the rest of the cash or I put a few holes in you.” His eyes widened as the man stepped forward, allowing Leo to catch a glimpse of the burned features on the left side of the client’s face.
“Go ahead, shoot. But I warn you. I’m getting hungry.” Angel said lowly, menacingly. Leo fired, making Angel stagger as the bullets slammed into his body. But Angel didn’t fall, his features twisting in rage as he regained his balance. Leo looked at his empty gun, fear rising in him. The next moment, Angel’s hands were around Leo’s neck, and with a growl his throat was torn out. Angel fed messily, uncaring of the carnage that would be left behind. It was only after he dropped the body did he turn to the briefcase.
With shaking hands, Angel opened the case, revealing packets of heroin. What remained of his lip twitched at the sight. He took the briefcase, sparing a glance at his burned left hand. He was beginning to heal, the new skin waxy and malformed. But with it came new nerve endings. The pain was growing worse by the day as his undead body healed itself. Something was very wrong with him, and he knew it. He needed the reprieve. Any reprieve.
Joker sighed in boredom as the questions went on and on. It was all the same. “Who are you? What were you trying to accomplish? What happened to you to make you this way?” Blah blah blah.
Fixing the latest psychiatrist in the eye (he’d managed to scare away three others) he shook his head. “Why do you people keep trying? Wanna dig into my childhood, fix my inner little boy? Won’t work you know. I was sprung from the head of Zeus fully formed! Or was that my sister? Or cousin? Meh, it’s all the same with my family bunch. Wouldn’t keep me from licking my lips as I look at her rear end.”
The woman on the other side of the table rose a blonde eyebrow. “You think you’re a god?”
Joker laughed in his cackling way. “No no! I’m not nearly so pretentious! I’m just the emperor of all the world! You should be kneeling before me and thanking me as I tread on your back! When my loyal subjects carry me through the streets, we’ll do so on the roads paved over the people who refuse to recognize my genius!”
She smiled and said cooly. “Tiax, Baldur’s Gate.”
Joker blinked. “Wow. You’re good. I’ve been throwing that reference at people for weeks and nobody got it.”
She shrugged. “So I enjoyed playing games on my computer. So why did you spread the PCP out into Sunnydale like that?”
He grinned. “Why do you think I did it?”
Setting her glasses aside (she had nice eyes, Joker noticed for the first time) she spoke. “Considering your message to the masses? Recognition, fame. You seem to be the type of person who likes being the center of attention. And you don’t care how you get it.”
Joker laughed softly. “Not at all! I just...” He paused, frowning. “Or maybe that is part of it.” He put on a sad tone. “My daddy was a drinker, you see. He never paid me any attention at all. Not even when one of the neighborhood kids cut up my face like this.”
Her gaze seemed to pierce through him. “I don’t believe you.”
He immediately straightened up, his faux-sad tone vanishing in an instant. “My father was a cop. One week from retirement when the mob-”
“Seen the movie.”
Joker huffed. “Fine. You wanna know why I do what I do?” He leaned forward as much as he could with the chains restraining him. “You really want to know?”
She nodded. “Of course. I can’t help you if we don’t get to the bottom of your issues.”
He sighed, relaxing some into his restraining chair. He ignored the itching of his skin under the cast around his leg. Stupid Batman. “My mother was a real witch, you see. She was always digging under people’s skin, being their best friend, ferreting out their secrets and then turning around and broadcasting it to everyone who had ears. She had to be at the top of the social pecking order, you see. She tore down everyone around her with just a few sharp words. They ripped so deep you wished she just used a knife, because it’d be less painful.”
The doctor nodded, a tiny hint of sympathy in her eyes.
Joker took a deep shuddering breath. “One day when I was a wee young lad, I got home from school and set my backpack down. I forgot to take my shoes off, so I started treading grass stains all over her nice, white carpet. When she came home from work she stormed up to my room and started yelling.” He shivered. “My mumsy knew everything about me, you see. She threatened to tell everybody about the one day when I was three and I pulled the heads off my sister’s dolls. I just wanted to see what the insides looked like. On and on she went, and I couldn’t take it anymore.”
He took a breath, mulling over the next words. “Then I snapped at her. I said ‘I don’t care anymore, mom! I’m running away!’” He whimpered softly. “Then she did something horrible. Something I shudder to mention to anyone. Nobody should ever have to go through it.”
“What did she do?” She asked softly.
His eyes downcast, Joker looked to the left, then the right, as if someone was about to laugh at him for speaking a shameful, horrible secret. Finally he made eye contact with her and hissed lowly. “She turned me into a newt.”
The doctor blinked.
“I got better.” Joker said helpfully. She blinked again. Joker started cackling. “You should see your face!” He laughed maniacally.
With a sigh, she put her glasses back on, rose to her feet and knocked on the hard metal door. It opened to reveal a big, heavyset cop. “All done Doctor Quinnzel?”
She nodded. “I’m not going to get through to him. If he’s acting, he’s doing a hell of a job. I don’t think anybody could ever find him sane.” She turned her head, looking over her shoulder at Joker, saying two words coldly. “Monty Python.” Then she walked away, the door clanging shut behind her.
Joker grinned. “She IS good. I think I’m in love. Older women are nice and foxy anyway.” Then he twitched. “Can someone loosen my chains!? I have an itch on my nose!”
Xander stepped into the school library, taking care to set his backpack down without brushing it along his side. He winced instinctively as he felt the stitches in his side pull slightly. Once again, he was glad he got the bulletproof vest, but he wished he managed to pick up a hard tactical vest before tangling with the Joker. That would have stopped the knife. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the resources to pick up the kind of equipment he would like.
That was where his ideas came in. Taking a seat at the library’s table, he pulled out his notebook and busily sketched out a few of his ideas. It was quickly becoming filled with designs for gadgets and toys he would like to have. They were pie in the sky designs, mostly, dream machines. Some of them had analogs in the real world already, but those were beyond his reach as long as he had no budget. Of late, however, the latter half of his notebook was filling up with something other than designs. It was a plan to rectify one of the biggest problems he had: cash.
He hadn’t come up with it before, as he’d been getting through his school days mostly half-asleep. Long nights as Batman were taking their toll on him, and no amount of energy drinks were going to get all the neurons firing when you’re operating on three hours of sleep a night. His schoolwork had taken a noticeable and sharp dive. With the wound in his side, however, he hadn’t been out as Batman for the last week and a half. That let him catch up on his sleep, and more importantly, cleared his head. It occurred to him then.
Since Halloween, he’d been putting things together more easily. It wasn’t that he’d suddenly become smarter or had the equivalent of an encyclopedia shoved into his head. His ability to recall facts by itself hadn’t changed, but he found it simpler to sketch out schematics, designs, scenarios. When he planned the raid on the Sunset Club, it was very easy to figure out just how to put events together in just the right sequence for maximum effect. He didn’t quite get why, at first. The Gray Ghost, on the TV show, had the power of a scriptwriter making sure his puzzles and mysteries got solved. That wasn’t happening here.
Then he realized it was the little things. He’d always noticed them, people’s small tics in mood, things forgotten on the sidewalk, when a book was out of place on a shelf. He just rarely acted on them because he hadn’t cared. There were usually more important things to worry about. It was from tracking Angel by the small bits of evidence of his passage did he find the vampire’s apartment last year, on Prom Night. He was motivated to find Angel to quickly reach the Master’s lair. Before Halloween, he pretty much coasted along and only acting when he saw the need. Now, after his possession, and more importantly Buffy’s death, he always saw a need to act.
If he didn’t, who would? Superheroes didn’t always step in on time, and far too often there wasn’t a person ready to step in when needed. It usually only took one person to change things for the better. But they had to act. And the best way to act was to act smart.
So he began tightening up on his schoolwork and browsing forensics and security courses online. If he did things right, he could found a small security company or a private investigator business. Once he had some cash flowing in, he could expand a bit, get better tools to work with, and do some investing. Which brought out another point he’d realized. Where did the Watchers Council get its funding?
Part of it he picked up by talking with Giles now and again over the last couple of years. It was an old organization, had a lot of assets and cash built up from sheer antiquity. But that by itself wasn’t enough to explain the funding it would need to have worldwide influence. There were six billion people on the planet, and they had to find the one girl on it who had inherited the power of the Slayer. Even assuming that only one girl in a million had the potential to become the Slayer, that still left about three thousand girls to keep track of. A fair number, but considering how big the world was, it was a needle in a haystack. It wasn’t any wonder that Buffy slipped through the cracks.
Even so, to reliably find and train each girl who became the Slayer, they needed funding. A lot of it. Especially so in centuries previous, when oceans were insurmountable obstacles and news could spread only at the speed of the fastest horse. Or pigeon. More funding than simple accumulation from interest buildup, or from a few antiques they might find and sell during the course of investigations. And then it hit him.
They cheated. Kendra was sent to Sunnydale to deal with an event that hadn’t happened yet. They didn’t give her a whole lot of information, so Xander guessed that seeing the future wasn’t an easy or clear thing, but if a seer saw, say, the rise of Boeing or Microsoft forty years ago, a few investments here and there would give them plenty of breathing room when it came to funding later. Especially if they were well managed and used sparingly.
All he had to do was keep an eye on the Council, figure out what places they invested in right now, and make his own investments. The returns would be small to begin with, but he wasn’t planning on buying up stock at one dollar each and see it grow to a hundred each overnight. It would be nice, but Xander was thinking a bit more long-term than that. Even if something happened and he had to hang up the cape and cowl tomorrow, he would need money to support himself and anyone else who needed help. If he did things right, he could end up with a company that would punch well above its own weight.
Still, this was in the future. He had to get through school first. And that meant catch-up work. He set his personal notebook aside and pulled out the two-inch stack of make-up tests. He groaned he set it down in front of him, looking at the first test. “History. Great.”
Hours later he was only about halfway through the stack of papers he had left to go through. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. His adventures as Batman left him a month behind everyone else, and while high school work wasn’t exactly the most strenuous thing, they piled on a lot of it. Quantity over quality, he supposed.
“Dat answer is wrong.” Came from over his shoulder, making him jump and nearly fall out of his chair.
“Kendra!” He said after a minute, feeling his heart pound in his chest. Forcing himself to take a breath, he gave her a glare as she smiled innocently. He still couldn’t notice her comings and goings. He was good at sneaking up on people, and sneaking away, but Kendra was a master. And annoyingly, he hadn’t yet managed to sneak up on her. “When did you...” He took another breath and shook his head. “Nevermind. I’ll get you one day. What answer?”
With an amused smile, she tapped the latest sheet of his tests. “Physics. De equation you marked down is wrong. It be inverse square, not inverse cubed. If de equation were actually like dat, de universe would be crushed down tae nothing.”
He blinked and looked at the page. Sure enough, he marked down the equation mostly correctly, but he put in the wrong number at the end. He let out a sigh. “Right. Where has my head been lately?” He quickly scribbled down the right answer, giving Kendra a rueful smile. “Math. Still my biggest nemesis. How did you know that, anyway?”
Kendra shrugged. “Master Ducard taught me a great deal as was growing up, and I have spare time during the day. Sometimes I decide to leaf t’rough college educational texts.”
With a laugh, he shook his head. “A teenager who does this stuff willingly. It must be a sign of the end times.” He set his pencil down and kissed her cheek softly. “How are you holding up?”
She smiled warmly, squeezing his hand. “I be doing quite well. I came to see if you were ready for the date.”
“Date? What date?” Xander said, worry rising in his voice. Had he forgotten? He’d been setting his watch alarm for important events, and it didn’t go off, so...
Kendra chuckled. “The date I decided we were going to go on dis morning. You been keeping yourself in de cave too much of late, and I decided to get ye out into public. Tis not healthy for ye to live in southern California and for ye to be losing most of your tan. Nor is it healthy for ye to have most of your company in de form of bats.”
“Okay, point taken.” He nodded. “Better company than football players, though. The bats are definitely smarter.” He hugged her gently. “Alright, so where do you want to go?”
“To the park, I t’ink.” Kendra blushed a little. “I not be comfortable in the Bronze. Too many people. I can get t’rough a crowd without dem noticing me, but I still cannot feel comfortable in dem.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Sounds good to me, Kendra. Besides, I’d rather be alone with you, anyway.” They shared a soft kiss, allowing themselves to share in each other’s gentle warmth. ‘This relationship thing definitely has advantages.’ He mused.
Amy Madison frowned. Her mother’s spellbooks were there, and she found it easier by the day to browse through them, understanding the concepts within. The problem was her well of power was too small.
“Damn it.” She muttered as she glared at the practice dummy on the other side of the room. “Incindre!” She yelled, flinging her hand as the spell demanded. There was a puff of smoke and the top of the dummy’s head caught on fire. Unfortunately, the flame was about as big as that of a candle, and it quickly sputtered and went out. “Mom had all the luck. She could swap bodies, blind people and set them on fire without a hitch, and here I can’t even get more than a puff.”
She felt drained on casting even that fairly simple spell, and she groaned in frustration. “If a vampire grabs me like this, he’s not going to stand still and let me burn him an inch at a time. And I’m not going to walk around without doing something to prevent someone else from messing with my mind.” Flipping through pages of yet another grimore, she rubbed her eyes tiredly. “Stupid stupid stupid.”
It was a recurring nightmare of hers. Her mother returning from wherever she went, taking Amy’s life for her own again. Becoming trapped in her mother’s body forever, watching that horrible person her mom had become live the life that was rightfully Amy’s. Amy would have been happy being a normal high school student. She didn’t know what she was going to do with the rest of her life, but she was sure she would find something she liked. But that wasn’t good enough for her mom, so she stole Amy’s body. She had been helpless then. She didn’t want to be helpless again. Never again.
She was about to give up for the day when her eyes found a passage. “Drawing on the power of nature by calling upon an aspect of Gaia.” She murmured to herself. As she read through the spell, she started to smile.
Batman crouched on the roof of the church, next to the stone gargoyles that his suit was based upon. It served as camouflage, as few of the monsters of Sunnydale wanted to find out just which of the crouching figures above would be the one to swoop down on them. The Alibi Room was in his sights, the former bar of Willy the snitch under close scrutiny by the Dark Knight. He wasn’t up for combat just yet, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t play a support role. Squinting through his binoculars, he spoke softly into his radio. “Two vamps entering. Leave them. Ah.” He smirked a bit. “Target at the side of the building. One vamp. Looks a bit shaky. Bring him up.”
He watched with some amusement as the obviously drunk vampire slid along the wall of the alley. He swayed on his feet, singing something Batman couldn’t hear at this distance. Then Batgirl seemed to emerge out of the shadows behind him, wrapping a noose around his neck and dragging him back into the darkness. A few moments later, she was zip-lining her way back up the side of the church, supported by the coil attachment on her belt. The design was pretty basic and rough, but it definitely beat climbing hand over hand.
The struggling and panicking vampire was held by the rope in Batgirl’s free hand, which Batman took hold of once she completed her ascent. Batman grinned at the vampire as he caught a glimpse of the two dark figures, their white eyes seeming to bore into him. A tiny whimper got through the noose around his neck. That was pretty impressive as it was. Even vampires needed to move their vocal cords to talk, even if they didn’t need oxygen to live.
“I want to ask you a few questions.” Batman spoke firmly. He pulled the noose off around the vampire’s neck, but he slammed the drunk vampire against a hard gargoyle statue. “It’s been a little quiet around here lately. Where have your little buddies been hanging out?”
The vampire wheezed, blinking drunkenly. He blinked again, whimpered in embarrassment, and looked down. Batman followed his gaze after a moment, smirked slightly and fixed the vampire with a vicious stare. “I didn’t know you bloodsuckers could do that. Now answer my question.”
“They all left. April left me, Jack ran off one night, and Vicky said there wasn’t any point hanging around here.” The vampire said with a pathetic tone in his voice.
Batman’s eyes narrowed. “Why would they leave the Hellmouth?”
A bitter laugh came from the vampire. “Lots of things. You’re a pretty big reason right there. Then there’s Angelus, who’s gone completely nuts. You know he’s not even recruiting minions? What kind of master vampire doesn’t recruit minions? H-he’s breaking all the traditions! I wouldn’t want to be a minion, but it’s the principle of the thing. If you can’t rely on a master to come up with schemes, then what? Then there’s...” He trailed off, uncertainly.
Batgirl drew her katana, stroking it along the vampire’s cheek, the edge coming perilously close to his eye. Batman spoke with a smile. “Go on. Batgirl here doesn’t like it when people don’t talk to me. You want to talk to her instead?”
The vampire swallowed. “Nobody can feel the Hellmouth around here anymore.”
Batgirl blinked, her blade wavering for a second. “What do ya mean?”
“It’s just gone. When I first got here, it was like this warm blanket everywhere, nice and welcoming, like the sun was before I was turned. After a while I could feel it pulse now and again. Happened last Halloween when everything went nuts, happened last year when the Master got dusted, and before that when the Harvest happened and got spoiled. Now I don’t feel it at all. Like it’s just gone. The other vamps took off to more northern spots. Night lasts longer that way.” The disheveled vampire mumbled. “April, why did you leave me?”
“Pathetic.” Batman said. “I don’t even want to kill him.”
The vampire sighed in relief, shutting his eyes. Then Batman drove his stake into the vampire’s chest, leaving behind a mass of slightly damp ash. Despite the mask covering her features, he could tell Batgirl was looking at him with an eyebrow raised. He shrugged. “I said I didn’t want to kill him. Not that I wouldn’t. Come on, we should report to Giles.”
At Giles’ home, the three met up, explaining what they found to the older man. “Interesting.” Giles said as he went for his books. “You’re certain about this?”
Kendra and Xander nodded, their masks off. Xander spoke first, puzzlement in his tone. “We talked with three vampires and one demon who was packing his stuff up into an RV. All of them said the same thing, they can’t feel the Hellmouth around here anymore. That’s definitely weird. Last I heard the thing was here for as long as anyone can remember. And given the age of some of the critters around here, that’s saying something.”
Giles nodded slowly, tapping his chin. “True. There are some possibilities I can think of. I’ll need more information before I can say anything for certain.”
Kendra spoke softly. “What be the most likely possibility?”
Giles frowned as he took a moment to gather his thoughts. “Hellmouths are a kind of mystical equivalent to volcanic activity. The friction between one dimension and another can cause the barrier between them to weaken. If certain conditions change in either dimension at the site of the weakened barrier, then the barriers could strengthen themselves again. On our world, the natural equivalent would be a dormant or extinct volcano. That may have happened here. But there’s a few other, more worrisome possibilites.”
“Which is?” Xander spoke as his voice took on the darker tones of his Batman persona.
Giles spoke gravely. “First, another Hellmouth may have become active. There’s one in Cleveland, but according to all signs it had been dormant for over a millennium when America was simply a set of colonies. There’s another that, according to legend, has been secreted away by the gods of old when the rising Roman Empire conquered Greece, hidden on an island beyond the eyes of man. A fourth was resting within Mount Vesuvius. A sorcerer in Pompeii awakened it when he tried to draw upon it, with disastrous results. For Pompeii, that is.”
Kendra mulled over that for a moment, her curiosity plain as she spoke. “You look as if dere be another t’ing that may have happened.”
Giles nodded slowly. “If the energy flowing from the Hell dimension on the other side here found another, easier location to flow, then the barrier here would naturally begin to restore as its new location became the primary epicenter. If that’s the case, then the Hellmouth that was here could still be active, but be somewhere else entirely. It could be out in the desert, somewhere in Mexico, or under the ocean. I’ll have to check on what mystical resources I can draw upon before I say anything definitive. If it’s simply gone dormant, then our jobs have become a lot easier. If not....we’ll have to prepare for it.”
The water lapped gently at the shore, bringing with it the salty tang of the sea. She stood watching the waves crash against the distant cliffs, the setting sun tinging everything with red. She did nothing as footsteps came behind her, a gentle voice speaking softly. “Penelope has seen it. There is a great darkness growing, one that may consume all the world. Even here. The Door stirred, and the cause was not here. It was out there.”
She sighed and nodded. “And what does she suggest we do? We have been here for so long, we know nothing of the world out there.”
Egeria’s voice was soft and hesitant. “The Five require a champion to step forward. Someone to stand against the coming of the Old Ones. Humanity will soon have the means to stand for themselves, and the dark ones will fight with all they have to prevent it.”
She chuckled softly. “Zeus once feared that if people gained knowledge, they would become more powerful than he.”
Egeria spoke with some amusement. “He was right. They’re not there yet, but getting there. There is another reason a champion has to be sent forth. Soon no matter where we go, they can find the island. The protections against finding the island are ancient and strong, but they work on men and not machines. They’ll be able to find us in a few short decades. We need someone to represent us out there.”
She nodded. “Has Penelope seen who this champion will be?”
Egeria’s silence was all the answer she needed. She sighed. “Very well. When shall I leave?”
“In a fortnight, Princess Diana. There is knowledge and artifacts you must have on hand if you are to succeed in the tasks the goddesses have given us.”
Diana nodded. “Very well. Let us begin.”