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This story is No. 2 in the series "Waifs and strays". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The second (much longer) installment in the Waifs and Strays AU. Covers season 1. Please READ THE SERIES INTRODUCTION!

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Joyce-Centered(Current Donor)vidiconFR1598780,0851591497402,54228 May 115 Jul 14No

A creeping darkness

Author’s Note:

 

Thanks very much to my Beta, Letomo.

 

The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. And you can thank Twilightwanderer for the Abbott and Costello.

 

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

 

Thought: *What’s on second.*

 

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

 

No new recommendations, but then again I’m not hidden by hundreds of people, so that’s a plus. J

 

Reviews are much appreciated, they inspire me.

 

 

Chapter 52: A creeping Darkness

 

Joyce looked at the man kneeling by her side, little box in trembling hand, face pale. She very gently reached for the box, and took the ring with her right hand and put it on the ring finger of her left. She leaned forward and kissed him, lightly on the lips.

 

“Yes. Please.”

 

Simon rose from his knees and sat down next to her, putting his arms around her and kissed her in return, deeply. After a minute or two Joyce pushed him away and rose. Simon looked at her in confusion.

 

Joyce smirked. “Unless she crawls into bed with Piper, Willow will probably be in our bed again tonight…and I was serious, Simon, two days is far too long.”

 

He laughed and took her extended hand and let her drag him off to the huge master bedroom with the double king-size bed that held such fascination for her.

 

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Janet Fraiser rubbed the expensive leather upholstery of the double length Mercedes and glanced over her shoulder at the man driving it, the pane of safety glass between him and the passenger compartment effectively cutting off any possibility of him hearing the conversations. James Clifton was tall, rangy and a former FBI agent and had recently been hired to help protect The Family. The capital letters fell into place in Janet’s head. And the House Patriarch had sent this car and an ambulance to fetch her, her mother, her niece and her sister. In another hour they would pull over and Janet would confer with the doctor riding in the ambulance and then they would get under way again.  And the doctor sleeping in the back of the second car would watch over Eileen tonight. She shook her head. *It must be nice to have this much money…* She looked over at her mother and saw that Tara had fallen asleep, her head resting on Mary Beckforth’s lap.

 

“How is she?” Janet whispered to her mother. 

 

“Tired out and worried. She feels so guilty…”

 

“I still think Eileen…” Janet began snappishly.

 

“Eileen should have told me and Eileen should have done a lot of things. And you should stop blaming her for everything. Despite what you think, my world did not revolve around her. And I did not love you less than her because you are latent.” Mary said quietly.

 

“Oh? Is that why you spent so much time with her and so little with me?” Janet’s voice was even.

 

“Janet, in 1977 I had nothing but the Mother power and yet I was central in the merge, do you know why?”

 

Janet blinked. “Errr. No.”

 

“To counteract Eileen. There is very little in the magical world as dangerous as a Dark Mother. The power we have is, insidious, is the best word, it can influence people when we put our mind to it, quite effectively controlling them. It requires training to control the urges and emotions that may inadvertently do so. That is one reason we’re going to Sunnydale. A witch of House Warren has broken through as a Mother and needs training. Especially on a Hellmouth. The last thing we need is another Dark Mother.”

 

Janet silently absorbed the information she’d just been given. “Why didn’t you tell me this before? And what’s a Dark Mother?”

 

“I tried. You wouldn’t listen. Every time I wanted to discuss magic with you, you told me you couldn’t do it and to stop rubbing it in.” Mary pointed out gently.

 

Janet opened her mouth to protest and then closed it again, sheepishly. “Errr. I did, didn’t I?”

 

“Yes.” Mary hugged Tara and kissed the top of her hair and Janet felt a momentary flare of jealousy and apparently it showed. Her mother lifted an eyebrow. “Now, a Dark Mother… The last one was Pulchritudia Black. I think even you recognize that name?”

 

Janet paled. “Oh my God.”

 

“Yes. You can imagine that having another Dark Mother is something that we definitely want to prevent. The Blacks haven’t had a Mother since, not that most of them would notice with those wands of theirs.”

 

Janet closed her eyes. “So Eileen…”

 

“Eileen doesn’t have the power of Pulchritudia Black. This new woman…Luckily she’s older and her mother thinks she well balanced. Except for some anger issues, mostly towards said mother…” Mary sighed. “She was latent until a few months ago, and that leads me to the next point. Do you remember when you were a little girl we took the family to California for several vacations?”

 

Janet rolled her eyes. “Yes, I do. That picture of me hugging the Redwood is still on the wall in the hall.”

 

“We always stayed for a while in a place called Sunnydale.”

 

Janet shivered. “Yeah, I remember, I always had nightmares.”

 

“Sunnydale is a Hellmouth. A portal to other dimensions lies underneath it. And magic converges upon it. And the reason we took you there is because we believed it might break your latency.”

 

Janet’s eyes widened and she turned around completely in the front seat. “What!”

 

“Don’t shout Janet, Tara needs the sleep.” Mary said gently. “You felt excluded even as a child. Hellmouths…It’s almost impossible to remain latent on an active Hellmouth.”

 

“Oh. And you think…”

 

“You’ve gotten older and your power has grown. It’s quite possible that going near the Hellmouth will break through your latency. It’s quite possible you’ll break through once we get there, we’ll be there for several days around All Hallow’s Eve.”

 

Janet rolled her eyes. “Halloween, mom, its called Halloween.”

 

“Halloween. Very well. Just, well magic goes strange on Halloween. And I don’t want you to get hurt.” Mary Beckforth leaned back into the leather upholstery and looked at her youngest daughter.

 

Janet nodded. “I’ll be careful. Mom?”

 

“Yes dear?”

 

“Could you…would you tell me what I need to know?”

 

Mary smiled. *She’s calling me mom…*  “Of course. Now, my mother had to spend more time with me when I was young to teach me to curb the excesses of the Mother power and I had to do the same with your sister…And I’m sorry it made you feel excluded…“

 

In her sleep Tara stirred and dreamed of her family, her grandmother and Aunt, laughing and smiling and her mother walking around and laughing.

 

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Penelope looked at her sister as the motorcycles were being hoisted upright, preparing for a swift exit. She turned to her sister who was just getting off the phone with one of the bodyguards outside the gate. “Cece, does James often get angry?”

 

Cecilia paused in her efforts to get her hair under control. “How angry?”

 

“Enough to scare Arlene into taking everybody into the living room and asking him to stay in the dining room.”

 

Cecilia winced. “Oh…dear…” 

 

“Yes…He went like that right after we found out you were gone.”

 

Cecilia swallowed. “I-ah…I told him I wouldn’t go out until my magic was fully recovered…”

 

“Recovered…Cecilia! How much magic did you use yesterday?” Penelope asked anxiously.

 

“A-a lot.”

 

Penelope glared at her sister. “Phillipa Cecilia! I know you did this when you were younger, but I thought you might have learned something in the past forty years! You know as well as I do that it can be lethal to overstrain yourself. Mercy, considering how I feel and Danielle looks…” She took several steps and looked at her sister’s eyes, seeing far too much black. “What were you thinking?”

 

“I couldn’t let Buffy go out here alone.” Cecilia pleaded.

 

“Then you should have told me or Danielle!” Penelope reached out and took her sister’s hands, feeling how cold they were. “I’m taking you home.”

 

“James will be angry with me…”

 

“And he’s got every right to be. If he was the Johnson and you were the Ellis, you’d be sleeping on the couch for a week.” Penelope started dragging her sister of towards the gate, where a car would be waiting.

 

Cecilia let herself be dragged off. “He’s going to be so angry with me…”

 

“Cecilia! Pull yourself together. It’s the magic speaking. James will be angry with you, yes, but he will forgive you.”

 

Cecilia merely nodded, numbly.

 

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Buffy did not get far beyond the gate of the Cemetery before a large black car drove up beside her. The window at the driver’s side went down smoothly and the woman behind the wheel spoke. “Miss Buffy, a message from your grandmother, and I quote, ‘Buffy Anne Summers! Get in the car and back home, young lady!’” 

 

Buffy pulled over. She locked her bike and got in the car. She crossed her arms and set her face in a determined sulk. The car drove carefully back towards the gates of the Cemetery and stopped. The woman got out and opened the door to let Cecilia in, helped by Penelope, who joined them. Seeing her grandmother’s shivering frame Buffy moved closer to hug her.

 

“Gran! You’re like ice!” She exclaimed in shock. The female bodyguard heard her and retrieved a fleece blanket from the boot, handing it to Penelope who put it around her younger sister’s shoulders. The car took off at high speed once the doors were closed.

 

“Don’t worry, Miss Buffy; we’ll have her home in no time.”  The woman assured her. She was small, lithe and had very dark hair and blue eyes. She had an accent that Buffy decided was French. And best of all, she handed a hipflask back to Aunt Penny and Aunt Penny made Gran drink and Gran stopped shivering so badly.

 

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It was Clarice who finally opened the door to the dining room and walked in. “Dad?”

 

“Yes Clarice?”

 

“Why are you so angry? I mean, you told me mom has been doing things like this for years, decades, why does it worry you so much that ‘s he’s gone.” She asked, hesitantly, fearing to overstep the bounds of their recently formed relationship. James smiled slightly and moved to hug her.

 

“Because for decades I’ve been watching her do it. She came home last night and I could feel that she’d exhausted herself, her magic. She promised me she wouldn’t go out tonight…and it hurts she broke that promise. It frightens me every time she goes patrolling and every time she comes back I know I might not be so lucky the next time…” His voice lowered to a hoarse whisper on the final words.

 

“Oh, Dad.”

 

“If she used a lot of magic tonight, she might have done herself serious damage.”

 

“What? How?”

 

“Even a spirit witch draws some power from her surroundings…this is a Hellmouth…”

 

 Clarice’s eyes widened. “So she drew in dark energies…”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Oh…so…err…Now what?” Clarice was wondering how to broach the subject.

 

“I don’t quite know, Rissy. I did similarly stupid things while I was in the Marines, but…”

 

There was the sound of a car on the street. It made a plunk-pluink noise as it pulled up in front of the house. James smiled at his eldest daughter. “And it seems that Charlotte managed to convince Harry to drive at night…”

 

“Dad? Do you think you can, you know, tell Dawn that everything will be alright?”

 

James smiled. “And give you and ‘Lene some reassurance too?”

 

“Yes. Dad, you’re really quite scary when you’re angry.” Clarice said in a voice that was half deadly serious and half joking.

 

James Ellis snorted. “You think I am scary? You should have seen my old commanding officer in Korea, he was scary. Now come on, let’s welcome your baby sister.”

 

Clarice smirked. “I dare you to say that to her face.”

 

James smiled back serenely and offered her his arm. “I don’t take bets without a wager, Rissy.”

 

“Hmph. Okay. If you dare to call Charlotte my baby sister…if you don’t, you’ll let Mom of the hook?” She asked, obviously wondering if she was demanding too much.

 

“Oho! The girl is bold. Very well. But if I do…you have to go to the mall with your sisters, get a new dress, and I know you can afford it, and full beauty treatment and I’ll tell Patrick to come and pick you up for a real date on Friday.”

 

Clarice squeaked. “B-but…”

 

James grinned evilly, opened the door and led Clarice out into the foyer. Charlotte, Harry and Celia had come in and Arlene was obviously whispering their mother’s transgressions in her sister’s ear. A yawning Dawn was hugging Harry and Phoebe was kissing Celia. “Charlotte! Clarice and I were just discussing how much she loves having you for a baby sister!”

 

Charlotte spun round and glared at Clarice. “Clarice! Don’t call me that!”

 

Xander started to snigger. “Right. Like Dawn, she has to be your so-not-a-baby sister…” Dawn glared at him and tried to kick his shin but he dodged her agilely.

 

Piper and Phoebe exchanged speculative looks and grinned at Phoebe who groaned. “Oh wonderful. Another nickname.”

 

Charlotte continued to glare at her sister. James smirked and patted Clarice’s hand. “Charlotte, Arlene, ‘Rissy will need your help to pick a dress and get gussied up for a date next Friday.”

 

Arlene started to laugh. “Oh sister dear, you did not just make a bet with the Heyoka?”

 

Clarice pouted. “It’s not fair, he was supposed to call Charlotte my baby sister, not, well twist it around so you blamed me.”

 

“He’s a Heyoka, of course he twists it around.” Charlotte grinned. “But look on the bright side; at least you get to go on a date with Patrick. And as Dad approves of him, you can stay away all night long.” She leered and winked.

 

James raised an eyebrow at his youngest daughter. And then looked at the one he had adopted as his eldest. “Well, it’s not as if I’ve not gotten used to surprise grandchildren.”

 

Clarice blushed a fiery red and groaned.

 

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Joyce put her head on Simon’s chest as they lay in the great bed in the master bedroom at Hooghwater and sighed. The Alexandrite on her finger flashed as she gently stroked his chest.

 

“Well…I hope we get a bit of peace and quiet for a while, at least on the family front. I think I’ve seen quite enough drama to last me the rest of my life.”

 

“What, you feel I should have waited with proposing?”

 

She lightly slapped his chest and ran a foot up his bare leg. “No. I meant new sisters and nieces and children. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but well…”

 

“Hmmm. I must admit I wouldn’t mind another sibling like Clarice…”

 

“You were lucky with ‘Ris. Considering your father’s promiscuity I’d have thought it more likely he’d have produced lots of low fore-headed Billy-Jim-Bobs.” Joyce teased.

 

“Very funny. I’m just surprised I don’t have more of them…I wonder…I need to talk to your mother.”

 

“About?” Joyce tensed up slightly.

 

“The spell she used to keep Clarice from being found by my father.”

 

“Ah.”

 

“Joyce…There is something I’ve been keeping from you…” Simon said guiltily.

 

Joyce moved from her comfortable position on his chest to look in his eyes. “What?”

 

“You know I sent a letter of resignation to the Secretary of Defence…”

 

“Yes?”

 

“The President wants me to stay in the Army, at least in the Reserves. He asked me, personally…”

 

“And you don’t want to, but you feel you have to.” She said wearily. “Duty, I suppose?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Even though it would mean being away from us more often than you’d like?”

 

“Yes. So what do you think? Should I stay in the Army?”

 

“I don’t want you to.”

 

Simon blinked at her categorical statement. “Really?”

 

“Up.” She sat up and gestured, Simon blinked and sat up, Joyce moved to her knees and the sight of her naked body, still slightly sweaty from their earlier excursions made Simon swallow.

 

Joyce trailed her hands over his chest and touched his shoulder where a white scar sat just below the clavicle. “Sniper in Iraq.” To his upper right arm. “Booby trap in Vietnam.”

 

She trailed a kiss down near his navel and touched a ragged scar on the side of his abdomen, just below the ribs. “Machete, Vietnam.”

 

She trailed more kisses down his body, touching scars and murmuring. The shot that had gone straight through his thigh, the burn scar on his shin. “You fight demons, and evil wizards. You’re on the frontlines of battle, or have been, for decades. I’m going to be selfish, Simon, I don’t want you away more often than you have to be. If they need you for a war, you can bloody well make it difficult for them.”

 

Simon sighed. “The President and the Chiefs are liable to see it a differe…Joyce…I can’t think when you do that…there are arg…uments… for… both sides….” He managed to say as he looked down at her blonde curls bobbing and she looked up from what she was doing, a twinkle in her eyes.

 

“Hmmm. Want me to stop?” She licked her lips and then grinned wickedly.

 

“No…I suppose it is as valid an argument to tell the Chiefs and the President no as any.”  She put a hand on his stomach and returned to her ministrations and Simon groaned.

 

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“Dr. Jackson, you and Captain Carter will go to Sunnydale and contact Major Ellis. Colonel O’Neill and Colonel Carnahan will be going to attend some family business. You will fly out on an Air Force transport that is heading for California and a car will be waiting for you at Camp Pendleton. Any questions?”

 

Carter shook her head. `No, sir, quite clear sir.”  

 

“What, err…about accommodations?” Daniel asked, pushing his glasses up his nose.

 

“We’ve managed to arrange two rooms in a place called the Sunnydale Arms. Most of the hotels are either flea traps or beyond the Air Force budget.”

 

“I see. What about Teal’c, sir?”

 

Hammond smiled grimly. “I’m fighting to keep him out of the hands of the scientists, son, and I’m not going to make it easy on them by sending him out in to the world unprepared. He can use his time training Airman Weterings.”

 

Carter suppressed a snort and had to do it again when she saw the twinkle in the General’s eye. The young airman had a decidedly hunted expression on her face the last day, having been dragged into assessment after assessment. Apparently her encounter in the Gym with Teal’c had been even worse than the one with Colonel O’Neill. Sam would swear she’s heard the girl whimper the last time Teal’c had come to pick her up for a little sparring…

 

Daniel, not being military, was allowed to grin all he liked. “He seems to have taken a liking to her.”

 

“He says she shows great promise, great resilience.” Hammond said with a certain pride. “Now if there are no further questions? No? Dismissed.

 

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A storm was gathering over Washington, rather suddenly and Owen Lassiter had settled in to read with a large cup of coffee laced with a small amount of Irish whiskey and a lot of cream. He wasn’t much for drinking, but a night like this just begged for a good book and an Irish coffee. He sighed and smiled as he started reading the familiar words. *It was the best of times…*

 

“Errr…Mister President?”

 

Owen Lassiter, President of the United States looked up from A Tale of two cities to see Jack Galliver, one of his Security Detail standing beside his wife in the Private apartments.

 

“Yes, Jack?”

 

“Errr… This is going to sound weird, but errr….when I first came to work here I was told to immediately go tell the President when the horse was moving…” The man looked highly embarrassed and Owen could commiserate.

 

Owen rubbed his face. *Great. Just Great. What I need to make a perfect evening, a visit from the Grand Magister…* “It’s lifted its head?”

 

“No sir…it’s rearing, pawing at the air and moving around the pedestal…”

 

Owen shot out of his chair. “There will be someone calling, soon. Very soon. Probably very angry and…”

 

Three panes in the window shattered and an icy wind blew in, frost settled on the grass outside and snow started to fall as lightning cracked across the sky.

 

“Very angry indeed.” Owen squared his shoulders. “Show her into the Oval Office. She’ll be at the door soon.”

 

He strode out of the Private Apartments and into the public part of the building, then into the Oval Office, sitting at his desk. He looked at the statue of the grazing horse and resting cavalry man that had graced the office since the middle of the nineteenth century. The Cavalry man was lying, cowering, on the ground and the horse was standing over him, snorting in anger, pawing the ground.

 

Owen ran a hand through his hair, noting it was getting thinner. The horse hadn’t moved since the War of the Five…and it had only lifted its head then…the last time it had reared…According to Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s notes there had been some idiots in the CIA who had tried to set up an operation where witches were recruited…More than two hundred CIA officers had been…dealt with by the then Grand Magister. Owen shivered as he recalled the descriptions of what Trueheart had done…It had taken a direct presidential request, orders did not apply in cases of breach of the Treaty of Washington, to keep him from slaughtering half the Cabinet and the top echelons of the Security Agencies.

Lightning streaked across the sky, a huge web of electricity that seemed to span from horizon to horizon. A huge bolt struck the Capitol, followed immediately after by another, and Owen winced. “Wonderful. Just wonderful…”

 

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”Granddad, why are we driving to Sunnydale?”

 

“It’s not that far.” Jon replied absentmindedly.

 

“And by plane it would be even quicker. I thought you said there was a dangerous mummy on the loose?”

 

“No, I said there was the potential of a dangerous mummy.”

 

“I see. What sort of mummy?”

 

“Pre-Incan, used as a sacrifice, very angry with the world.”

 

“I take it you met before?”

 

“Yes. And I thought we had her safely stashed in a Museum basement.”

 

“Why didn’t you kill it?”

 

“Her,  Jack. And I couldn’t.” Jon took a deep breath. “It might have condemned her soul to hell, and all she ever did was get sacrificed. She deserves better.”

 

“Okay. And the car?”

 

Jon lifted and eyebrow and opened the boot, then lifted a floor panel. Jack let out a soft whistle. “Okay. No way would we ever get all that on a plane. Any more surprises?”

 

Jon smirked. “Well, there are a few customizations…”

 

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Tony Harris sat in his empty home, released on a $2500 bail that he and his brothers had managed to scrape up with difficulty. His bitching wife and his useless son had both left, and the bitching wife had taken a good bit of the furniture, but she’d left the fridge and the beer. She’d taken the strong liquor, but he still had his stash of Moonshine. And if all else failed the bathtub, to brew some more. But she had taken his bomber jacket, and he wanted that back. Tony staggered upright and left the house, slamming the door closed. On the floor behind the door in the bedroom, his bomber jacket lay forgotten where he had dropped it the night of his arrest.

 

He moved to his car and got in, ignoring the fact that he was far over the limit, and set off into the night, to look for the bitch.

 

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The storm raged around the White House. Washington had buckled down and the meteorologists were going crazy trying to explain where it had come from. Those who knew were keeping silent, and were hunkering down even further than those who merely feared the storm. The Ice Queen was enraged, and the world was feeling her displeasure.

 

The door to the Oval Office opened and a black haired woman was ushered in, mousy looking in her grey business suit, her hair in a severe bun. She stood no more than five four, if that. Her skin was almost deathly pale and her face thin and pointed, with a narrow chin. Her sensuous lips and her strong nose and flashing brown eyes showed him that this was not a woman who was cold by choice. Iron resolve ruled her.

 

“Dr. Sternin…”

 

“Mr. President. US government agents and agencies have re-initiated Project Marigold, under the same name, even.” She said in a clam voice that yet carried accusation and a terrible anger.

 

Lassiter put a hand over his eyes. “What are you going to do?”

 

“We will deal with the matter. We also demand full reparation for those harmed by this operation. And you might want to start to learn to grovel.”

 

“What?”

 

“Marigold tried to kidnap two daughters of the Line of Warren. Of one, Marigold killed her adoptive parents, put her in an Orphanage and tried to break her. They even tried to get her pregnant by several of their agents. Do you have any idea what they are going to do when they find out what your agency tried to do? And what else the Matriarchs of Warren are going to do when they see the rest of the depravity of Marigold?”

 

“What sort of thing are we talking about?” Owen asked in a voice meant to calm his visitor.

 

“Death and destruction on a scale not seen since Simon Meier XIV was Grand Magister.” Dr. Sternin replied blandly. “And I will point out that this time there is no cold war. There will be no leniency, no expediency. We will cut out the rot, to the very heart.”

 

“But you can’t just execute people…”

 

“Yes, we can. And don’t give me any of your rule of law! This group took children from their parents. Murdered those who stood in their way, ruined lives as a matter of course. They bred us like cattle! If we leave this to the so called Justice System, they will get off Scot free, protected by their wealth and position and that will not be allowed.”

 

“Dr Sternin, the Treaty of Washington was drawn up more than two hundred years ago. Since then there have been remarkable advances in the way the Justice system works.” The President pointed out.

 

“Unlawful interference of the Normal Government with Magical matters allows the Concordat to set and enact the punishment. Just like we remove or block the talents of magical criminals and hand them over for your justice, we deal with those who abuse magic and magic users. The Treaty of Washington is very clear on the matter. Or would you like to revoke it? I’m sure your Law enforcement officers will be delighted that they have to fight vampires as well as criminals.” Lilith responded her face and voice ice.

 

Owen paled. “You wouldn’t!”

 

“This is a very grave and direct violation of the Treaty of Washington. The second such violation in fifty years, for the same purpose.. As you well know, the third will result in the end of our…amicable coexistence. And then you can deal with the supernatural on your own. And we’ll see how long you last. And now, Mr. President. I have some justice to mete out.” Lilith Sternin walked out of the room without looking back.

 

Owen Lassiter shivered in his chair. Simon Meier had always been charming and, well, Owen knew he wasn’t terribly powerful, magically speaking. Lilith Sternin…the storm raging over Washington right now showed just how powerful and dangerous she was, especially when angry… He wondered how many members of the Houses of Congress would die tonight, and how many men and women who called themselves patriots.

 

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“R-Rupert?” Jenny cradled the large mug of herbal tea he had given her. She’d raised a delicate eyebrow when he’d taken a paper thin porcelain cup and saucer out of the cupboard and he’d put it back and gotten an ‘What happens in Vegas’ mug instead. She assumed it had come with the house, or had been a gag gift of some kind.

 

“Yes?” 

 

“I’m not going to ask you to promise not to be angry…I can’t tell you everything, I swore an oath.” She swallowed heavily.

 

Giles, who’d been inventorying and maintaining a rather large collection of weapons as he sat on the opposite couch and had absentmindedly handed her a demijohn of holy water earlier, looked up from the axe he was inspecting and sharpening. “What is it, Jenny?”

 

Jenny closed her eyes. With her legs tucked under her and her mug of tea she looked just like he hoped she would: at home. But the look on her face made him worry.

 

“I-I have two names. Jennifer Angelique Calendar…And Janna of the Kalderash…I was sent here…I-I used to be a Seer…I loved, badly…My Clan sent me here on a mission…I’ll tell you about it as soon as…I can…” The words fell from her mouth like lead bricks, heavy and as if she had to tear them from her. Sweat ran down her forehead.

 

Her words clicked in Giles’ mind. *Romany, secret…Clan Oath!* He was beside her in a flash, to prevent her from killing herself.

 

Jenny opened her eyes to see Rupert looking at her worriedly, kneeling by her side. “Jenny! You’re under Clan Oath. You can’t, you mustn’t!”

 

“I-I have to…” She ground out.

 

He put a gentle hand to her face. “Jenny…Is this about Liam?”

 

Jenny nodded, closing her eyes as a massive headache flared up behind her eyes.

 

“So the girl was a Kalderash.” Giles mused. His hands tightened on the knee he’d put it on. “Wait, you said you were a Seer; that you’d loved badly. D-did you mean a Seer of the People?”

 

“Yes. I’m sorry…I never thought…”

 

“Jenny, as soon as Liam returns you and I need to go see someone. Several someones.”

 

“What?”

 

“Well, since we now know what tribe cast that curse…The Concordat is going to want to speak with you.”

 

Jenny gulped. “C-concordat? But there are no witches in Sunnydale! There’s no Coven!”

 

“No on the first, yes on the second. There are not enough trained witches in Sunnydale to form a coven, but more than enough visit…”

 

Jenny groaned. “Wonderful. I thought I got away from all this when I left the East…”

 

Giles sat on the couch next to her and she curled into his body, shivering from the backlash of even the modest breech of her Oath. *A Seer of the People, willing, and able, to break a Clan Oath to tell me the truth…whatever am I going to tell Mum…*  

 

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The phone rang and Simon cursed. Joyce groaned. “SIMON! You left your phone on? At a moment like this?”

 

“Yes. This one’s always on.” He picked the phone up and opened it. “If this isn’t important, I’m going to kill you, animate your corpse and let you eat your own miniature brains.”

 

Simon stilled. “Send the information you can to house, printed. Make certain we can retain access or what ever you call it. We need it to go to the President.”

 

Joyce gathered the satin sheet to her chest and looked at his tense and drawn face. “Well?”

 

“That was Stephen. It’s bad. Very bad. We need to get back home and see that Evy is safe…”

 

Joyce sighed. “Oh well, I suppose five times is enough…”

 

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The black cars and the three motorcycles drew up in front of the Revello Drive house and started discharging their passengers. The old witches walked stiffly up the steps and entered the house, Cecilia looking back over her shoulder to where Buffy was dawdling, trying to avoid going in. 

 

“Cecilia.”

 

Cecilia winced at her husband’s voice and then slightly turned to face him. “J-James…I’m sorry, I just knew I had to be out there and you would have stopped me and there was an ambush and Buffy would have been killed…I know I should have told you but I was afraid you wouldn’t let me and the girls aren’t trained yet and Penelope mustn’t cast too much with her heart and Danielle…”

 

James Ellis stepped up to his wife and swept her into a bone crushing hug, stopping her babbling. Cecilia seemed to collapse and he lifted her small form and carried her swiftly inside and to the couch. She leaned her head tiredly against his chest.

 

“Could someone get something to drink for her? Something with plenty of sugar.”

 

Buffy slinked into the house and winced as a slender hand held a mobile phone in front of her. “Guess what I found on your bedside table.” Clarice’s voice said dryly. Arlene stood behind her with her arms crossed

 

Buffy looked up and saw her grandmother’s tired eyes fixed on her face. “Buffy Anne Summers! You promised your mother always to carry that!” Cecilia scolded.

 

Buffy winced. “Yes Gran. I won’t forget again, I swear…” She looked at her grandfather, hoping for some help there, but his eyes were implacable. Buffy sighed. So much for that route to head off parental displeasure and punishment. Xander gave her a sympathetic look, but that was all the support she was getting. With Evy, Kit and Dawn asleep and the P’s unaware of what her mother’s punishment for her little moment of forgetfulness might be, it was not a great surprise.

 

Buffy sighed. No sympathy for the Slayer. “Okay, can we move on from that and onto the problem? I’ve been ambushed twice now, and this time there were a lot of vamps and some weird demon thing…it scared me. I don’t know why it did, but I felt cold right down to my bones. It said I would make a great meal, too.” She made a disgusted face. 

 

Penelope snorted. “Well, yes, most demons like their food young and tender.”

 

“Penny!” Cecilia warned, looking at Kit and Dawn. Penelope shot her sister a guilty look and closed her mouth.

 

Cecilia leaned back against James and sighed. “So, what did the demon look like, Buffy?”

 

Buffy rubbed her chin. “Well…He was quite big…about eight feet I think…and blue green, and he had this really ick mouth with all little teeth and these two tentacles…” Buffy fell silent as she saw the expressions on her Grandparents’ faces. Aunt Penny had moved instinctively to stand between Prue, Piper and Phoebe and the door and window. Arlene had grabbed Evy and held her in a vice like grip.

 

It was James who spoke, his voice trembling. “Shaszat. It’s called a Shaszat demon, Buffy.”

 

Buffy’s phone rang, interrupting the tension. She picked up and smiled as she heard the voice on the other end. “Liam! Where have you been?”

 

“Buffy, are you alright? Giles and Miss Calendar were ambushed and I went looking for you. Where are you? Are you alright?”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m fine. Gran and me were together and we were ambushed too, but we got help from Nana and Aunt Penny and I ran into this thing called a Shasbat demon that looked like a wannabe squid and got saved by a white flying thing. See. All good.”

 

“Shasbat…Buffy, do you mean a Shaszat?”

 

“Err…yes. I think.”

 

“I’m going to pick up Giles and Miss Calendar, I’ll be there. Tell…tell whoever is there, this might be a Shaszat called Rochus. And be very careful.”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. “Sheesh! You sound as if this thing is the end of the world or something.”

 

“Not quite that bad. But bad enough. Be careful.”

 

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The great white shape landed softly on the sundeck on the flat roof of the double garage. He drew in his claws and moved silently over the scarred deck, towards the door that led into the house and started when it opened, showing a rangy, dark blonde woman standing almost six feet tall.

 

“Michael Otto Kirby! What do you think you are doing?”

 

Nine and half feet of white, winged demon cringed, its golden head crest and gold edged wings flashing in the light coming from the open door.

 

“H-hi mom…”

 

“Michael, would you care to explain why Dave told me that last night some large white winged creature dropped a vampire on a fence? When said large white winged creature was supposed to be merely stretching his wings?”

 

The great wings in question rustled. “Sorry, mom…”

 

“Inside young man, now!”

 

Michael bowed his head and went inside. Dave was standing in the sun room, an apologetic look on his face. “Sorry, Mike.”

 

“It’s alright, Dave. I knew it was stupid when I did it.”

 

Dave smiled and then yawned. “Well, at least after this Willow can come over for dinner.”

 

Mike lightly punched his brother’s shoulder. “Is that girl all you think about these days?”

 

Dave smirked up. “She’s been for a very long time, and the thoughts have only gotten better…Ow, MOM!” Dave rubbed the back of his head where his mother had given him a light slap.

 

“You will not talk about girls in such a disrespectful manner, David! Michael, downstairs. Now.”

 

“Yes, Mom. Mom? Can you bring the Book? I-I think…” The winged demon shuddered. “I think I may have seen a Shaszat…It was after Buf…the Slayer.”

 

“A Shaszat? May the Clouds have mercy upon us! We need to warn them. Are you certain?”

 

“It had the tentacles by its mouth and the right colour. I didn’t get a very close look.”

 

Anna Kirby’s eyes narrowed. “Michael…what did you do?”

 

A slight pink tinge spread over the demon’s skin. “I-I picked her up.”

 

Dave sighed. “Typical. First girl you meet and you sweep her off her feet.”

 

Anna glared at her sons. “This is not a joking matter, David. Use that phone Dr. Meier gave you and call Willow’s house. Tell them we need to talk to them.” She looked at her watch and sighed. “Tomorrow. Call her first thing tomorrow.”

 

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The Duesenberg rolled up before the house at the same time Angel drove up, with Jenny and Giles in the back. They quickly walked up the steps and Simon opened the door. The lights in the living room were on and except for Kit and Dawn, everybody was awake and present. Willow was blinking owlishly, apparently barely awake after her intense hacking session. Xander did not seem much better and Buffy was trying very hard to escape her mother’s notice. Cecilia was huddled on the couch, deep into her husband’s embrace.

 

Joyce anxiously walked to where Evy was sitting and let out a sigh of relief when the girl seemed unhurt, if sleepy, and snuggled into her mother’s embrace.

 

Jenny and Giles looked on, as Joyce hugged her children and was hugged by her sisters and parents. Jenny writhed in obvious embarrassment. “I think we are intruding.”

 

Penelope stepped up behind them. “Nonsense. There’s a Shaszat out there, and if Liam brought you both here, he had a reason.” She gave the two a shrewd glance. “Now what has got the two of you so nervous?”

 

Jenny gulped. “N-nothing. Really. Nothing.”

 

Giles took her hand. “Mrs Johnson…This is Jennifer Angelique Calendar, also known as Janna Kalderash. Her clan put the curse on Liam.”

 

Angel turned to glare at the young woman, but Penelope put her hand up to forestall him. “Do not condemn without knowledge! Well?” She looked at Jenny, who opened her mouth and winced.

 

Giles put a hand on Jenny’s. “She’s under a Clan Oath.”

 

Danielle snorted. “If she is, how do you know?”

 

“She’s a Seer of the People.” Giles said with some discomfort.

 

“And? Even a Seer can’t break a Clan Oath. And If she was she wouldn’t be stuck on a Hellmouth, the Suitors would be breaking down her door.” Danielle eyed the young woman suspiciously.

 

James grinned, “She didn’t…or not wholly. Did you, my dear?” He looked pointedly at Giles. “You won’t be able to tell him everything yet…not until you are Bonded.”

 

“What? You believe her?” Danielle asked scathingly.

 

“Danielle! You’re letting the Hellmouth talk.” Penelope said firmly. “Take a few deep breaths. Hug Willow. Get a grip. Now…I know of only three Seers of the People and…oh…oh dear. You’re that one.”

 

Jenny started to cry, mortification on her face.

 

Penelope rolled her eyes. “Heavens dear, I’m not condemning you, but the asshole who deceived you.”

 

“Penelope! Language!” Cecilia snapped.

 

Penelope shook her head as if to clear it. “Right. Sorry. Now, there’s a Shaszat demon out there. They feed on pain and magic. In this house are a lot of powerful magic users, and across the road is a lot of firepower. Together that should be enough to keep him at bay…”

 

Cecilia nodded. “Ordinarily, yes…but all three of us are exhausted, and the Power of the Hellmouth is working on us…”

 

Danielle had been hugging Willow. “We need to get to bed. Recharge. Get some rest. Let the Dark power purge from us. Joyce, can you put us all up?”

 

Clarice put up hand. “What about Amy? And Patrick? If-if this thing eats magic…You said Amy was a powerful witch…” Worry was clear in her face.

 

Simon smiled reassuirngly “Their house is warded, very powerfully. All of Patrick’s love is poured in them. Even a Shaszat would have trouble getting in. Don’t worry. But we’ll make certain they know about it.” He took out his phone and dialled.

 

“Well dear, can we all sleep in this house?” Cecilia asked.

 

Joyce shook her head. “I don’t think we have enough room here, but I had the bedrooms in the other houses have been fixed up.”

 

James frowned. “They won’t be homes.”

 

“We’ve been looking at how to get them integrated into this one. It might be enough.” Simon said quietly, waiting for the phone to be picked up.

 

James rubbed his chin. “And with Joyce…yes, it very well might be. Well then, to bed. Tomorrow we can talk.”

 

 

End Note:

 

Chapter 10 for Dark Portrait has been up since Wednesday, but the notification may not have gotten to you. Be warned, it leads to dark things next week…

 

A rather long, but rambling chapter, I fear. Progress, but no resolution.

 

Lilith Sternin and Cheers are the property of Charles/Burrows/Charles productions.
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