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Lonely Souls

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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)vidiconFR1598780,1331581492397,28128 May 115 Jul 14No

The sorrows of chasing the Sun

Author’s Note:

My apologies for not updating last week, I hope that this week’s offering makes up for it.

Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and EllandrahSylver.

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.#

docjen , thanks for recommending me, All my other recommenders, know that I appreciate every one of you, and for sticking with me.

Last time I spoke about the importance of reviews and feedback. Part of the current story line was born of those, reviews and feedback, so don’t think it is useless, leave your (re)views, point out inconsistencies, let yourself be heard.

61 The sorrows of chasing the Sun.

Friday, November 3rd

It was a subdued group that returned to the house on Revello Drive. The police had an APB out on Tony Harris. It was thought that an international gang of Art thieves had stolen the mummy and that Harris and Pritchett were its point men, that they had faked their own elaborate deaths and that Harris had decided that as long as he was going to be on the run anyway, he might as well enact a final and highly disturbing vengeance on his wife. It was another great theorem from the creative brain of Bob Munroe, Chief of the Sunnydale PD. No one had bothered to correct him, or to tell him that Tony was currently lying, heavily shackled, in a holding cell at Sunnydale Research.

Simon led the way inside and Buffy ran for the comfort of her mother’s arms as soon as she was inside. Amata was snoozing with her head in Joyce’s lap and Buffy nestled on Joyce's other side, Joyce put an arm around her shivering daughter and Buffy drew up her feet onto the couch, nestling into her mother..

Piper made room and Simon sat next to Xander, his face grave.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Xander’s question was more of a statement.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Simon replied gently.

“And it was bad, wasn’t it?”

Simon sighed. “Yes, very bad.” He put an arm around the boy, who sat stony faced and rigid. “She was alive when we got there. But there was nothing we could do for her. She spoke; I’m actually amazed that she could.”

Xander shuddered. “Cursed me with her last breath, did she?”

“No. That would probably make this easier, but it would be a lie. No, she asked Jenny to tell you she was sorry and that she loved you very much.”

Xander looked at the pale woman who stood nestled in Giles’ embrace. “Thank you. For being there for her.”

“I don’t think it was a coincidence, Alexander.” Jenny let go of Giles, walked over to Xander and gently lifted the confused boy’s chin, then traced his profile with a finger.

Joyce almost bristled but Simon shook his head at her.

“Or I should say, Cousin Alexander,” Jenny said with a sad smile.

Xander gasped. “Cousin? H-how?”

“I hadn’t seen her for years. I knew her by a different name, and I was very young when all this happened. Back then she was Jassina Kalderash, one of my cousins. She had the Sight, but not much of it, nothing like a Seer of the people. One day she went to our Grandmother, the Elder Woman, and the other Elders and claimed to have had a great vision and that she had to leave to see it happen. The Elders agreed, and we, the clan, the family, held the Rite of Passing for her, to remember her and to honour her death. You, Xander, were that vision and its fruition. But I think she did not understand it properly. If she had, you would have been raised among us, I believe, among the Romany, or at least according to our traditions, and not anywhere near the man who fathered you.”

Xander sank back into the sofa. “So you’re going to take me away from Mom and Dad now?” He asked anxiously.

“No. I am going to send a message to my Grandmother, she will want to know. She’s your great-grandmother.” Jenny bit her lip. “I was placed under a ban, so I don’t know if she will read it, but I will do my best.”

Xander looked up at her and then grinned at Piper. “Looks like I get to hug another pretty brunette cousin.”

Joyce snorted, stroking Amata’s hair. “Well, that’s something that’s come out of this whole mess. Now, what are we going to do about Amata?”

Amata, upon hearing her name, opened her eyes and looked up at Joyce’s face. “I must be killed. I cannot be allowed to exist. I feed Machida and give him power.” She swallowed. “And maybe one day when I find a girl like Janice I will not have the power to resist eating her.”

Joyce drew the girl to her chest and softly wept into her hair.

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Saturday, November 4th

Saturday morning breakfast was not the happy occasion it usually was. Gloom hung over the breakfast table like a pall. The teenagers were whispering and Dawn and Kit, who had been informed of the matters of the previous night, were looking with wide sad blue eyes at the other side of the table, where Amata sat with Xander at one side and Joyce at the other.

After breakfast the subdued group went to work on their homework and Kit and Dawn after a little bickering, went to visit Janice, Kit with great trepidation.

Simon left for Hooghwater, where the Library had been designated the center of research. Nobody remarked on the fact that Amata seemed white and drawn and strained, her skin taut over her bones and her expression pained with every movement.

Simon arrived to see Giles already bent over a large tome and Jenny staring vaguely at the fireplace, her eyes vacant and her hands resting on the pages of a book of Tibetan funerary rites,

“Good morning,” Simon said quietly.

“Good morning,” the pair replied. Giles looked up. “Any news?”

“Amata is starting to return to her mummy state.  I bought a cow and had it taken to one of the Home Farm paddocks. Joyce is taking her there later this morning; we're hoping that draining an animal will allow her to...” Simon shrugged helplessly.

Giles nodded his understanding. “You have no great hopes, I take it?”

Simon sat down opposite the Watcher. “Neither do you. Her body is centuries old and the spell, or curse, on her is fighting to return her to a state in which Machida can torment her.”

Jenny shivered and looked up. “And how is Xander taking it?”

“As one would expect: badly. But he's hiding it. It helps that he knew it never could last, that Amata was bound to leave after two weeks anyway. But it still hurts.”

Giles nodded. “And the worst for him will be he can not help her. I've noticed he always strives to keep his sisters safe, anyone really.”

“Yes. Yes, he does. Anything?” Simon gestured around the library, now about a quarter filled and Giles shook his head.

“No. From what I can see we cannot break the spell and preserve Amata. If we remove the curse, she dies.”

Jenny looked up, her eyes haunted. “Is that such a bad thing? Is it so bad for her that her soul will finally be set free? Is it so bad that she will no longer see the horrible actions of the men she hunted to preserve us? Is it so terrible that after nine hundred years of torture, she can finally rest?” Her voice broke and Giles rose to comfort her.

Giles sat holding Jenny and looked at Simon. “She has a point. A very good one.”

Simon nodded. “Yes. And you may be right. I will discuss it with Amata, later.”

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It was an old cow, tired and worn down by life. Amata put her hands on its great neck and looked into the trusting brown eyes. She gently pressed her lips to its mouth, ignoring the grimace on Joyce's face. The cow seemed to stiffen and then very slowly sank to the ground, its limbs shaking and its body thinning, its brown eyes still gentle and kind on the face of the girl. And then Amata shook her head and started to cry, stumbling away from the cow, falling to her knees. Joyce stepped forward, then knelt and Amata allowed herself to be gathered in for a hug.

“I could feel it flowing out of me, just as with the vampires. I cannot live on the life force of animals,” Amata sobbed. “And I will kill no more people. I will not!” 

Joyce cradled the crying girl and tried to soothe her grief. “Of course you don’t want to dear, I know. Let it all out. I’m here for you.” Inwardly she winced. *Wonderful. A girl who’s been tortured for almost a thousand years and faces almost certain death or a return to that torment and all you can do is spout platitudes. Then again I doubt Dr. Spock would know how to deal with this either.* Joyce sighed. Sometimes being a mother was hard.

Amata looked amazed, her eyes filled with tears. “I am a horrible monster, why do you not fear me? Why are you so nice?”      

“Well, maybe it is because you aren't a horrible monster. You're a very distraught and badly used girl. And I wish I could keep you safe and mother you like you deserve. But I fear that is impossible.” Joyce’s face was a mix of grief and compassion.

“M-mother me? After all that I have done?” Amata stammered, surprised.

“Yes, mother you. You are, after all, in much need of it. Come, let's go home and feed you some of that hot chocolate you are so fond of. That must be a surprise for you; I can only imagine what your life must have been like.”

Amata smiled shyly. “There was much less sugar, and rather a lot more weaving.”

Joyce smiled. “Well, you can tell me about it if you want.”

Amata tilted her head. “I do not think so. My mother was not a very nice woman, or not to me at least. I was born to be sacrificed you see. My father…” Amata swallowed. “I understand Xander quite well.”

Joyce winced in sympathy. “I see. What do you want to talk about?”

Amata looked down at the ground between her knees and flushed. “Nothing.”

Joyce reached out and lifted the girl’s chin. “Xander?”

Amata shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, it is a silly thing.”

“Tell me. If it is silly, we can laugh about it together. But we won’t know until you tell me.”

Amata took a deep breath and Joyce wondered if the girl really needed it. Then Amata closed her eyes. “What it would be like if I were your daughter. Or Xander’s girlfriend and you my mother-in–law. I am sorry; I told you it was silly.”

Joyce smiled, as trifle sadly and rose, reaching out a hand to help Amata rise. “Well if you had been born my daughter you would have had raspberries blown on your belly until long after you were completely embarrassed by it, and been told to go to bed early and sleep well and tucked in and read to and I would have bought you a doll or a teddy bear or another stuffed toy. I would have held you when you were sad and laughed with you when you were happy and a thousand little things in between.”

Amata swallowed heavily before accepting the hand and rising. She smiled tremulously at Joyce, who smiled back. “And right now we’ll go do some of them. Come on.”  

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Lunch was not much better than breakfast. Kit and Dawn had returned from Janice in a much better mood but their happy, excited chatter fell into a bleak and dark pit of despair as soon as they came to the table. Amata was hollow eyed, her skin tight and drawn over her cheekbones, though she kept hugging a large black teddy bear with a red bowtie and looked at Joyce with a tired little smile.

There was little of the usual conversation or teasing banter and the tension could be cut with a knife. It was one thing to know that Buffy went out every night to patrol, unless she had a test the next day, and quite another to realize that the shy and pretty girl who had nestled into their hearts was most likely going to die, or be the eternal torture victim of a very unpleasant demon.

They ate and drank and Amata looked at Joyce and Xander with a thoughtful, wondering expression on her face. She picked up her glass of juice and saw her hand starting to shake.  Amata shivered and dropped her glass the few inches to the table, her hand aging and drying up and her face twisted in fear and pain. Xander gently took the withered hand in his and gave her a wan, tired smile. Amata took a deep breath.

“I must speak with Buffy, and Mr. Giles and Ms. Summers and Dr. Meier. Please?”

Simon exchanged looks with Joyce, who nodded. “We'll go to the Library. Arlene?”

“I'm in charge,” Arlene grinned. “I'll keep them in line with plenty of exercise.” The children winced collectively.

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They arrived at Hooghwater and found Giles and Jenny in the Library. Both looked tired and hungry and in Jenny's case, upset.

“Amata wanted to speak with us.” Simon gestured for everyone to sit, and helped Amata to do so on a couch next to Joyce.

“I do not think I can be saved,” Amata began. “All I ask is that you try and find a way to release my soul from this bondage, to set me truly free, in death at least. I had no life, and I will forever cherish the memory of what you gave me, but I can no longer bear to hurt people.” She coughed, a dusty little cough and winced. “Please, set me free.”

Joyce sat down next to the girl and ran a hand down her cheek, now the texture and colour of aging chamois leather. “There has to be something, I won’t just let you die! Simon? Rupert?” She looked pleadingly at the two men.

Simon shook his head, deep regret in his face. “Jon thinks the same. There is nothing, except to set her soul free. I am sorry, love.” He looked at Amata and then sat at her other side. “I want you to know that if things had been different we would have given you a home, with us.”

Amata looked between the two and then at Buffy. “After all that I have done?”

Buffy snorted. “Well, Mom still feels sorry for Darla and that vamp bitch nearly killed her, so-”

“BUFFY!” Joyce voice was hard. “Language. And how exactly do you know about that, young Miss?”

Buffy winced. “Err, well you see, you were talking to Simon on the porch and, well, Willow and Xander and Dawn and me, we err… sort of overheard,” she mumbled.

“You were listening while we were on the porch? Why exactly?” Joyce inquired sharply.

“Because Wills was certain Simon was going to pop the question and we wanted to listen in,” Buffy admitted uncertainly, suddenly looking a lot younger than her nearly sixteen. “We were really sorry afterwards.”

“Of course you were,” Joyce said dryly.

“No, we totally were! You started making out after that! It was horridsome!” Buffy’s expression was one of near terror at the mere memory.

Amata giggled and Jenny stifled her laughter. Giles cleaned his glasses and Joyce exchanged an exasperated look with Simon.

“Well, at any rate Buffy is right, I’ve read up about the vampire called Darla and she was treated very badly as a child.” Joyce’s face became sad. “But I fear that not even the Mother power can redeem a vampire who is unwilling. I doubt she even thought about anything but blood and inflicting pain, I doubt there was anything left of the girl she had been.”

Buffy sank into a chair, her face pale. “Mom? When she came by, did you go all Mother on her?”

“All mother? I invited her in and tried to put her at her ease, she was really a very good actress… Buffy?” Joyce looked at her eldest daughter in some worry. “Buffy, what’s wrong?”

“I never said, ‘cause I couldn’t quite believe it. But Darla… her last word was Mommy,” Buffy said in a frightened voice.

Giles let out a breath. Jenny’s eyes went very wide. Joyce gave Buffy a thoughtful look. “I see. Well, I still doubt I could have gotten through to her, unlike Amata, Anne MacGregor asked to become a vampire, and no matter how badly she was treated, that was her choice. Unlike our little Sun-chaser here.”

She smiled at Amata, who blinked. “I like that name,” the girl murmured.

“I much prefer it to offering. You will never again be a sacrifice. Will she, Simon?” Joyce put a hand on Amata’s withered one and smiled at the girl.

“Never again.” Simon placed his own hand atop Amata’s. The girl looked down at the hands and then up at the couple sitting on either side of her.

“Thank you,” Amata smiled, sadly, her leathery cheeks nearly cracking. “I can give you something in return for your kindness at least: knowledge. I drained five vampires, from them I learned that the one they call The Master is planning to gather an army of vampires, two hundred is what he is striving for, to attack the Slayer, your house and family. He will seek to isolate you and steal from you those things you hold most dear. It will take him a long time to reach those numbers, but he is persistent. I did lessen his army’s numbers by five however.” She smiled, and tried to make it whimsical, but small droplets of blood appeared as her drying skin cracked. Joyce wiped the droplets away with a handkerchief and held her hand to Amata's cheek for a long second.

Amata looked Buffy in the eye. “Be warned. Please.”

Buffy nodded, her hazel eyes wide in shock. “I will. Thank you.”

Amata closed her eyes for a few seconds. “He has a lair in the sewers. He cannot leave it for now.”

Buffy sighed. “Yeah, that we know. Wonderful. And what about you?”

“I must die, truly. I do not know how it may be achieved,”

Giles was polishing his glasses again. “Ah, Jenny and I, we were discussing that before you came here. T-there are a few options.”

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Willow was a bit bored. Xander and Buffy were doing homework, or at least bickering about what homework they would do. Joyce and Simon were with Amata. Dawn was back at Janice’s, with Kit, both girls happy to escape the atmosphere of death, doom and gloom that hung in the house. She had finished it all. Dave was at home, for some Cheila ritual she wasn't allowed to witness. That rankled a bit until Mrs. Kirby had explained the only way for her to be present was to marry Dave. Mrs. Kirby's smirk had made Willow blush to the roots of her hair.

Willow sighed and rose from her bed, her computer and laptop sat on her desk, but Willow wasn't sure she could withstand the urge to hack. And she didn't feel like tracking Lebannen today. She stepped into her Minerva the Owl slippers and slouched downstairs.

Willow watched as Evy sat on the couch, one of two that had been delivered earlier that morning to replace the ones that had been there. One smelled of vomit and the other had never really recovered from the glass that had fallen onto it when Angel jumped through the window. Evy was leafing through a high quality photo album, her face riveted upon the pages, stopping frequently. Willow bit her lip and then sat next to the girl.

“Heya, Evy.”

Evy looked up, a hunted look on her face, shut the book and clasped it to her chest, her eyes searching the room to try and find her mother. By some maternal instinct Arlene appeared from the kitchen with a tray with a glass of coke, a cup of tea and an apple juice which she carried over to the couch and sat down with.

“Hello Willow. Come to join us in looking over Evy's album?”

Willow smiled at the hunted look in her cousin's eyes. “I think this should be her and your time alone.”

Arlene grinned. “I think she doesn't want you to see the picture where she tried to stuff a pair of socks in her mouth on the off-chance they were edible.”

Evy groaned. “Mom!”

Arlene took the book from Evy's grasp and opened it to the relevant page. Willow noted that each page held one single picture, with a great deal of writing of everything Arlene remembered her daughter doing. It was very sweet really.

Willow blinked. And looked at the page, and then blinked again, looking at Evy. Evy fidgeted under her gaze. Willow looked off into the distance and then at Arlene. “You've had this album for long?”

Arlene nodded. “I bought it before her birth. The earliest pages are of the baby bump.” She ruffled Evy's hair.

“And the last is of Evy at age four or so,” Willow mused. “Aunt Arlene, if you visited the Rosses that late, why didn't you know Evy was called Marcie by them and that they lived in Sunnydale? Why did we have to look her up in the Yearbook?”

Arlene opened her mouth to reply and then closed it again. She frowned, then she rubbed her forehead as if she had a headache. “Magic. Somebody used magic to make me forget and to reduce my yearning, my love for Evy,” she said slowly and with an undertone of anger.

“Could they have used that before? I mean, no offence Aunt Arlene, but seeing you with Evy, it doesn't look to me that you really wanted to give her up.”

Arlene gulped and grabbed Evy in a bone-crushing hug. “Marigold?”

“I think so. Dad would be able to tell, I think,” Willow thoughtfully replied.

Evy, her face thoughtful, pulled her mother's sleeve. “So you may have left me because you were under a spell?”

Arlene nodded. “I'm afraid so. I'm so sorry, Evy.”

Evy gave Arlene a lopsided smile. “I’m not. Now I know you won't leave me. That you didn't do it voluntarily the last time.”

Arlene blinked and then hugged her daughter. “I love you, my little Evy. Thank you.”

Evy looked thoughtful. “Mom? Would that mean that my father didn’t want to…”

Arlene shrugged. “I don’t know Evy, he never really explained why he left. Just that the country needed him.”

Evy suddenly looked guilty. Arlene noticed it instantly. “Evy? Is there something you want to tell me?”

Evy winced. “No.”

Arlene grinned. “Is there something you should tell me?”

Evy gave her mother a disgruntled look and then sighed. “Some people came here, you were in the basement. They were here with orders.”

Arlene stilled, her grin frozen on her face. “What? What sort of orders?”

“I don’t know, I told them to go away,” Evy rather sheepishly admitted. “I’m a bit surprised you didn’t hear me. Zoë told me I was very loud.”

Arlene looked at Willow. “Would you mind calling Simon while Evy and I talk?”

Willow nodded and rose, putting a hand on Evy’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Dad can pull some strings if need be,” and quickly left the room for the kitchen and a phone call.

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Clarice took a deep breath and looked down at the valley below. Her parents had told her to get away from the Family for a bit and get some thinking done. So here she was, staying in a small, rude cabin in the hills above Hooghwater, thinking. Alone. And being damned annoyed about it. *I’ve been alone for most of my life! I know what it’s like to be alone! I can write the bloody manual on being alone! I want Simon and Joyce and the kids and Mom and Dad and noise! Talk. Laughter.* She leaned back against her rock. Her phone call to her brother earlier that day had shown there would be little laughter, more tears. *I could do with a hug. No, I could do with a kiss. What I could do with is Patrick to stop being such a gentleman and just grab me and kiss me senseless and shock poor Amy out of her wits.* Clarice opened her eyes and sighed. *Maybe I should get proactive about it.* She blinked and sighed again. *Sometimes Dad is just too much.* Patrick was climbing up the steep path to the cabin, a clipboard in hand and obviously there on a job. Clarice shook her head in amusement. *I wonder if Simon knows?*

Patrick Madison saw the woman sitting against the rock at the top of the hill and stopped dead. After standing still for a minute, seemingly debating whether to continue or to retreat, he walked onwards and approached Clarice, who looked up from her seated position and glared. “You're in my sun.”

“I do apologize.” He stepped aside.

Clarice's glare intensified. “Are you going to make me crane my neck up at you all day long?”

Patrick gave her a look, and Clarice blushed slightly. “I take it that was Clarice speak for, 'Please sit down, I could do with some company'?”

Clarice groaned and scrubbed her face with her hands. “Yours. And a kiss too. Did I say that out loud?”

She was answered by suddenly being dragged upright, pressed against the stone and then Patrick's arms were on either side of her and his work-hard body was under her hands and his lips on hers. *I keep forgetting how big he is.*  Clarice let her hands wander up Patrick's muscular back and then felt herself lifted up and carried over to a nearby boulder. She heard him chuckle at her confusion and looked into his eyes.

“You expect me to crane my neck all day kissing you?” He teased.

Clarice huffed and swatted his arm, then dragged him in for another kiss. 

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“So there is a spell on me?” Arlene seemed quite collected, her voice calm.

Simon shook his head. “Was. There's still a trace or two, which we can remove, but the spell itself is gone, but very recently, Willow's mentioning it must have caused the last parts of it to unravel. It was a very well crafted compulsion I have to admit,” Simon admitted, grudgingly.

“Any idea who cast it?”

“Other than Marigold? No. It's not an aura or a method I recognize.”

“And I suppose that the Concordat will deal with it? I'm not allowed to find whoever did it and kick their butts?” The calm in her voice was being replaced by anger.

Simon pursed his lips. “Well, I think the Concordat might be willing to have you be a part of the team that deals with this, yes.” He gave her a penetrating stare. “And you are not going to look for this person or being. Evy can't afford to lose you.”

Arlene let out an angry breath and closed her eyes. “They made me give away my baby, Simon. They took my baby away from me!”

“I know. And she can't lose you again, not now.”

“I know. I know. But I want them to suffer, Simon. Does that make me a bad person?”

“It makes you a very angry one, and with good reason. I doubt any of the other parents who've lost children to Marigold are less angry.”

“Where's Evy?” Arlene asked.

“With Joyce, who’s with Amata.”

“How is the spell coming?”

“Quite well. We'll cast it as soon as we have a few more experienced witches. They should be back tomorrow.”

“And Clarice?”

“We own a cabin in the hills. Your father and I thought she needed some time alone and that the cabin needed some work done.”

“You sent her up there alone? In Sunnydale? If you wanted her dead you should have fed her to the vamps the first night!”” Arlene growled, stepping closer.

Simon raised his hands defensively. “It’s a Meier family property, and a house. It may not have been used since my father died, but there still will be wards aplenty. Not to mention the name of the ledge it stands on.”

Arlene gritted her teeth. “Which might be?”

“Raven’s Roost”

“Raven’s Roost… Tricksters?” Arlene shook her head. “Trust Dad to find a sanctuary,” She sighed. “Do you really think that Clarice will be doing much renovation work? She doesn’t really seem the type, at least not the heavy labour needed at first.”

“We don’t expect her to, no. We’re bringing in a man.” Simon replied blandly.

Arlene's brown wrinkled and then cleared. She smiled slightly and shook her head in exasperation. “She'll know.”

“Of course she will, and she will complain, but they will also be able to talk, privately, to figure out what they want.”

“Talk? Are you two utterly oblivious? Clarice will be all over that man!”

“And he will stop her before she goes too far,” Simon stated. “He's a good man. Clarice could do a lot worse.”

Arlene sighed, shook her head at the stupidity of men, and went to find her daughter.

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Clarice stretched against the warm, male body that was on the old and dilapidated couch with her, moulding her chest against his, running her hands to his belt. Patrick's eyes widened but he merely caught her hands in his much larger ones. “Stop that.”

“Or what, you'll spank me?” Clarice teased.

“If that is the only thing that will make you stop, yes,” Patrick matter-of-factly stated. “Clarice, I want this to last. I want you to see me for who and what I am; I want you to know fully what you are doing the first time we make love. And that first time will not be on rat-chewed couch in some old cabin of your brother's that dozens of horny teenagers have rutted on.”

Clarice wrinkled her nose. “I wondered at the smell.” She gave him a thoughtful look. “Experience?”

Patrick snorted and caught a small, wandering hand he had only just released again. “Everybody in Sunnydale knows about Hill Cabin. And after what I heard from Simon, I'm not entirely sure that Old Meier didn't have cameras on hand to film the proceedings.”

“Eeeww! Patrick!” Clarice nestled herself deeper into his embrace. “That's a disgusting notion. But I suppose it might be wise to have Simon look into that.” She traced an old scar on his chin with shapely finger and then ran it down to the collar of his shirt. “Aren't you even tempted?” she pouted.   

Patrick let out an exasperated sigh and looked Clarice straight in the eye.

Clarice gasped as heat rushed through her and wave after wave of desire struck her, as she saw herself, the first time Patrick saw her, a glimpse of her breast when he threw her in the water that day in the park, the tightness of her clothes when she emerged, wet through, and the impression her anger made on him. The way she hugged Amy, the way she looked while talking to her mother as Patrick looked on from across the table, and...

She woke to see Patrick stand over her, a panicked look on his normally placid face. “Clarice! Love, are you alright?”  

“Wha-what happened?”

“You fainted, just like that, one minute you were grinning and the next your eyes rolled up and you just dropped on my chest.” Patrick sounded worried. “I'm taking you down.”

Clarice groaned. “Dad told me to stay up here at least two days, Simon said the same.”

“Do you even like camping?” Patrick asked, pointedly. “Because this place is not really well equipped.” He looked at the camping gear in the corner. “We're leaving now.”

“B-but, Dad's gear?” Clarice tried. “And he told me to!”

“Clarice, a thought. If your father and brother found out that you had suddenly fainted and that I had left you here, alone, after that... How many balls do you think I would have the next day?”  

Clarice let out a gurgly little laugh. “Good point.” She rose, trembling, and Patrick had to catch her. She shook her head. “Oooff. All wavy.” She stood leaning against Patrick, relishing his closeness and the smell of his aftershave. Then with a sigh she pushed herself away from him. “Alright, let’s go, Big Guy.”

“Big Guy?” Patrick objected mildly.

“Hmmm. Get used to it. You'll be hearing it a lot.”

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Saturday evening

Clarice glared at her mother, father and her brother with equal parts irritation and amusement. Her bare legs dangled of the examination table in the clinic and Simon was wearing his white doctor's coat. Patrick was sitting in the waiting room, unwilling to enter the examination room while Clarice was only partially dressed.

“Do you really all have to be here? I mean, I was just a little faint.”

“Hearing Patrick describe it, it was not so little, you were unconscious for several minutes,” Simon pointed out.

“It's happened before, I always got over it. Stop worrying!”

Simon tilted his head. “No. Not until I have a better idea what caused it.”

Clarice crossed her arms. “Well, no matter what, you are not examining me as well. I’m too old to play doctor with my brother.” She grinned as Simon flushed.

Cecilia rolled her eyes and gestured at Simon and James. “Out, both of you! The doctor said she was fine. Clarice and I need to talk.”

The men exchanged looks and shrugged, then left.

Cecilia eyed her daughter thoughtfully. “Tell me exactly what happened, and how you felt and what you were doing.”

Clarice flushed in embarrassment. “Mom! it was nothing like that! We were just cuddling.”

“Just cuddling?” Cecilia asked sceptically.

“Just cuddling. The man is so straight he ought to have been a Mountie. He won't go to bed till we're legally wed or something.” Clarice sighed in annoyance and put her elbows on her thighs and leaned her chin in her hands. “Leave it to me to pick the one guy in the US of A who doesn’t think Darlin’ Starlin’ is hot.”

Cecilia hopped onto the table next to Clarice and put an arm around her. “Well, I think that's a sign he loves you, because really Clarice, you aren't quite ready for it. And he knows it, and I think you know it. You need the other side of love for a while first, to get back on your feet.”

Clarice rolled her eyes. “That's what he says. And he never answered my question.” She pouted.

“What question?”

Clarice flushed. “Never mind.”

“Clarice, what question? When did you ask it?” Cecilia asked sharply. “And this is not idle curiosity on your old mother's part, it's important.”

Clarice groaned and drew her legs onto the table, scooting back on her butt, hid her flaming face in her knees and behind her hair and muttered her answer. “I asked if he was tempted, okay? Just before I fainted.”

“I see. Clarice, and did anything else happen?”

“MOM!” Clarice yelled. “Nothing happened! I told you already! Sheesh!”

Cecila sighed. “Not like that, silly girl. While you were unconscious, or before it, what did you feel?”

Clarice groaned. “Well, I got all these images, of me, you know, my rear as I bent over, my breasts, my face and lips, warmth, heat, as if someone else was looking at me...” Her eyes widened as her mother nodded. “Oh... That was Pat?” Clarice whispered.

“I think so, yes. Your power is probably related to some form of telepathy or empathy and is looking for an exit, a way to express itself. Or maybe I'm not powerful enough to keep you in check anymore. I don't know exactly, but if the previous times you fainted all had to do with strong emotions, then I'd say your power was at work.”

Clarice bit her lip. “That would explain some things. I-I get these flashes of thoughts and feelings, sometimes, when I'm talking to people. It doesn't happen often.”

“Hmm, sounds like it. Well, that probably means we'll have to undo the current power binding spell on you. Have-have you thought about if you want them permanently? Or do you want them removed?” Cecelia asked hesitantly.

“They're part of my heritage. And they might be useful,” Clarice smiled a bit whimsically. “It's not as if I don't have plenty of experience protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty.”

Cecelia smiled back. “Shall we do it back in Imperial?”

Clarice nodded. “Yes.” She slid of the table and walked to her clothes. “That means we can talk over the ritual and the spell.”

Cecelia smiled and left the room to let Clarice change back into her clothes, and find her sister. And to see if her husband and future son in law had managed to reassure the big builder that Clarice was alright.

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Penelope Halliwell eyed the young woman opposite her with a determined look on her face. Said young woman was hugging one of the couch pillows and was trying to burrow into the couch itself. Another young woman, who could only be described as her near complete double was standing, arms on hips, to the side, glaring at Penelope. “Grams, stop terrorizing her. She was scared to death.”

“And what would have happened if it hadn’t been a Rogue Demon Hunter but a Fem-Bubba? Would you have been this sanguine then?” Penelope demanded.

“Probably not, no,” Prue admitted. “And it was frightening at first. But I wasn’t hurt. And Brenda wouldn’t have handled it half so well.”

Penelope stared at her granddaughter and then at the frightened girl hiding on the couch and snorted. “And who is the man who’s supposed to have raped her? She hasn’t named him yet, has she?”

“HE DID!! HE DID RAPE ME! YOU’RE JUST LIKE MY PARENTS YOU EVIL OLD BITCH!” Brenda yelled, surging up from the couch to claw at Penelope’s face, only to float in the air as Penelope raised her hands, and magic, in defense.

Piper stepped next to Brenda, who was breathing very fast, her eyes wide and frightened. “GRAMS! Stop it!”  She glared at the older woman and was joined by Prue. “She still frightened of him, can’t you tell?”

Danielle stepped up next to Penelope. “Penny! Prue is alright and your current behaviour is atrocious and hardly conducive to learning who assaulted Miss Walsh.”

Penny glared at her friend and then sat back, gently lowering Brenda to her feet. “Very well.”

“Brenda, please dear, tell me who the man was who hurt you,” Danielle said comfortingly.

“Y-you really are witches…” Brenda whispered. “Real witches.”  

“Yes, we are. Though some are bigger witches than others,” Danielle’s look at Penelope showed exactly what she meant. Penelope flushed slightly.

“There was a cop, a police officer, who went after him, the… thing… that raped me. They found him dead, floating off Long Beach.”

“I see. Well, we do have certain resources, and Simon has other kinds of resources,” Danielle assured the shaking girl. “I’m sure we can find a way to get this man punished.”

“The police didn’t believe me; they said I was trying to cover up that I’d agreed to do porn. That there was no drug to make anyone do what I did, act like I did…” Brenda looked at the red haired woman hopelessly. “My parents practically disowned me after that. My brother just looks at me with those big sad eyes of his. He’s my twin and even he won’t believe me!” 

“Yes dear, I understand. We still need his name.” Danielle looked up as Joyce came in, eyes red rimmed and gave Brenda a mug of hot chocolate from the tray she was carrying, handing different drinks to the others.

Brenda took a deep breath. “D-don’t blame me if you get hurt, please.”

“We won’t dear. Now who was it?”

“Winters. His name is Russell Winters.” Brenda whispered, her voice full of fear and loathing.

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Amata smiled sadly at that boy who sat by her bed, her teeth gleaming in the light as her gums and lips withdrew. “They will do the spell tonight, Xander.” Her voice was soft and stumbled as her drying tissues fought to bring forth sound other than croaks and groans.

“Yes. And then you will be gone.” Xander’s voice was anguished. “Is it so wrong of me to want more? To think that a holiday romance should not end with the death of one of the lovers?”

“No. No, you are not. I am sorry I hurt you, Xander, hurt you and your family,” The bright brown eyes closed. “Maybe you should leave me, go and sit with them, forget about me.”

Xander snorted. “Not likely. Amata, you could have been evil. You could have tried to kill, drain others. You could have done all that, but you did not. Yes, you killed, and yes, I feel ambiguous about that. But don’t think that leaving you here alone would hurt less.” He frowned. “And since when do I know the word ambiguous?”

Amata giggled. “You always make me laugh Xander. Thank you.”

He sighed and closed his eyes, taking her dried husk of a hand in his. “But I have to admit my feelings for you have changed. There is more pity now than lust and the love…”

Amata let out a choked sob. Xander leaned forward quickly and placed gentle lips on her forehead. “Hey, not like that. I do love you. But I’m beginning to think that all my love is cursed.”

“Cursed?” Amata stammered and tried to turn, upsetting her teddy bear

Xander placed the big black teddy bear upright and closer to Amata’s head. “Yeah. The first woman to show interest in me was Willow, and well, she’s Willow. I’ve seen her as my sister since I was six. Ignoring our short period of being engaged to be married at age five.”

Amata giggled again. “Well that sounds sweet, not cursed.”

“Then I saw Buffy and, wham, I thought, love. And I got possessed by a Hyena and I thought, wow, Mom is really attractive…”

Xander waved a hand at Amata’s incredulous and horrified gasp.

“Yeah, well then I tried to rape Buffy, and instant guilt killed off anything romantic that might have been between us.” Xander continued.

A light growl came from the girl on the bed. “Good. Otherwise I would have had to fight her, and I like Buffy.”

Xander grinned and kissed Amata’s lips again. “Yeah, well, then I got fostered here and now I love her like a sister, too,” he mock-scowled. “Before that there was this Mantis-woman Science teacher who wanted to mate with me and bite my head off and lay eggs in my body so it could serve as food for our babies. That was not the sort of thing to make a growing boy settle down for a serious retlaionship.”

Amata giggled. “Poor Xander.” She coughed, dry and hacking, and raised a hand to his face with difficulty. “And now there is me. A life-draining accursed mummy.”

“Yeah, but on the upside, you do like me for who I am and don’t want to eat me after mating.”

Amata tilted her head. “From what I remember my sisters and the ladies in waiting telling me, the eating usually happened before the copulation. Did that order of things change too?”

Xander let out a choking noise and gawped at Amata. “Whut? You know about…” he moved his hands in various ways and Amata laughed again.

Amata’s eyes twinkled. “I was born in a different time, Xander, and place. A lot more open about certain things. Really, you ought to ask your cousins and Aunt Penny what sort of art my people made. You might be surprised…”

Xander smiled sadly. “As surprised as you were by Willow’s computer? Or chocolate milk? Or mom’s cauliflower and cheese or dad’s ravioli?”

Amata smiled back. “How did Willow put it? Oh yes, culture shock.” She looked wistfully into his eyes. “It would have been fun, learning from you, wouldn’t it, Xander?”

“Yeah, I’d like to think so.”

“There will be other girls, Xander, you may not forget me, but you will move on,” Amata comforted him.

Xander smiled gently. “I hope you don’t mind if I wait a bit. It may take some time getting over you,” he chuckled. “And I really hope something like the stuff that happened doesn’t happen to every girl I bring home, that would put a serious crimp in my love life.”

Amata giggled again. “Well, I admit to being flattered. But don’t put your life on hold for me, Xander. I had fun here. And I was loved. I was never loved before, I think. You-you do love me Xander?”  

Xander held her hand and kissed her forehead. “Always, Amata. Always.”

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Saturday, November 4th, evening

Night had fallen and the group that made its way to 1630 Revello Drive expected little resistance. They were large, powerful men, and all were carrying weapons, the cars they drove were unassuming and stolen all over California and they themselves had been recruited from all over the West. They expected little trouble. A doctor and his fiancée, a teenage boy, six teen or pre-teen girls and a number of women. They’d even been given permission to have fun with the girls and the women, as long as they got the brunette teen girl, of whom they had a rather old-fashioned looking photograph, out of the house and the town. And for after, the name of a local bar, called Willy’s Bar in an obvious effort at originality. 

The eight men got out of the three cars and approached the door, checking their weapons. They expected no trouble. That was why they were rather surprised when the flash grenade fell in their midst, and even more surprised when the highly trained and well armed bodyguards coldly and efficiently knocked them out, hogtied them and called in the FBI.

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The girl’s brown eyes were the only things left alive. There was pain in those eyes, and love. She lay on the soft grass below the Monolith in Hooghwater Park, and around her stood the Witches, their faces grave. The oldest of them spoke the words that would free the girl’s soul, to soar to whatever place was reserved for her.

“Daughter of the Earth, daughter of the Sun, Child of Gaia, by the ancient powers, by the spirits around us, by the Balance, let the chains that bind you be sundered. Let nature take its course. Let the spirit run free.” Danielle softly intoned the phrases.

The great carved stone flared with an intense bright light. James Ellis stepped up to it and placed his hand on it. “A soul was stolen. Let it be returned to its rightful place, let the circle turn fully, the cycle of life and death completed. Let the balance be paid, and what was stolen, returned.” The light spread through him and then to the members of the circle, and then from each of them to the girl lying in their midst. The brown eyes closed and then the lids sank into the eye sockets as the centuries caught up with them. The body returned to its mummified state. The light dimmed. And Joyce cried.

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Sunday, November 5th, morning

Joyce stood sobbing into Simon’s shoulder and Xander was being comforted by Buffy, Willow, Dawn and Kit, all of whom surrounded and hugged their older brother with a fierce protectiveness.

There were only two graves in the small private cemetery, one was empty, merely a marker that stated that Gabriel Alexander Fillmore Meier had been temporarily buried there. The other was open, and occupied by the simple pine casket that had been finished by Patrick just that morning.

Four Bears Ellis stood at the bottom of the grave. “May your soul be at peace, may you journey into the sky and the clouds, jump from mountain to mountain, wander the endless plains and breathe in the dew laden air. Rest easy, little Sun-Chaser.”

Patrick had one arm around Amy and the other around Clarice. Penelope was hugging Piper and Phoebe and Cecilia had her arms about Prue and Brenda. Evy was crying, silently and without fanfare, her mother’s arms about her.

Jenny and Giles stood a, as if uncertain of their right to be there, eyes and cheeks wet with tears and with Jenny leaning back against Giles’ chest, his arms around her, comforting.

Danielle stood at the head of the grave. “Child of the sea, child of the mountain valleys. Your soul is free and we place your body in the earth, to let it return to the mother’s embrace. Know that we loved you, the short time you were with us.”  

Xander looked at his sisters, who nodded and released him, and then he took a step forward and bent forward to pick up a handful of earth that he threw into the grave. “May you find the peace you wanted, Amata, Beloved, Sun-chaser, and the life you wished for, if not here, then somewhere else,” he bent down again and took a handful of flower petals from a pail and gently sprinkled them on the pine lid. “Fare well, Amata.”

They each passed by the grave and cast in a handful of earth and a handful of petals and stood watching as the grave was filled in again.

End Note:

If people think I should post character death warning, let me know.

Russell Winters was the old, rich and powerful vampire who stalked Cordelia in the first episode of Angel. He seemed like the sort of guy who would take enjoyment in ruining Brenda’s career and life, not just killing her immediately. A great many things will be explained next week, and as the chapter is already written, I can promise that it will go up, possibly even early, as I have things to do in the afternoon.

 
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