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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)vidiconFR1598780,1331581494398,87328 May 115 Jul 14No

Circles of power

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Beta, Letomo. This chapter would not be the same without his critical reading and feedback, but all mistakes are still mine. (We hope to have Sylver back soon by the way.)

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.#

Greek: ^Who cares?^

Ancient Egyptian: »Who’s that?«

Latin: ~Who’s who?~

Telepathy: %Who’s that in my mind?%

Thanks to Alyssara and Cutiepie for recommending me, All my other recommenders, know that I appreciate every one of you, and for sticking with me.

Remember, reviews and recommendations feed the muse!

73 Circles of Power

Thursday December 14th, Los Angeles, Penkowski house

Charlotte Penkowski stood hesitantly in her sitting room, phone in hand. Then she looked at her husband who nodded encouragingly. Charlotte took a deep breath, pressed a quick dial button and waited for the phone to be answered.

“Joyce Summers, good evening,” her twin sister's voice sounded happy and upbeat to Lolly's ears.

“Joyly? Remember when we last talked about babies? When Harry and I decided not to try anymore until we knew what was wrong?” Charlotte asked.

There was a rustle and a thump as of someone falling onto a sofa. “You're pregnant?” Came Joyce's whispered question.

“Yes,” Charlotte's answer was soft but clear and completely joyous.

“D-does mother know?” Joyce sounded amused.

“No, you're the first person I called,” Lolly replied.

“I didn't,” Joyce sounded slightly guilty.

“Didn't what?” Lolly asked in confusion.

“Call you first,” this time there was a definite note of amusement in Joyce's voice, as well as happiness.

“Call... me... first?” Charlotte sat down. “Joyly! Are you pregnant too?”

It was the first time in years that the twins had produced a double squeal loud enough to bring their families running, or in Harry’s case, to make him grab his ears in pain.   

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Friday December 15th, Revello Drive

The white winged shape approached the porch of the low-slung house with some care, landing lightly  in the garden and hurrying up the few steps avoiding the lounger and hastily went inside after looking into the kitchen window and adjusting his white toga like garment after his flight.

Joyce looked up from the cutting board and smiled. “Hello Michael. Here to see Buffy?”

Mike nodded. It always amazed Joyce how sheepish and uncertain a nine and half foot tall winged demon could look, and how effortlessly Mike pulled that off.

“I errr... I was wondering if she, errr, wanted me to help with patrolling?” He stammered out, his fine white scales lightly pink tinged by his embarrassment, his head cocked far forward to fit his height under the kitchen ceiling.

“Why don't you ask her, she's in the dining room, setting the table. Want to join us for dinner? Dave is here too...” Joyce coaxed. *The poor boy really needs the socialization, he's worse than Kendra.*

Mike looked at his feet. “I errr... I eat a lot.”

“I've got a half-bushel of children and I think it might surprise you how much Buffy manages to eat at a single sitting,” Joyce gestured at the assorted pans and dishes on the stove and in the two ovens. “Do call your parents if you decide to stay, wouldn’t want them to worry.”

Michael fluttered his wings and then nodded. “Thank you, Ms. Summers; I'd be delighted to stay for dinner.”

Joyce smiled again. “Good. Now shoo, I need to cook and I don’t want you to burn your wings.”

Michael quickly left, keeping his feathers away from the gas. He found Buffy in the dining room, setting the table like Joyce had told him she would be doing.

“Hey,” he greeted her rather awkwardly.

“Hey, Mike. Gimme a hand?” Buffy gestured at a basket of silver ware and Mike started laying out the knives forks and spoons.

“You staying for din-din?” Buffy asked.

“Din-din?” Mike looked confused. 

Buffy grinned. “Grandpa Jon calls it that, it kinda stuck. Well, are you?”

“Yeah, your mom invited me,” Mike replied.

“S’cool. Xander keeps complaining we need more guys at the table,” Buffy hummed a little as she slid a plate into place on the smooth table cloth.

“Not exactly a guy,” Mike pointed out. “Also, doesn’t Angelu- Liam eat here?”

Buffy looked a bit disgruntled at that. “He doesn’t like eating here, makes him feel uncomfortable. Also, what do you mean not a guy? Dave said you were his brother, did you suddenly change sex? Not that that is not totally cool!” she hastily added as she saw Mike’s expression.

“No, no I’m male!” Mike hastily clarified, “But, I mean, do I look like a normal guy?” Mike gestured down at himself.

“Haven’t exactly seen many Cheila in their other form, except your mom, I think,” Buffy looked flustered. “Errr, Willow says she really can’t see much difference, you know, when your mother changes shape, just slightly more roundness in the chest area. Your dad, is he really that big?”

Mike nodded. “At least six inches bigger than me in that shape, yeah. No wings though.”

“Wow.” Buffy looked at the nine and a half foot of well-muscled white skinned demon, remembering the soft, velveteen warmth of him under her hands and then grinned, remembering Willow’s more than slight obsession with the possibility her boyfriend might look like this one day. “So when do you think that Dave will be able to make the change?”

Mike shrugged, his wings swiping the ceiling. “Don’t know, should be soon. It depends on a lot of things no one ever quantified. Dad says it’s to do with emotional and physical maturity and lots of stuff like that.”

“Hello Ms. Summers!” A cheerful voice sounded from the kitchen.

“Hello Miss Matthews. Here to see the children?” Joyce greeted the social worker intern.

“Yes, are they home?” Paige asked.

Buffy started shooing Mike towards the front door, hoping to shepherd him out before he was seen by the young woman.

“Upstairs, mostly. Mr. Duncan not with you today?”

“He’s out front, parking the car,” Paige replied, just as the doorbell rang heralding the arrival of the second social worker.

Buffy and Mike exchanged panicked looks and then as stealthily as possible ran up the stairs. Buffy gestured at her door. “Quick, get in!”

Mike hurried into the room, ducking and moving sideways to get his wings inside.

“No, no I’ll find her, no problem, please go on cooking!” Paige called out, as Buffy and Mike heard her soft tread on the stairs and then approach the door.

Mike’s silver pupils enlarged until his irises were almost entirely gone. He let out a whimper. The door opened. “Kit? You in here?”

“NO!” Buffy called out. “It’s me! I’m not dres-” There was a whooshing noise beside her and rustle of cloth.

The door opened further and Paige looked in. And blushed. Buffy, looking rather panicked and dishevelled was standing next to what might best be described as a young Greek demi-god. His white and fearful face had high cheekbones and a roman nose, slightly askew, with strong eyebrows, a touch bushy, over deep-set grey-blue eyes and a heavy, square, dimpled chin below a strong mouth, a touch too broad for his face but set with white even teeth that were visible in a worried, alarmed grimace, all framed by shoulder-length, slightly wavy and more than a little shaggy light brown hair.

He towered over the petite Buffy, standing six foot eight tall, with broad, muscular shoulders tapering down to a six-pack stomach and slim waist, his long fingered hands holding what looked like a white bed sheet around it, showing of a considerable amount of athletically shaped thigh and powerful calves.

Paige gulped and flushed. “Oh! Oh my…” Her eyes wandered from the panicking, blushing high cheek-boned face to the hands that were desperately clutching the sheet in front of him. “I see…”

Frantic blue grey eyes sought equally frantic green ones.

“We were-were err…” Mike began as a deep blush darkened his face and started to run down his neck to his chest.

“Kit’s in another room, Miss Matthews,” Joyce said from the hallway. “This is Buffy’s room again,” she blinked at the sight before her when she joined the young social worker in the doorway. “Dear me. Hello.” Her eyes involuntarily wandered up and down Mike’s body, whose blush worsened, while a slight flush also coloured Joyce’s cheeks as she realised what she was doing.

“Mom! Hey Mom! You-you remember Mike?” Buffy blurted out desperately.

Joyce visibly recovered her aplomb. “Indeed I do. Quite well, though I’ve never seen quite this side of him before. The bathroom is that way, Michael. Did Simon give you some clothes? Charles is the only one big enough to share easily with you, but I doubt your tastes match. I think that Sean Bottley might be your size, come to think of it, a few inches shorter, maybe,” Joyce replied smoothly. “So I suggest you go take that shower before dinner while Buffy runs over and asks to borrow a clean track suit, Mike’s really was not fit to eat in,” she explained to Paige in an aside.

Buffy still hesitated, her eyes flickering over Mike’s muscular form.

Joyce shook her head. “Right now,” she added with a severe look at her daughter who ceased studying the young man beside her, let out a small ‘eep’ and ran out of the room, slipping between Paige and Joyce and hastening down the stairs.     

“Bathroom is that way, Mike,” Joyce told the young man again, mildly. Mike scurried out, hauling the sheet around him.

Joyce shook her head, sighed and led Paige away. “Sorry about that. Shall we go see Xander and then Willow? Kit’s in the new house, they’re here.”

Paige looked at the older woman in surprise. “You don’t seem very upset about all that. Errr… Willow first? Duncan was going to talk to Xander.”

“Fine, and I’m not. In the first place I think that was an honest accident. Mike was probably changing and Buffy walked in on him, in the second place…” Joyce hesitated.

“Yes?” Paige asked, her nose almost quivering in curiosity.

Joyce sighed. “Buffy’s got a boyfriend, who’s at college. He’s too old and too broody and quite a few other ‘too’s’. Mike is a nice boy, rather shy and withdrawn. He’s been homeschooled, he was rather delicate as a child, and he's not really very sure of himself in social situations.”

“Delicate?” Paige asked incredulously, looking over her shoulder to see if she could catch another glimpse of the young man. Purely to see if he really was delicate of course.

“When he was younger. His parents may have overreacted,” Joyce admitted. 

“Soooo… You think that Mike might make a better boyfriend for Buffy?” Paige ventured as they crossed the walkway to the annex over the garage.

Joyce grinned wryly. “He might, but I’m not encouraging anything. It just made her realise that there are boys her own age who might understand her, and look good. Willow!”    

“Yes, Mom?” came the reply from within the room.

“Miss Matthews is here; do you have any semi-naked boys in there?” Joyce winked at Paige.

“MOM!!!” came the wailed reply. The door opened. Willow, fully dressed and blushing, half embarrassed, half outraged, stood there. Dave, also blushing, was sitting at her desk; Willow’s empty chair had clearly been pushed back.

“Sorry dear, we just walked in on Buffy and Mike. Didn’t want to surprise you,” Joyce teased.

Paige bit her lip to stifle her amusement at the expressions on the teens’ faces. Willow was obviously warring between asking about what happened, going to see for herself and the necessity of talking to Paige.

Dave, however, had an out and rose. “I’ll go; you’ll want to talk to Willow alone.”

Paige nodded, sitting down in the chair he’d just vacated.

Willow, rather grumpily, did the same. Then she looked at the young social worker again and leaned forward, concerned. “You okay, Miss Matthews?”

“Yeah… No, not really. My parents died a few years ago in a car accident. It’s just, the way my Mom, and yours, just reacted…” Paige smiled, a bit watery. “Are you happy here, Willow?”

Willow looked at her hands. “Sometimes I miss my biological father. My mother, not so much. She was always cold, but Dad Rosenberg… When he remembered me, he could be nice. I miss the Jewish things. Everybody tries, but Dad really isn’t very religious and Mom’s more into Native American beliefs, what with Granddad being a Shaman. But yeah, I’m happy. I think happier than I’ve been in a very long time.”

Paige nodded. “And you feel guilty because you did –do- love your biological parents, at least your father.”

“Yeah. Does it make me bad person? That I’m happy to be here and do not miss my birth parents terribly? Or that I miss them and deny Mom and Dad?” Willow’s voice shook.

Paige smiled and patted Willow’s hand. “No to either. Why don’t we talk about that a bit, eh?”

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 Revello Drive complex, main living room (1628), Thursday 14th December evening (After dinner)

Buffy sat on the couch in the living room, pouting, a pillow clutched to her chest and leaning forward.

Willow flounced over to Buffy and fell down next to her on the couch. Kendra rather more diffidently did the same on her other side. “Well?” Willow demanded.

Buffy glared silently ahead at the wall.

“C'mon Buff...” Willow coaxed.

“No. It’s bad enough getting teased by Mom, I don't need you to do it as well,” Buffy grouched.

Rowan on the screen in the sitting room, giggled. “Who's talking teasing? We wanna know what he looks like without the track suit!”

Buffy groaned and slammed the pillow in her face, falling back against the seat. “You're dating his brother, Willow! And I’m dating Angel!”

“Yeah, and? Dave's got lots of muscles, but he's like a swimmer, Mike is like a bodybuilder, but a nice looking one, you know, not over the top muscly. And hey, its not like Mom is going to let you see semi-naked Angelage any time in the next hundred years, or that he can go to the beach with you so’s as you can ogle, so you should get your male yummy when you can,” Willow pointed out in a single breathless sentence.

Kendra reached in front of  Buffy and put a hand on Willow’s mouth. “Breathe, Willow. And I, too, would like to know what Michael looks like.”

Buffy grinned. “Way good with the sister actage, Ken. See how that grows on you? And I thought that boyfriends were a distraction from and an insult to the Slayer’s heritage and duty?”

Kendra flushed slightly. “You seem to be doing fairly well, and Liam is an aid rather than a hindrance most times. It is possible that I might have to reconsider my position with regard to boyfriends,” she admitted.  

“Also he’s hot!” Rowan piped up.

“And I do not have a boyfriend,” Kendra pointed out reasonably, ignoring the interruption. “And he looks like a capable fighter even as a human.”

“And I don't have a boyfriend and I don’t wanna fight, but I sure wanna know!” Rowan called out.

Buffy sighed in defeat, “Okay... Let me see... He's got real wide shoulders...”

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At the same time, Revello Drive Complex Old living room (1630)

Mike looked very ill at ease in the borrowed tracksuit, as if not merely the clothes but his whole body was borrowed. He sat next to Dave with his parents opposite and Joyce and Simon in flanking chairs. The ‘family’ TV had been moved to a corner of 1632, leaving more room to sit and creating a dedicated viewing room beside the main living room in 1628.

“It is one of the ways in which the switch can first occur, fear or anger,” Anna Kirby explained. “I’m just grateful it didn’t happen in mid-flight, like with my Aunt Agatha.”

Mike blinked. “Wait, that’s for real? I thought you were just saying that to keep me from flying!”

Anna rolled her eyes. “No dear, it’s for real. You can call her if you want.”

“Oh,” Mike looked rather sheepishly at his knees.

“So what happens now?” Joyce asked, curious.

Anna and Brian exchanged looks. “We wait and see how it develops. It will be a while before he can control the changes consciously. I think we’ll enrol him in school in a month or so, or in January if he shows control, if he wants to, and trust in the general unwillingness of people to see what is happening if he changes accidentally,” Brian answered.

“No, first we get him some decent clothes and a haircut,” Anna corrected her husband. “He looks like Harry the Sasquatch.”

“Mom!” Mike whined.

Anna smiled. “Don’t worry dear; it doesn’t hurt in human form.”

Mike eyed her doubtfully, but Dave nodded his agreement. “It really doesn’t. Don’t sweat it.”

Mike tugged at his hair and then looked at his parents doubtfully. “I’ll believe it when I feel it.”

Anna shook her head, amused. “Men,” she then turned to Joyce and Simon. “I’m very grateful for the way you handled this.”

“It wasn’t a problem. I’ve gotten used to covering for Kit when Social services arrive. It can be quite difficult getting her in bed and looking reasonably ill when she’s been running through the house two minutes before,” Joyce replied wryly. “One nearly naked young man in my daughter’s bedroom is not going to phase me,” She pinned the blushing Mike with a glare. “As long as he doesn’t make a habit of it…”

Dave smirked at his brother’s discomfort, until Simon cleared his throat.

“That reminds me David, I seem to recall we agreed that you would keep the door open when you and Willow are in her room…”

David winced. “We were just doing homework, honest!”

“Hmmm… Last time you and Willow were doing home work you forgot to button up right again,” Simon replied, his voice deceptively mild.

Anna’s eyes narrowed. “David! What have you been doing to that poor girl!?”

Dave spluttered. “Nothing! I- we…” He sighed. “She was a bit shocked to find that we don’t have any really accurate knowledge about the changes between forms and growing up and everything. So she is trying to see if there are changes in my appearance, developments, stuff like that. She takes pictures, we keep notes. It’s an attempt to create a baseline for the changes.”

Simon laughed. “If this was anyone but Willow and you, I’d be worried that she was dissembling.”

Joyce smiled. “Sounds like Willow, yes.”

Dave let out a relieved sigh.

“And it give her a plausible reason to get Dave to take his shirt off,” Joyce finished. “Very clever of her, but still I shall have a few words with that young lady.”

Dave blushed. Mike grinned. Anna and Brian exchanged looks and then rose. “Well, thank you for your hospitality and for taking care of Mike.” 

Joyce smiled at the uncomfortable boy. “It was no trouble like I said. He’s very welcome here, in either shape. Though preferably while wearing more clothes around my daughters,” she winked and Mike blushed deeply.

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Friday December 15th, New Orleans, Louisiana, afternoon 

The old gentleman who knocked on the door was nothing like what Faith, watching from the window of her room after a shower and a long session on the basketball court, expected Hawkeye to be like. She was expecting him to be fairly tall, yes. But this man was far more solid, despite his age. He wore clothing that was too neat. Admittedly Faith was expecting a purple bathrobe, but still.

The door opened and she saw the face of Father Mulcahey as he saw his visitor.

“Charles?” he asked, his face wreathed in smiles. “What a very pleasant surprise.”

*Major Winchester.* Faith tried to look out of the window without being noticed, but decided against it. She did notice that two other older men were seemingly arguing good naturedly beside a parked car.

“Francis, old friend, it is very good to see you,” the tall man answered, enfolding Mulcahey in a hug. 

Mulcahey grinned. “Come in, come in. What brings you here?”

“I understood from Hunnicutt you were going to be receiving Pierce?” Charles asked in a deep, rumbling voice that made Faith shiver.

“Yes, why?” Mulcahey gave the bigger man a mock-severe look. “I will not condone a prank war in this house, Charles.”

“Nothing like that. Oh, you might want to leave the door open.” Charles grinned as a string of curses that impressed even Faith rang out from one of the old men by the car.

“Charles! What have you got in here, pig iron?” an irate voice called out.

“B-B.J.?” Mulcahey laughed, surprised. The priest looked out and saw the car, noting there were two more passengers. “Trapper?”

“Heya, Padre. Charles got B.J. on his whole 'I'm younger and more healthy than you, Charles’ shtick. Hence the attempts to remove the suitcase.” Trapper gestured at where B.J. was wrestling with the suitcase in question.

The old priest looked at the scene with some amusement. “Who got it in there in the first place?”  

“An attendant at the airport, Simon insisted we travel first class,” Charles smiled. “Simon is celebrating Christmas in New York, partially at Vlughwater, and he asked me to go and oversee the preparations, as he wants the house ready for the children. During my weekly call to B.J. I found out Pierce was coming here and we decided we wanted to be here as well.”

Mulcahey laughed. “Ah yes, Simon’s children. You have to tell me more about them. How heavy is that suitcase, really?”

Charles shrugged. “I can manage it if need be. I know my limits.”

Mulcahey grinned and stepped out the door, looked up at the window and called out. “Faith, why don’t you come out here and help Dr. Hunnicutt with the suitcase.”

Faith let out an involuntary gasp, muttered something about being made and hastened down the stairs and out the door, nodding a greeting at the tall, distinguished old gentleman and ran to the car.

“Hey, I’m Faith. Need a hand?” She asked the bald, bearded man.

The man grinned at the other one, who had a ring of curly white hair around a likewise balding pate and was wrestling with the suitcase and a splinted finger. “Well B.J.? Ready to admit Charles got you?”

B.J. gave Trapper a look of loathing and then sighed. “Bastard Brahmin could have done it himself. But no, he had to make a point and let the poor, heavily injured,” he gestured with his hand. “Veteran, hurt in the line of duty-”

“You got your finger stuck in a bowling ball during a VA get together,” McIntyre interrupted him with a smirk. “Stop acting like a twit, accept Charles outsmarted you and carry the bloody suitcase inside, okay?”

Faith chuckled. “You’re just like Father Mulcahey said. Don’t you ever change?”

The two men turned to her, suddenly serious. It was Hunnicutt who spoke. “We grow older. We lose people. But we always remember who we were once, how we lived once. And who our friends are.”

Faith was surprised at the turn of the conversation. “So you just drive up to see an old friend all the way from California, not telling him you’re stopping by?” she asked, feeling annoyed on Mulcahey’s behalf despite the old priest’s evident pleasure at seeing them.

B.J. exchanged a glance with Trapper. “Faith… The Padre and us, we go back a long time. He knows us. He knows we wouldn’t be here this unexpectedly without a very good reason. And he knows exactly what that reason is.”

“Hunnicutt! Quit your dawdling and get the luggage in here!” Winchester bellowed from the steps.

Faith grinned in spite of the previous conversation. “Shall I take that?”

B.J. huffed, grabbed the suitcase, dragged it out of the trunk  and headed to the house. “I’m coming you nefarious, conniving Bostonian!” Trapper grabbed his own luggage and Faith Hunnicutt’s and they followed.

Faith’s grin was wide and happy. There were some interesting days ahead…

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New Orleans, Louisiana

They called him The Reaper of the Slayers , but that was not the name he had been born with. He was old, even as his kind went, he’d be two thousand years a vampire in another twenty years or so. He was the stuff of nightmares. His visage had driven men mad and inspired books and the new-fangled movies. He closed his eyes as he felt the tug and ignored it. The ability to sense Potential Slayers, and with it the possible succession of the Slayer line was his particular gift. A true Slayer he could feel from miles away. It had saved his life on numerous occasions.

*It is interesting that Slayers, too, have special gifts. Some are even more dextrous than their ilk commonly is, others have pin point accuracy with thrown weapons. I wonder if there is a connection between demonic and Slayer gifts?*  the ancient vampire mused, his manicured fingernails tapping the head of his latest victim, a young girl he’d conned into inviting him in earlier. Her family would be home soon, but would find the house empty. And they would never know that the friendly next door neighbour, the polite young businessman who had rented the Statesons’ house, was responsible for her disappearance.  

He tended to make them last these days. People noticed the disappearance of neighbours and promising young students. And Marcus Simplicius Secundus, tribunus militum laticlavius of the XIX Legion of the Emperor Augustus had not lived as long as he had by being anyone’s fool, or by drawing the wrong sort of attention. He had counseled Varus against marching into the bloody forest, and he’d even faced off against the man who had engineered the whole thing. Darius, later known as the Ravager of Rome, one of the few beings that his Sire, the Ancient and Immortal, the Father of Evil, Kakistos the Destroyer, feared.

Marcus had lost, of course, against the hundred years of martial experience the then young Immortal had. But he would have his vengeance. When he had wandered, mortally wounded into the deep shade of the trees he had been found dying by the vampire, who had offered him eternal life. It was one of the best decisions Marcus had ever made.

The vampire grimaced. His current alias, used to draw less attention to himself, was Mark Simon Kundus, a businessman of Estonian extraction, an insult to his Roman heritage and his demon, too. He would never get used to the casual way in which modern day man treated names, or those who deserved their respect.

He had felt the call from his Sire for several days now. The Father was obviously worried, if he used his blood call to summon his Childer. Then again, the old vampire thought a torch lit beacon was high tech and he might just want to chat and not know how to pick up the phone. Marcus respected his sire and the evil he stood for, but he had not really moved with the times. Rising, Marcus paced the room, his face set in a grimace as fought off the summoning. He needed to observe this strong young potential. He could tell that she would be Called. He had been hunted for that ability. The Watchers’ Council had a permanent price on Marcus’ head. Preferably undead, not dust. Knowing who would be called would be a tremendous advantage to either side of the struggle. The sense of Summoning faded, leaving only the tug of the Potential.  

The way that the old priest acted showed he knew of the supernatural. The woman with the girl was obviously her watcher and the potential herself would certainly not take any risks. Marcus looked as she entered the house with the suitcase and then grinned down at the girl lying pale and listless on the ground. An invited guest could let him in. Maybe Mrs. Corcoran would be willing to cut a little deal, and Marcus would present his sire with a lovely bright Potential, a so called ‘holy man’ and a Watcher. That would make up for any displeasure his delay might cause. Kakistos loved gifts and surprises.

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Friday December 15th SGC command, Colorado Springs, CheyenneMountain

George Hammond looked at the request for leave. Then he looked up at the requester. “Going to spend some time with your family over Christmas, Captain?”

Sam shook her head. “No, Sir. I’m going to Britain to ask my former professor and professor Hawking about some new equations. And see some friends from my time there. The equations have been approved for disclosure, sir.”

Hammond gave the young captain a look. “All work and no play makes for overwrought officers, Captain Carter.”

Carter smiled. “Colonel O’Neill fishes, Dr. Jackson goes to digs, and I like maths and physics.”

Hammond hesitated and then nodded and signed the request. “Very well, Captain. Enjoy your time in Britain.”

“Thank you, sir,” Carter saluted, about turned and left.

Hammond looked at the closed door and shook his head. He made a careful note to visit his daughter and granddaughters that evening, and make arrangements to sleep over so he could be there when the girls opened their Christmas presents. He knew that Jacob Carter would be spending another lonely Christmas and Hammond praised his lucky stars he’d been wise enough to put his career second on numerous occasions when his family needed him.

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Friday December 15th, Colorado Springs, Jack’s house

Arlene Ellis took a deep breath and then knocked on the door.

“Come in, it’s open,” Jack called out in a slurred voice.

Arlene went inside and slapped Jack on the back of the head, though not very hard, as he sat on the couch, beer in hand. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? I told you never to do that!” she hissed.

Jack rubbed his head. “Ow! What was that for?”

“You invited me in. You didn’t check who I was,” Arlene’s voice was icy.

Jack raised an eyebrow. “Trained SpecOps here, Major. I can deal with most anyone who comes a-knocking.”

“And anything? When I told you not to invite people in all those years ago I wasn’t worried about burglars, Jack! Remember vampires?” Arlene snarled.

“Sheesh, Arlene? What’s gotten your panties in a twist? It’s almost like you care!” Jack took a swig of his beer, to hide his wince at his own words, remembering the torn underwear on the floor of Arlene’s quarters.

Arlene’s eyes narrowed, counting the bottles on the table and she grabbed the one from Jack’s hand. “You’ve had enough Jack. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Jack tried to recover the beer but sank back into the couch when Arlene danced away from him. “Wrong? What would be wrong?” he spoke bitterly.

Arlene walked to the kitchen and poured the beer down the sink, then came back into the sitting room and sat down on the chair opposite Jack. “This is not like you, Jack.”

“It isn’t? Well neither is rape!” Jack shouted at her. 

“Rape?” Arlene blinked. Then she sighed. “Jack, if you raped me, I raped you right back. We weren’t exactly ourselves. Stop castigating yourself, go stick your head under the faucet and I’ll clean up in here,” she sniffed the air, which stank of stale beer, then wrinkled her nose as she came closer to Jack. “Better yet, take a shower.”

Jack looked at her, then rose shakily to his feet. “‘Kay.” He stumbled to the door and through it. Arlene looked around the room, sighed, and started to clear up.

Jack was down again twenty minutes later, hair wet and tousled, sipping very strong black coffee, already having downed a quart of OJ.

“Didya mean it?” He asked, blowing on the super hot coffee that Arlene preferred.

“That it wasn’t rape? Yes. That does not mean it doesn’t complicate matters,” Arlene toyed with her own mug. “A lot.”

“Yeah,” Jack leaned back and closed his eyes. “Does Evy know?”

“Not yet. I-I’ll have to tell her,” Arlene answered. “She needs to understand why we might act strangely around each other.”

“Crap. As if she  doesn’t think little enough of me already,” Jack muttered.

“Jack? I went to see Janet today,” Arlene whispered.

“I thought the General sent her home and told her to stay there for three days?” Jack asked glumly, but still interested. He’d grown rather fond of the feisty little doctor.

“Yeah. But I needed to talk to somebody who knew what happened,” Arlene looked at the black surface of her coffee.

The mug in Jack’s hands trembled. He put it down, rubbed his hands over the hips of his jeans, looked up and tried to talk. No sound came out. Then he closed his eyes and swallowed, then opened them again. “What?” he squeaked out. “Please don’t tell me you’re pregnant?”

“I’m not pregnant,” Arlene answered, with a slightly sad smile. “I might have been though. We need to take measures to protect the female personnel on missions and on base. You never know what might happen. I heard what happened to Captain Carter on Simarka. That might very well have ended very differently.”

Jack closed his eyes again. “I still have nightmares about that, yeah. We’ll need a protocol.”

“If we send women into combat, or men into battle with people who don’t have any knowledge of the Geneva Convention, we’ll need one, and good shrinks,” Arlene added solemnly. “I know I need one. I’ve hardly ever been so scared as when Janet administered that pregnancy test.”

Jack took a sip to hide his emotions. “Ah. You know, I’m not sure if I’m happy about that. Isn’t that weird? Seeing Evy, wondering what it would’ve been like to see her grow up…”His voice trembled.

“Yeah,” Arlene answered, slowly. “If I ever get my hand on anyone to do with that I think there might be a few blotches on my shining bright soul.”

“Shining bright?” Jack snorted, “When did that happen?” He looked at his mug, picked it up and sipped. “Fer cryin’out loud, why didn’t Janet think of this, and give you a morning after pill when we were brought in?”

“She did. She gave me a powerful emergency contraceptive when we were in the Infirmary. But she agreed to administer another test because she didn’t know if it would take effect, what with the disease,” Arlene explained. “She just forgot to tell me. She was run of her feet and tired to death.”

“Okay. I get that,” Jack took a deep breath. “What if it hadn’t worked?”

“Janet isn’t sure and hopefully we’ll never find out, but the baby… she doesn’t know, it might have been a carrier of the disease, it might’ve been born  a Neanderthal. We just don’t know enough about the pathology of the disease yet,” Arlene sipped her coffee, gripping the mug as if it was a lifeline. “I would have terminated the pregnancy, had there been one,” She admitted.

“Fuck.” Jack swore, very softly and highly uncharacteristically.

Arlene blinked. “Jonathan James O’Neill! You will not use language like that in front of Evy! Or me!” she scolded, wagging a finger.

Jack shook his head, “Sorry. I’m sorry,” Then he blinked. “Wait, are you seriously berating me for my language?”

Arlene opened her mouth and then grinned rather ruefully. “Okay, I admit that was rather hypocritical.”

Arlene drank her coffee, so did Jack. “We can’t ignore this, Jack. We have to talk about it, to a psychologist, possibly a psychiatrist and certainly with each other, possibly with a psychologist or psychiatrist there.”

 Jack gulped down a mouthful of scalding coffee and grimaced. “Wonderful, a session or two hundred with a headshrinker. Who do we have on staff for that anyway?”

Arlene grinned wryly. “A completely useless piece of work called MacKenzie. He was assigned as CMO before Janet was transferred. He’s a psychiatrist, and far too inflexible to do well at the SCG. I think he has got to have some dirt on someone, because he’s a colonel and you know that can’t be for real…”

Jack rolled his eyes at her dig. “Very funny. Haha.”

“Well, I’ll send you a memo once Janet and I’ve worked out a protocol,” Arlene finished her coffee. “I’ll ask the General to rustle up a proper psychiatrist. But you know as well as I do that we can’t ignore this.”

“Yeah. Those are going to be some fun conversations,” Jack noted dryly.

“You want fun conversations? Mom knows,” Arlene admitted. “She walked in while I was changing. I couldn’t tell her everything, but she guessed a lot.” 

Jack winced. “Your mother? Oh man, she’s going to kill me.”

Arlene shook her head. “Trust me, Jack. The last person for you to worry about is my mother. My father will get there long before she does.”

Jack glared at her. “Way to reassure a guy, Arlene.”

Arlene grinned. “Dad missed out on threatening you with violence the first time Jack. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to have a second chance.”

Jack shook his head. “Well, he can’t be as scary as your mother.”

Arlene shivered. “Trust me. If you ever have the choice between the anger of my father or my mother… Pick Mom.”

Really not reassuring me here, Arlene,” Jack groaned.

Arlene smiled and went to the door. “I’m taking Evy back to Sunnydale, we’re taking a plane, Mom and Dad are joining us and Jon is coming with us too. Want to visit before we leave?”

Jack shook his head wryly. “Half drunk, still smelling of stale beer and at a time your parents already want to skin me and tie me to an ant heap? Sure, why not,” He rose and opened the door for Arlene, then closed it behind him.

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Friday December 15th, Colorado Springs

Janet pondered as she packed a light bag, to help distract her from all the recent upheavals. She bit her lip as she remembered the last one. Ever since she had lost her baby at birth she’d tended to tear up when things might go wrong with pregnancies, no matter what the cause. Major Ellis’ unexpected brush with near pregnancy had hit her rather harder than she’d thought possible.

Janet took a deep breath and continued packing. She was going to visit her mother, sister and niece for a week and believed in being prepared. It had been years since she last spent Christmas at home. The empty house, without her father, brother or sister, with her silently and -to her mind- accusatory and disappointed mother, had been an assault on her heart.

She was even leaving early. The New York Coven had been given the duty to judge Eileen prior to the Winter Solstice meeting and should they condemn her Tara would need all the support she could get. Janet and her mother hadn’t quite agreed yet who the girl would live with if the judgement went against Eileen. Mary had even dropped a hint or two about moving to Colorado Springs, something that a year ago would have driven Janet to distraction. Now she could imagine coming home to her mother’s cooking and Tara working quietly at the kitchen table.

Janet looked at the picture of herself and her siblings. Peter, Eileen… They had been so young, so vibrant. Janet grinned rather ruefully. And she’d been so rebellious and annoying. She could see the scowl on her photographic fourteen year old face from across the room. She looked at her bag and then at the remaining clothes, reminded herself she wouldn’t be flying Air Force and quietly added a few more of her nicer outfits.      

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Saturday, December 16th, evening, New York High Coven meeting house, Albany

Lilith Sternin adjusted her deep red judicial robes, settled in the seat, far to large and ornate for her taste, and glanced sideways at her fellow judges. Thirteen High Magisters had been gathered, the maximum number for a judgement below a full High Conclave. Selected by lot from the serving High Magisters, the twelve others looked gravely at the darkened room and waited for her to call the court to order. Lilith clasped the ancient wooden gavel, so seldom used, and rapped it lightly three times on the sound block. “This session of the Intermediate Court of the Concordat of the United Covens of the United States of America is now opened. Let the defendant rise and identify herself.”

A red-haired woman rose, her face pale. She looked calmly at the thirteen judges. “Eileen Siobhan Josephine Beckforth,” her voice was soft but strong.

“Are you aware of the charges that have been brought against you?” Lilith asked.

“I am guilty of breaking the laws of magic. I have controlled minds through magic, killed through magic and used magic for theft and deceit,” came the answer, still in the same strong voice.

The thirteen judges looked on impassively. “Do you truly admit your guilt?” Lilith asked.

The accused witch's dark blue eyes flickered to a pale blonde-haired girl sitting in one of  the few seats set aside for visitors, between a short auburn headed woman and an upright nearly white-haired woman with the same blue eyes. “I do.”

“You were questioned and given a list of the transgressions you are accused of by this court. You have admitted to those crimes and added others, do you stand by that confession?” Lilith looked at the list as she spoke, remembering some of those who had died and some who had been otherwise affected.

“I stand by all that I confessed to,” Eileen declared firmly. “I acknowledge my guilt.”

“It has been brought to the attention of this court that you were yourself under the influence of Pulchritudia Black. How do you see that?” Lilith's voice was cold and disdainful.

“There has to be fertile soil for such influence to truly take hold. For me to treat those without magic in the way I did, for me to see all who had less power than me as less, there had to be at least some of that in my heart,” Eileen admitted.

The young blonde sobbed. Lilith gazed at her and then turned back to Eileen. “You plead guilty and you admit that there are limits to the extent to which the mitigating circumstances absolve you from your crimes,” Lilith turned to the judges. “The defendant has refused representation. Nevertheless I submit the depositions of the former Grand Magister, the former High Magister of California and the current High Magister of California as well as the Witch of Imperial and the Heyoka  and War Chief Striking-Four-Demon-Bears-Dead-With-His-Anger, requesting clemency.”

Tara looked up, suddenly hopeful. Lilith continued. “These depositions as well as the confessions having been made available to you earlier for study; are you ready now to render a verdict or do you wish to withdraw to discuss?”

The twelve lower judges exchanged glances. The oldest of them, a man with a long, immobile face and very deep set almost black eyes, rose shakily. “We would discuss the sentencing, Magister.”

“I agree. Let us withdraw. Bailiff of the court, please place the defendant back in her cell.” Lilith ordered.

A tall, powerfully built man with a hood over his head led Eileen out of the room.

The thirteen judges withdrew, leaving the courtroom empty except for Tara, Janet and Mary frightened and uncertain.

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“Well?” Lilith asked as she sat down. “What do you think?”

“She seems truly penitent,” the dark eyed man stated. “Like Magisters Halliwell and Moritz reported, it is clearly visible in her aura.”

“I'm not very good at reading auras,” Lilith smiled wryly. “As you all well know. Magister Frost’s conclusion concurs with two of our best however.”

“I agree as well,” a young woman whose freckled face under a mane of tawny hair was fresh and open. “She is much different from what I thought she would be like.”

“Yes, she has changed greatly,” Magister Crumrin mused. “But her crimes are among the greatest in our recent history. And a Mother may hide, or mask her aura.”

“This is true. However even with the not inconsiderable power of the Beckforths, can we not say that a Johnson witch of the House of Warren and an Abrahams would be exceptionally difficult to deceive?” The fresh-faced woman argued.

“Yes, that might be so. Yet is repentance sufficient? Is punishment not also needed, Magister Walton?” Crumrin mused.

“We need not let her off Scot-free. But we need not execute her,” an old, old woman whose hands lay on the table like gnarled roots and whose British accented voice was clipped and incisive.

Crumrin turned to her respectfully. “Grand Magister Prince. What did you have in mind?”

“I have spoken with her daughter, young Tara,” the old woman replied. “She is an exceptionally powerful young woman, but also very open and very, very frightened and uncertain.”

“Yes, I noticed that,” Lilith noted.

“She is, indeed, powerful,” Crumrin acknowledged.

“And she is also completely innocent of any of the dogma's and doctrine of the Five,” the old woman's face was stern, but her voice became unexpectedly gentle. “It is obvious that Eileen trained her daughter to be better than she was.”

Crumrin tapped the table, three times, with his fingernails. “You are certain?”

Grand Magister Prince nodded decisively. “Very much so. As you know I am able to read them better than most of you.”

Lilith inclined her head. “And we are grateful that you were willing to take up this duty despite your relationship to the accused.”

Magister Prince smiled grimly. “If there is one thing I've noticed it's that we must oftimes take on duties and burdens we'd rather not. Magister Moritz and Beckforth both know this very well. I could do no less.”

Magister White raised a hand. “I would like to ask that we also include the way in which she chose to live since the War. She has shown restraint in her use of magic and her aid to many in her community has alleviated a great deal of suffering.”

“And exposed her son and daughter to great danger of being subverted to a different type of poisonous indoctrination leading to her son's incarceration and her daughter's insecurity,” A well formed if elderly woman remarked sharply, her tones becoming markedly more influenced by a heavy Arkansas accent as she spoke. “If she wanted to be truly penitent she coulda becum a nun or worked with deprived children in the innah cities an' nevah married!”

“Magister Clampett is correct. She may have chosen her husband, but her actions directly and indirectly affected her children,” Lilith concluded. “And though her suffering was no doubt considerable, we should not forget the empty seats at the tables of many who fought against her in the War of the Five Traitors.”

“We won't execute her?” Magister White asked anxiously. “We'll give her a chance?”

The old eyes of Crumrin and Prince met, then sought Lilith's. “I think we can all agree to that. There are many uses for the Mother talent that are far more productive and wholesome. I dislike killing when it isn't needed.” Prince stated.

Crumrin nodded. “Then are we agreed? We will not levy the death penalty?” He looked around the table, seeing the other judges, those who had remained silent and those who had argued, nod. “Then I suggest we discuss what punishment we will levy upon her.”

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Saturday, December 16th, evening at Revello Drive Complex

Joyce sighed and leaned against Simon and groaned.

“Feeling better now?” Simon murmured in her ear.

“No. I feel awful. I never felt this bad with Buffy or Dawn,” Joyce complained.

Simon nodded sympathetically. “I’m sorry, love.”

Joyce bit her lip and turned slightly to look at him. “Simon? What if there’s something wrong? With the baby? I’m not a young woman any more…”

Simon took both her hands in his. “Joyce, women far older than you have had healthy children. And you are a Mother witch. It will be fine.”

Joyce shook her head. “I’ll honestly admit that though I wanted… we talked about it… I wasn’t actually expecting to get pregnant again. I’m going to be fifty when this child is twelve, Simon.”

Simon chuckled. “Are you trying to remind me of my vast and decrepit age?”

Joyce grinned. “You’re not decrepit and stop fishing for compliments,” she sobered quickly. “I’m just frightened Simon. Of what might be.”

Simon sighed. “If there’s any destiny attached to our children, any of our children, I’ll kick destiny’s butt all the way to Greenland and back.”

Joyce smiled slightly, reassured despite herself. “Have I ever told you that I love it when you get all manly and protective?”

Simon waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “On occasion.”

Joyce leaned in and kissed him. “Dork.”

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The Master’s Lair, Saturday December 16th 1995

The old vampire sat back in his chair and sighed, looking between the vampire boy and the demon in the corner who was drinking, pensively, from a goblet.

“It is a very disappointing crop,” The Master complained.

“I must admit they lack everything but enthusiasm. The call has not brought in many I think suitable for the purpose,” The Anointed One concurred.

“Most of them are to be Slayer and witch fodder. The more intelligent ones will realise that. The more capable ones are unwilling to submit to your will without guarantees,” Rochus stated calmly. “Once you've emerged and have more to disburse than your mere favour, once you are the master of the Hellmouth, free once more to kill any kine and vampire at will, the more worthy ones will come and beg.”

“I know that!” The Master snapped, almost petulantly. “But until that time I'm the one dishonouring my House and Lineage by inducting a bunch of morons who'd make Blackenstien look intelligent and able.”  

Collin grinned. “Admittedly that makes it more difficult to have them enact elaborate plans, but it does make them more willing to thrust themselves into the path of danger.”

The Master sighed, again. “Once I'm free of this trap we will never mention this unfortunate situation ever again, is that clear?”

Collin exchanged a look with Rochus. “You might want to consider turning some of the Slayer's family. There are some with potential among them... Better yet, turn the Slayer herself.”

“We could start picking them off, one by one... They must drop their guard sometime and... No,” The Master shook his head. “No, we will keep to the plan. A massive attack. Kill who we must, capture who we can, maybe, but the power of the Slayer and her allies must not, cannot be underestimated. Darla underestimated her, as did my faithful Luke.”

“Ah, yes, Luke. Do remember, old friend, that he once was a gauche, mindless boy who took pleasure in pulling the wings of Cheila and had the subtlety of a brick,” Rochus reminded him.

The Master smiled reminiscently. “True, true. You are right. There may even be hope for the silly youngsters in the Catacombs.”

Collin shrugged. “They're not really all that bad. It takes most of us time to achieve a balance between the hunger and the realities of unlife. Those who do are the True Masters. Those who fail...”

The Master nodded musingly. “True, I must admit that my incarceration is desiccating my charitable impulses.”

Collin and Rochus exchanged glances. The Master smirked. “I believe the term is: Gotcha!”

Collin laughed. “And here I feared that your imprisonment had finally driven you insane.”

“No need to worry about that, my dear boy. I’ve held my breath for longer than this,” the Master answered with aplomb.

Rochus let out a gurgling laugh. “And if all else fails, we can always turn Wells and his friends. And you can turn to stand up comedy.”

The Master made a mocking, seated bow and started to devise tests in his head to winnow the best of his new recruits from the chaff.

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Wells Family home, Saturday December 16th 1995  

Tucker Wells grinned as he studied his collection of creatures, fell and foul. The raccoon especially was his pride and joy. He was certain they would make an interesting impression at the Christmas pageant. They were rampaging through the woods around the town, feeding on the local wildlife and even one incautious demon. He looked around his workroom, an old cabin set on the back of his parents' property. Okay, it was a shack, once used for garden tools and furniture that Tucker had appropriated for his 'hobbies.'

His mom thought he was playing D&D and that the grimoires and bottles of ingredients were for verisimilitude. *Parents, so wonderfully clueless...*

He took out a red binder and made a few notes. There were some spells in his new Grimoire that were very interesting, that would allow him to control the minds of others. There were quite a few people he wanted to try that. Miss Calendar had been a favourite fantasy of his for months now. And with Cordelia and Harmony living in the same house... Tucker grinned and noted which ingredients he would need for the spell. He might have to drag an old mattress into his hut and prepare some other stuff as well. It would be easier to get to Harmony and Cordelia than Miss Calendar. He looked around the room and noted the time on the ornately carved wall clock. He put away the red binder and took out a black one. 

Tucker tapped on his notes. “Let's see... last time they finished the quest in the monastery... Hmmm, back to town and then I think the House of Puppets...”

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Secret basement below Chase manor, Sunnydale, Sunday December 17th

Victor Chase looked at the woman who sat on the narrow bed, shackled to the wall by a chain and a collar around her neck and wrists and smiled. “Well, it seems that I’ll be a widower pretty soon. Of course I’ll mourn you properly, just like I once mourned my dear Mama.”

Charlotte Chase looked at him with wide, frightened eyes. “Victor, why are you doing this? You can’t really believe that sacrificing me will actually placate some demon?” She asked in a trembling voice.

Victor smiled, this time even more viciously. “Ah, but my dear, everything you enjoyed for so many years you owe to that demon,” Victor laughed. “Which reminds me, I never thanked you for providing me with two extra daughters to further increase my wealth and influence.”

Charlotte’s eyes widened. “Y-you killed…?”

“Sacrificed,” Victor corrected her, quite cheerfully. “Both of them. They came in quite handy. Don't tell me you never guessed?”   

His wife's expression showed she hadn't and Victor sighed. “Well that explains Cordelia's regrettably inadequate brainpower. She obviously inherited it from you.”

“You're going to sacrifice her as well? That's your plan, isn't it?” Charlotte whispered in a horrified voice.

“Certainly, but like her sisters she's worth far more than you are. She after all, is a virgin and a relatively pure soul. You on the other hand...” Victor looked at her musingly. He grinned. “Get up.”

Charlotte swallowed. “What?”

“I just realised that you're still my wife and will be for a few more days. I might as well get my marital dues out of you for what little time you still have,” Victor leered.

Charlotte's eyes widened and she cowered against the wall, trying to get away from her husband.

Victor pursed his lips, walked out of the cell  and returned with a riding crop. He hummed a little as he snapped it in front of her face Then he jerked on the chain and the woman stumbled to her feet. Victor grinned. “I just realised I finally get to do all the things you never wanted to do. Come along dear, I've got some things I want to try. Don't worry; you won't be too badly hurt. Machida likes his sacrifices to be in relatively good shape, but he does so like the taste of fear.” 

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Mayor Wilkins' Office, SunnydaleTown Hall, 18th of December 1995

Richard Wilkins studied the schedule in front of him and sighed. He pressed a button on his desk and a bell rang. His secretary entered, silent, efficient and undead as always. “Would you please ask Mr. Finch to step in here, Miss Banner?

The Deputy Mayor arrived minutes later. “You wished to see me, sir?”

“Ah, Allan! Yes, I did. I don't have to ask if this list is correct?” Wilkins looked as morose as he ever did as he contemplated the paper.

Allan Finch shook his head. “I'm afraid not, sir. It would merely require your approval otherwise.”

“Yes, of course,” Wilkins' finger ran down the names on the list. “The Effulgent Brotherhood of the Enormous Wang? The Sisterhood of Humongous Gazongas? The Hoodie Circle? The Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night? What's wrong with Delta Zeta Kappa?” Wilkins groused.

Finch coughed. “I fear that a lot of the Demons get their notions of dangerous sounding names from the less salubrious press, sir. And the Student groups seeking Dark power tend to look at it as a bit of joke, at least until they succeed.”

Wilkins smiled. “Yes, always an excellent way to recruit some fresh new talent to the side of evil. But those names! They do realise that no one will take them seriously at all as any sort of conqueror or oppressor? I mean, I know that standards of behaviour are slipping everywhere, but really!” Wilkins leaned back.  “I cannot accept this. No one is allowed to perform a Solstice ritual unless they have an appropriate name. There will be no toilet humour and no potty mouths. Please send a message to that effect, Allan.”

Allan Finch nodded. “Usual punishment for those who disobey, sir? The demonic ones, not the students.”

Wilkins nodded, and then his face turned pensive. “No, no. No, Allan, if any group transgresses this order, they will have acid, or the equivalent, poured down their throats. Add that to the letter, will you? Just threaten the fraternities and sororities with Lawyers.”

Allan raised an eyebrow. “Lawyers?”

“You think lawyers are too evil, Allen?” Wilkins asked his aide, eyes narrowing.

“They are college students, sir. The only thing that might work better is to cut off their beer supply,” Allan ventured to joke. “Anything else, sir?”

Wilkins cracked a brief smile. “Hmmm, my schedule for the Christmas festivities? I noticed there was no meet and greet with Santa and the kiddies this year...?” Wilkins asked.

Finch coughed. “Errr... There is, Sir. Only, you agreed to help promote the Mall, so it's not out in the park but at the Mall, sir.”

Wilkins nodded, his face wreathed in smiles. “Ah, of course. I should know better than to think that you would make a mistake like that. I do apologize Allan. And yes, we must promote American Commerce.”

“Yes, sir.” Allan Finch nodded and left.

Wilkins looked back at the schedule and made a brief notation. He’d have to prepare some things to say about the spirit of Christmas, the American Dream and the joys of capitalism. *Flashcards. I need some flashcards.* 

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San Francisco, Halliwell Manor

A scream ran through the house, of terror and anguish. The door to the room it came from was almost ripped from its hinges as Penelope ran in from the garden into the sitting room to see her youngest granddaughter sobbing by the couch.

“Phoebe? What did you see?” Penelope asked gently, realizing that some horrifying vision must have caught Phoebe by surprise.

“Monsters! Beasts! Animals with demons in them! They-they attacked! Dawnie! One of them will bite Dawn she... She'll be possessed by a demon!” Phoebe sobbed.

Penelope growled. “Not on our watch! I'm calling Joyce. C’mon Phoebe, you’ll have to tell them exactly what you saw.”

Phoebe shivered. “Okay,” she whispered as she saw her grandmother dial the Sunnydale number. “Grams? Are all my visions going to be like this? I’ve only had three and they’ve all been bad…”

Penelope looked at her granddaughter compassionately, holding the phone. “I’d be lying if I told you know. Many of them will be horrifying. We don’t get our gift because there is no evil in the world, no hurt. You, as the primary warning signal we have of the evil that is too come, bear the brunt of seeing what might be. Never ever think that your power isn’t important because it isn’t an active one. You are essential to the destiny of you and your sisters. But it will hurt.”

“I’m beginning to understand why Arlene took those potions…” Phoebe shivered.

Penelope nodded compassionately. “Yes. I can understand quite well myself. Joyce? Hello, this is Aunt Penny. Phoebe had a vision, I’ll put her on. It’s important.”

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December 21st /22nd, night, outside the Sunnydale High Auditorium

Tucker Wells was finding that despite the fact that he was the creator and controller of his demonic animals, they were still, despite that, animals. The Demonic raccoon had wandered off three times so far, had bitten a skunk, three cats and a feral Chihuahua.

Tucker sighed as one of his pigeons assaulted a passing owl. The locked door of the Auditorium was a hindrance for only as long as it took him to find the right false key in his pocket and open it. He led his Forces of Demonic Animal Darkness inside and started to lead them to the places where he wanted them to perch and hide until the moment they could emerge in the middle of the pageant. A smirk crossed his face.  Then two of his feral pigeons exploded as they circled above his head, struck by a single crossbow bolt and one of the squirrels jumped at a target in the shadows and disintegrated under the impact of a sword blow.

“EYEEEWWW!!!” A scream cut through the night. “I HATE THESE THINGS!”

Tucker almost gibbered with fear as a green eyed banshee jumped into the crawling, clawing mass of his demonic pets and started to carve them up with a very sharp looking sword.

Tucker pulled his grey hoodie closer around his face, trying to hide his identity and, turned and ran. The slight form chased him, carving up his army of dark creatures. “Come back here, you! Your stupid raccoon would’ve bitten my baby sister and she’d have become inhabited by a demon and puked all over the living room carpet when they got with the exorcisage and that would’ve been of the bad and Mom, really, really wants to have a word with you, Mister! And I’ve got disgusting goop in my hair again!”  

Tucker whimpered and ran. Then a tall, dark figure stepped out of a shadow, extended an arm into which Tucker promptly ran.

Slightly dazed Tucker looked up from his position on the floor, where he had landed. *Ow. I think I’d prefer to’ve run into a door. Ow.*

“Hah! Got you! Angel, hold on to him, would you?” Buffy jumped up into the air and slashed at a passing sparrow, cutting it into spongy green halves.

“Eew! And double Eeew!” Buffy called out as the corrupted animals disintegrated into slime around her and her whirling blades. When the last of his forces had been eradicated she turned to Tucker.

Tucker whimpered and tried to back away but the unnaturally strong hands of the black-clad man behind him held him fast. The little blonde pinned him further with a glare. “You're coming with me, bozo. Your swan is cooked!”

“Goose, Buffy, his goose is cooked,” the black clad man corrected.

Buffy transferred her glare to the man who held Tucker. “Did I ask you anything? Did I? No. Did you offer to fight these things, like a gentleman and a boyfriend should? No! So don't you make the correct-y with the sayings, 'kay?”

“You said you wanted to eviscerate anything that threatened your sister personally,” the man defended himself as he dragged the still whimpering Tucker away. “I thought it might be wise not to offer.”

“Yeah? And I saw you volunteer happily when you found out that they were more goey, goopy demon stinky things!” Buffy groused. “I mean, I know they're just fatigues and stuff, but they're my fatigues! And it’ll take ages to get this stuff out of my hair!”

They had reached a door, opened it and Tucker was handed over to three very large men who hustled him into a car that drove off almost instantly. A slight, red-headed woman sat in it and smiled at him.  Like a cobra. “Hello Mr. Wells. I'm Questor Moritz, I'm here to inform you of your rights under the Laws of the Concordat for the use of black magic.”

Tucker glared at her. “Don't I get a phone call? Don’t you have to read me my rights?”

Questor Moritz chuckled. “Rights? Oh heavens, no. We know that you are guilty, we have all the evidence and you're not under arrest for something minor like murder. You broke the laws of the Concordat. Once we have you in front of the Tribunal you’ll be judged, then we'll geld you, then we burn out your magic from you and finally hand you over to the Sempharg demons. We owe them a favour you see,” She smiled brightly.

Tucker looked into her cold, green eyes, down at his lap, recalled what little he knew about Sempharg and their feeding habits, whimpered and fainted.

The dark glass partition between the driver and the passenger compartment opened and Simon looked over his shoulder at Danielle. “Really Nanny, gelding, burning out his magic and feeding him to the Sempharg?”

Danielle sniffed. “You didn't see the notes he'd made about his plans regarding the girls.”

Simon's gaze narrowed on the unconscious boy. “Plans? Girls?” His voice was dangerous and very low.

Danielle gulped. Scaring a foolish boy onto the path of white magic, or out of magic altogether was one thing. Simon looked about ready to eviscerate the child.

“Simon, he’s barely sixteen-”

“And if he did anything to my girls, or any girls for that matter he'll not make seventeen. I do not care how young he might be. Needs must, Questor Moritz, that is one lesson you taught me well.” Simon replied coldly, and closed the partition.

Danielle shivered, looked down at her hands and bit her lip to suppress her tears. *Not entirely forgiven for your sins, Danielle. And probably no more than you deserve.*

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22nd of December, SunnydaleHigh School auditorium

“So happy right now I’m not up on stage,” Willow smiled as she leaned into Dave.

“Total ditto!” Buffy grinned as she saw the morose face of Dawn, who was currently on stage and who had been drafted into the group of ‘orphan wassailers’, much to her disgust.

The girl who had originally been slated to perform having succumbed to laryngitis. This meant that there now was a considerable number of well dressed men and women wielding cameras making sure that ‘Miss Dawn’s performance is filmed from every possible angle.’ The glare Dawn had sent at Hurst for that remark should have set the man on fire.

Joyce leaned over and shushed them. They watched the pageant. Nobody was bitten by demon possessed animals. But everybody heard the fiercely whispered conversation when Miss Calendar confiscated Jonathan’s lightsaber just before the scene with the Ghost of Christmas past.

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21st of December, early evening, Revello Drive Complex

Dawn was sitting in the corner of the couch, arms crossed, face set to seven days of thunder.

Joyce stood in front of her glowering youngest daughter and sighed. “Dawn, consider where you are. It is very well possible that your face will look like that forever if you’re not careful.”

Dawn blinked. Then she visibly shook herself and assumed a pout. “It’s not fair! I wanna be there!”

“No doubt. But you’re not going to be. You’re going to stay here with Xander, Dave, Kendra and Kit and a large number of bodyguards,” Joyce replied dryly. “Liam will be around and Mrs. Kirby has promised to keep an extra sharp eye out.”

“And Mike?” Dawn asked hopefully.

Joyce shook her head in amusement. The shape-changing young Cheila held a particular fascination for Dawn. Kit too seemed to be always watching him, waiting to see if he would change. Buffy, Kendra and Willow watched as well, but Joyce thought their reasons were probably different. Well… Partly. She also thought her two youngest might have a slight crush on Mike, who was willing to spend time playing games with them, something he hadn’t really been able to do before. The others had homework and similar things but Mike was spending a lot of time being a child again.

“Possibly. Dave too, and Mr. Kirby,” Joyce confirmed.

Dawn sighed. “Can I be there next time?”

“That depends on when the next time is, if you are old enough,” Joyce told her. “Now we’re leaving and you’d better behave.”

“I still don’t know why I couldn’t stay over with Janice or the Twins,” Dawn complained.

“Because we want you safely here tonight. Now no tricks. You won’t leave this house, you’ll obey Mr. Hurst and you’ll behave. And if I find out you’ve tried to get outside to join in the ritual, you’ll be in trouble. Big trouble,” Joyce warned.

Dawn pouted but nodded. “I understand.”

“Good. KIT!” Joyce called out as she saw a small shape stealthily move past the window. “Kit, get back inside young lady!”

Kit rather sheepishly came in through the front door. “Errr… surprise?”

“You’ll be surprised at my lack of humour in this case,” Joyce glared at Kit, who winced. Then Joyce pointed at the couch and Kit sat down next to Dawn. “There will be no sneaking out to see this ritual. It will be far too late for you two to be up anyway, your magic is too unstable and we’d all worry ourselves sick. No tricks, japes, shenanigans or disobedience of any kind. Otherwise you’ll get punished so hard you’ll be lucky to do anything but school and chores until you're twenty. The last time they performed one of these rituals it almost killed Simon. You wouldn’t want to distract him at the wrong moment now, would you?”

The girls nodded, eyes wide, as they saw the utter seriousness on Joyce’s face. This was not a threat, or blackmail, this was a statement of fact. “Sorry Mom, Sorry Aunt Joyce,” the girls chorused.

Joyce smiled. “I know this is all terribly exciting to you. But it also very serious and very, very dangerous. Not at all a place for little girls. And if something goes wrong…” Joyce’s voice almost broke.

For once neither girl protested the word little, merely jumping up and hurling themselves into Joyce’s arms.

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Halliwell Manor, San Francisco, 22nd of December, the night of the Winter Solstice

They arrived in ones and twos and sometimes threes, young and old, male and female. They dressed in ordinary clothes, but carried small bags or backpacks and put on the white robes of their rank once they had been let inside by the High Magister or her granddaughters. They took up positions in ever widening circles, spreading out from the basement of the manor, to the first floor, out into the garden. All over California the Covens were gathering, but here, at the Nexus, in the home of the High Magister of California, was one of the most important ones.

Some of the witches seemed particularly intent, particularly angry. They had been attacked. Their children had been taken. And tonight, on the night of the winter solstice, they would strike back.

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The Master’s Lair, below Sunnydale, Winter Solstice

The ancient vampire slid a fingernail over his left wrist and his dark, turgid blood ran slowly down his hand and fingers into the waiting goblet, mixing with the red wine in spirals and languidly emulsifying droplets.

He held the cup out to Collin who drew a pen knife over his own wrist, his much lighter and thinner blood dripping into the wine, intermingling with the wine and the ancient vampire’s blood.

“This is the cup of brotherhood, the cup of family. On this day, you become part of the house and clan of Aurelius, my Sire, my Mentor. From now, you will be held to his standards, you will be stronger than you can possibly imagine. You will be Clan Aurelius! And by the blood of the Anointed, you will be bound to his destiny, the destiny of our clan!” The Master intoned. He held out the cup and the first of the initiates approached, to be marked on the forehead and to take a tiny sip.

The House of Aurelius was growing once more. And as the Master saw the joy, nay exultation, on the faces of his followers as they fed on the tender morsels caught at the university, he wondered if there might not be a Luke or a Darla among them after all.

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Winter Tor, Dartmoor, Devon, Great Britain. (Near Okehampton)   

“Persephone, are your girls ready?” Ceres Harkness asked.

“Yes mother. And you do know I prefer Priss,” The woman addressed answered with a roll of her eyes.

“Good, good. And Quentin is unaware that you are here?” Ceres continued, ignoring the request.

“He knows we are here to celebrate the Solstice. He also knows that, as he has no active powers, he cannot join us. He’s in Okehampton and will pick us up after the Ritual,” Persephone answered, her voice still calm but slowly moving towards irritation.

“Pick you up? What about Tradition?” Ceres sounded shocked.

“Hang tradition, Mother!” Pris tone now held a clear warning, “The girls are far too young to walk that far after a Ritual in this kind of weather.”

A throat was cleared. “I don’t suppose there is room for one more in that car, Pris?” An old but still firm voice asked.

“Yes Mum, there is.” Pris grinned slightly maliciously at Ceres. “Room for both the sets of Twins and you.”

Ceres huffed and turned away. Only two people in the world had she ever listened to. One had been her husband, Persephone’s father. The other was her old teacher and predecessor, Beatrice Witheringham-Thomas, the mother of Persephone’s first husband, Walter.

“You really shouldn’t antagonize your mother, Pris,” Beatrice suggested gently. “All it does is cause tension. It’s far more productive to bend the knee a little and work behind her back.”

“I know. But ever since I married Quentin she’s been insufferable!” Pris groused. “You’d think she’d have learned something by now.”

Beatrice looked up at the younger woman. “It took me a while to get used to the notion too, Pris.”

Pris shook her head. “Mother still disapproves of me marrying Walter, let alone Quentin.”

Beatrice chuckled. “That's true, but the girls love him, all four of them.”

“He's been a good father to them all,” Pris smiled as she looked at where her two sets of twins were talking, Althenea and Aphrodite each having one of their half sisters,   Theresa and Catherine under their wing. At this distance and in the half gloom not even Pris could tell the separate twins apart. “We need to get ready. Its almost time and I've never merged on this scale before.”

“No one has dear. But you are right. Let's get on with this,” Bee clapped her hands and rose from the folding chair. “There is work to be done.” 

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SunnydaleTown Hall, basement ritual room

Richard Wilkins adjusted his robes and checked his ritual circle. If his information was correct the rituals in the various fraternities were now well under way. That left the participants wide open to his manipulations due to the careful placement of a good number of grimoires containing flawed spells. His circle was well drawn and the pentagram complete. He started his chant and could feel the power flowing. Tonight was going to be a night to remember, he was sure of that. He hadn’t felt this exulted since he sacrificed the Titanic to the Demon Auril, Lady of frost. 

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Basement of Beta Zeta Kappa Fraternity, CrestwoodCollege, Sunnydale, Winter Solstice

Victor Chase intoned the words of the ritual in slow, measured cadence. It had been easy to navigate the tunnels to the basement, but he sometimes wondered if it might not have been wiser to keep this land in the family, no matter the extra power the rituals of the students who lived and worked here delivered. For truly powerful aid families had to sacrifice their own, their flesh and blood, their kin.

Charlotte sobbed her almost naked body trembling. “MACHIDA! RISE! MACHIDA, JOIN ME, YOUR HIGH PRIEST AND ACCEPT MY HUMBLE OFFERING!” Victor ended the ritual.

The deep, dark well rumbled and a smell rose like rotten eggs and decaying flesh. The great snake demon rose, its tongue flickering from its human-like head. A deep rumble, almost a purr, came from its chest and it reached for the woman. Charlotte screamed as the creature dragged her close.

“Machida, accept this offering, body and soul, mother to my children, sacrificed to your glory, that the compact may be kept,” Victor declaimed.

Machida took his time and Victor stayed and watched. There were always things to be learned and if he knew what Machida craved, he could gain more by providing what he wanted.   

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Trickster's Rock, Sunnydale, Winter Solstice

Simon stood at the center of the circle, his white robes flowing around him as the power swirled through. Around him stood Joyce, Charlotte, Arlene, Patrick, Clarice, Buffy, Amy, Willow, Celia, Evy, Cecilia, James and Jon. Jenny and a rather embarrassed looking Giles stood in the circle as well, all garbed in the robes of their rank. Danielle was leading one of the rituals in Los Angeles. 

Simon raised his arms and the carefully tailored robe fell in elegant folds. “Seasons pass and time moves on, mothers bear children, who grow, live and die. That is nature. That is life. To protect our children, the souls of our loved ones, I, Simonides Vicari, First Servant of Death the Liberator, Descendant of Simonides, Brother of Alexandros, call upon the ancient compacts, call upon the treaties made, the words given, I cal upon the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, I call upon those who owe and those who give freely. Gathered together on this cusp of two times we strive to free our children. Grant me your strength; lend me your wisdom and your power.”   

From each of those present a tendril of power emerged, varying in strength from a vast, stuttering bolt from Willow, a much smaller but still thick, and much steadier, bolt from Celia and a bolt of almost equal to Celia’s size but far more uncertain quality from Evy and Amy.

The twin beams from Giles and Jenny, hers strong and steady, his steady but much thinner, intertwined as soon as they emerged and it passed into Simon stronger than the sum of its parts.

The older witches provided their own; strong, steady ones from Cecilia and her trained daughters, a rather wavy looking one from James that seemed to giggle and run like a brook, the older couple’s power running together like Jenny and Giles’. Clarice, a fierce look of concentration on her face sent forth a beam as strong as that of Arlene and Charlotte. And a thin but unwavering light emerged from Jon.

Buffy’s face screwed up almost as if she was in pain. A deep green glow surrounded her, pulsing and bubbling as if something sought to escape the confines of the green light, and finally a thin white line separated from the green light, moving to Simon speedily, as if exultant to be free.

The beams circled Simon before sinking into him, almost as if caressing him. A rather goofy smile appeared on his face when Joyce’s oddly rosy red power sank in. Jon almost sagged to his knees and had to be supported by James and Cecilia, both of whom looked wan and grey. Willow’s knees nearly buckled and she swayed, but she stayed upright, her face determined. Buffy, her face grim, reached out to support her.

Then Simon took a deep breath and closed his eyes, lowering his arms again. Clouds that had been gathering for the entire day suddenly filled with crackling pure white lightning, and started to spiral down towards the ground, converging on a spot just above the standing stone from all directions. Lightning crackled down from the sky, striking the mana point’s stone focus again and again, until the clouds were merely empty and grey.

Simon looked up, his eyes completely white and he raised his arms again. “I am the vessel of Justice. Ma’at, Dike, Eir, Vithar, Yama, grant me strength to do what must be done,” A bolt of white light struck from the monolith and hit him in the chest, outlining his skeleton through his clothes. More bolts flew and Simon staggered, his face a mask of pain and ecstasy. Joyce gasped and winced as every bolt struck home. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the bolts stopped striking. Simon opened his eyes again and white tears leaked out and down his cheeks he opened his mouth and power streamed out. He screamed and fell to his knees, ramming his hands into the earth and screamed again, his tongue like a line of white fire. He sobbed and threw back his head and yelled out painfully, every word out of his mouth sounding like a tortured soul.

“Slain, stolen, bound and tortured, come be free. Prisons broken, stones shattered, souls be free. We your mothers, we your fathers, by our love, we set you free.”

Energy started to flow from Simon, a raging torrent of bolts and balls. He winced at every one but continued the spell.

“With whip of fire, scourge of anger we lash, you who took them, stole them, kept them, feel the pain our children felt, punishment is dealt.”

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New Orleans, Louisiana, 22nd of December, winter Solstice

Faith Lehane startled awake as the crystal that hung from the chain around her neck started to vibrate. “Ellen? Ellen what’s wrong?”

The white gem rang like a bell and then dissolved into tiny sparkling grains of glittering sand. A wisp of energy flew out of it, spiraled around Faith’s head several times and then disappeared through a window.

The door flew open and Diana entered, nightgown and hair flying. “Faith? What happened? Are you alright?”

Faith touched the now bare chain around her neck, tears running down her face. “E-Ellen… Ellen was released.”

Diana sat down on the girl’s bed. “Oh. Could you sense if it was someone bad?”

Faith shook her head. “Ellen said she was going to see Mommy, that she was calling…”

Diana smiled. “Well, that sounds to me like someone got around to freeing their baby. Good. Very good indeed.”

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An undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains

It was the screaming that first drew the attention of the Director to the fact that something was wrong. His confidential secretary, the one on night duty, was writhing on the floor, his face and body desiccating before the Director’s eyes, yet his screams continued. The Director coolly withdrew to his office and fetched a side arm, then headed out into the base. All the more senior staff still present at this late hour was in the same fix as the secretary, though their afflictions varied. A magical attack was penetrating the defenses of the most powerfully warded base that the Agency possessed and seemingly without great trouble. Not even the Soul gems provided protection. Especially since it seemed that all Soul Gems had disappeared and that only those who worked with them or had had the use of one were afflicted by the magical attack. That left him with a load of janitorial personnel a number of rookie agents and scientists, and a full set of communications devices. 

The Director withdrew his watch chain and looked at the green crystal. It pulsed with emotion as always, but this time it felt different. The raging hatred and anger the captured soul held for his slave master was not the dominant emotion. It was amusement. The Director also noted that the green crystal seemed to be lighter, from the usual dark leaf green now the colour of spring grass.

“You find this amusing, do you, Trueheart? It just means that we’ll have to speed up our capture methods. Maybe breed a few more of our own. We have witches and adepts enough, trained and ready to serve this Nation, their Nation proudly, no longer the salves of your ridiculous rites and traditions!” The director stalked away to try and contact his senior staff. He didn’t feel confident he would be very successful.

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Trickster's Rock, Sunnydale, Winter Solstice

“From durance vile their minds release, the truth to them reveal, a chance of life and love returned, come to us, hear our appeal!” Simon’s voice reverberated with power, and the air crackled with it.

Buffy saw her hair standing on end and could feel the magic humming in her blood and out into that air, every second draining her a little bit, tiring her a little. For the first time she really believed she had magic, really believed that whatever gift she had was there. Beside her Willow was looking stunned and delighted to see this vast magical ritual taking place. She leaned over towards Buffy. “That wasn’t in the script? What’s he doing?”

Buffy shrugged. “You’re the genius here. I think he’s making with the improvisation.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Some help you are,” she muttered.

Buffy just grinned and concentrated, bringing her focus back to the ritual and felt the power she was sending to Simon increase a little again. Every jot of power was grudged, as if she was fighting herself, fighting the green light that hung around her. 

“Stolen, hidden from sight, return to us, be revealed to us, be drawn to us. Return to the arms of your mothers and fathers, the bosoms of your family,” Simon’s voice was strained and it seemed as if the power was rushing out of him at tremendous speed. His eyes rolled up into his head and suddenly he dropped forward, his face thudding onto the ground. Willow screamed and a bolt of white light flew from her into Simon, throwing him over by the force of its impact.

Clarice and Joyce threw out their arms, almost simultaneously. Beams of power flew, less powerful than before, and moved towards Simon. Joyce’s beam was now a pale rose and Clarice’s white beam much thinner. Buffy turned towards them and rushed over as both women seemed to stagger and nearly fell. Then Willow blasted of another bolt of power that filled Simon, and then she crumpled to the ground. Jon, James and Cecilia were supporting each other with Charlotte and Arlene offering what little assistance their depleted state allowed.

A  frightened scream sounded from somewhere and a thick, leaf-green beam flashed out and divided, each striking a member of the circle, standing or fallen and earthed in them, outlining them for an instance and then leaving them gasping but invigorated. Buffy felt the beam enter her and heard the angry snarl of the darker green light that still surrounded her at the intrusion. Then she felt her mother move a little and gave bit more support.

Joyce picked up her robes and ran, with more than a little wobble in her steps, towards her fallen fiancé and daughter. Buffy hesitated for a fraction of a second and then rushed towards Willow.

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San Francisco, California

The man with the blond curls was watching some of his more treasured memories in his newly bought Pensieve when the white gem on the chain around his neck fell apart into glittering sand. He could feel the burn of magic against his skin and the whips of pain in his groin and lashing against his shields, knowing they would fail in seconds. With a pained gasp he dove towards his work table and picked up the crystal mounted there, a pale blue light shining from it. The relief from his agony was immediate. The power of the soul of Xeno Lovegood was protecting him from the wrath of his enemies.

Lockhart straightened from his pained crouch and leaned on the heavy table. “I think it might be wise to contact the Director. There might be opportunity for profit to be had...”  

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Maryland Coven Circle

Eileen Beckforth threw all the power she had at the woman in the center of the circle. Her mother, newly reinvigorated and supplied with a considerable sum of money by Simon Meier for helping to instruct his wife to be, had reclaimed her position as High Magister of Maryland. The ancient coven site, well hidden in the forest-like park that was the property of the former Grand Magister, was filled with witches and adepts, young and old, wanting vengeance for the evil perpetrated against them. By Eileen's side stood Tara and outside the circle, waiting and watching, was Janet.

Eileen fervently hoped that her sister's jealousy was gone, that she understood that magic always came with a price, sometimes a heavy one.

She took a deep breath and gathered the power she had, adding it to that of her mother, mingling it with that of her daughter. She could feel the strength of the merge, the sheer, joyous power of it. This was not like merging with Marilyn, or Pulchritudia, as she now had to think of her, and the others. There had been no love and sharing there, just attempts to wrestle the top spot, or the second one, to achieve whatever goals that each of the Five wanted to achieve. Eileen shuddered at the memory and threw out more power. Tara ought to have had three siblings beside Donny. Marigold was going to pay for each of them, in blood.

She could feel the spell now, feel the power shooting into the air and towards the focus, the same Wizards' Node that had been instrumental in saving her life and sanity.  The air was heavy with magic and then there was a discharge. A vast voice, reverberated in her head, shouting words so loudly they were mere noise.

She wondered if they had winnowed out all the Marigold members before merging. She hoped so. She'd rather not see the effects of the spell first hand. Especially since that would mean that Tara would see as well.

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New Hampshire Coven Circle, HillsboroughCounty

Aloysius Crumrin was not the sort of man that most covens would welcome. He was still one of the oldest and most powerful members of the Concordat, though the way he lengthened his life might border on black. He was also a firm believer in object lessons. Not all of those present to night to share their strength knew what was going to happen, most of them merely knew that a great spell had to be cast and their power was needed. Aloysius intended to show them. He had wondered for a while about some of his colleagues and now he knew. But his retribution was at hand. He smiled as the screaming began. Aloysius was not a man who walked with angels, or, hah, Whitelighters. And heaven knew, hah again, that he spent enough time facing the Concordat's Questors and courts for his actions, though mostly he had gotten off with a caution to use a little less dark magic and enthusiasm to achieve his goals. Though not when a Meier had been among the judges. The Meiers had always at the very least flirted with darkness, and Aloysius had always had his doubts about Simon XIV, at least after his youthful escapades in the West.

About half his fellow coven members were screaming in agony as the spell took full effect. Unless they were innocent of the crimes the ritual had been invoked to punish, in which case they tended to be throwing up screaming in fear and loathing.  Aloysius looked on dispassionately, but inside he was very, very glad he never crossed a Meier badly enough for a magical confrontation. Simon Meier XV was a spineless squid compared to his father. And the younger man’s punishment was terrible enough. And Aloysius hoped that young Courtney had listened to him for once and not followed him to the Coven meeting. The sight that the men and women before him made, burning like torches, melting like wax or with thorns of bone bursting from their flesh, was not one he wanted his great-great-great-great-grand niece to see. Not to mention he wouldn’t have to stand the teasing about his bloody robes.

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In her bed on the Sunnydale Campus Paige Matthews woke up from a sound sleep and shivered as cold and warm currents seemed to run over her skin. “That was a really weird dream. Maybe I should tell someone about it.”

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In a quiet street in a suburb of London a lanky man was reading a tablet in a language no one had managed to translate yet when he felt a tug on his power. Words reverberated in his head. Once the words had been spoken Methos groaned. “I really do wish they’d stop calling on me for this sort of thing.”

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Colorado Springs

In an airy, cheerful room in a house in Colorado springs a little girl of seven or eight years old blinked at awake and then scowled. She carefully gathered her blanket around her and then left her bedroom. She opened the door next to hers touched the face of the baby in the crib. The door opened and a wild eyed man came in, clawing at his face and eyes before his head burst into flames.

The little girl’s eyes narrowed. “You are not my father. You stole me. You never loved me.” She lifted the sleeping child, who seemed to be about two years old and held her close.

A woman staggered into the room, black sludge dripping from her empty eye-sockets and mouth, making a horrible gurgling noise. The little girl watched dispassionately.

“H-help, please!” the woman screamed, blobs of black goo flying into the room.

“No. You lied to me. You are not my mother. I’m leaving now,” the girl hissed. “I’m taking the baby, she’s not yours either,” then she kicked at the spasming woman’s face.

The woman screamed as he lip split and black fluid ran out of the wound. The little girl looked at her in satisfaction. “You will never hurt me again, or the baby.”

The woman raised an anguished arm to the girl but the little girl ignored it, closed her eyes and disappeared in a flash of light.

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Trickster’s Rock, Sunnydale

Simon was sitting up, if a bit feebly. Willow was grumbling that she felt fine as Buffy fussed around her. Even Jon looked remarkably chipper and strong for a man who had just lent his inner strength to help avenge his great granddaughter's horrible early life.

Cecilia looked thoughtful. Patrick reached out a hand and hoisted Simon to his feet. “Come on, let’s go home. I don't know about you but I'm dead tired.”

“Yeah. Me too,” Amy yawned and then smiled. “It was awesome though.”

Willow and Buffy nodded agreement. Celia clapped her hands and squealed in glee.

Evy smiled a rather evil little smile. “I hope it hurt. A lot.”

Arlene was about to correct her when James spoke up. “I must agree with Evy. I hope it did too.”

Arlene shrugged. “Oh, very well, so do I. Come on, lets get to the cars and then to bed.”

There was a sound as of running feet. “Dr. Meier! MS SUMMERS!!” Hurst burst, panting, into the clearing. “Master Xander called! Miss Dawn and Miss Katherine, they screamed and there was a bright green light... And then they fainted... And Miss Rowan, she keeps screaming…”

End note:

I do not own Courtney or Aloysius Crumrin, they are the property of Ted Naifeh. Elly May Clampett is the property of Paul Henning and was portrayed in the Beverly Hillbillies by Donna Douglas. Aphrodite and Althenea Witheringham-Thomas are the creation of Cordyfan. Thanks for letting me play with them.

 
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