Perchance to Dream
Author’s Note: Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and Cordyfan. 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. Speech:
“Who’s on first.” Thought:
*What’s on second.
#I-don’t-know’s on third.# JJDudeman, Ncatt, RowenBSG and Truthmaker, many thanks for recommending this story. Also many thanks to all those who reviewed, both mean a great deal to me. The tone of this chapter is quite dark, but I hope that will not be too great a problem… Chapter 90 Perchance to dream
Xander smiled slightly as he looked around the huge, dark bedroom. He could see the slight stripe of light that came from between the heavy curtains, the vague shadows of the doors to the walk in closet and the en suite bathroom. *I have my own bathroom!*
he thought exultantly. *No more feminine and beauty products!*
His smile broadened as he settled down to sleep. He loved all his little sisters, but as the sole guy among the family except for dad, he was feeling a bit put upon. He frowned as he remembered the previous night and the nightmares that had shaken Dawn and Kit so badly. He just hoped that tonight the girls would be able to sleep undisturbed.
He yawned and settled himself further under the light duvet, smiling again as he thought about the conversation at dinner and Buffy's puppy eyes about prioritising the rebuilding of the pool. With Kendra, Willow, Kit and Dawn all working on him, dad didn't have a chance.
He woke up after a restful night, without being wakened by the screams of frightened little sisters. He dressed and went down, a bit amazed still at the silence that prevailed. There was no need for the daily fight for the bathrooms because even after all the remodelling at Revello Drive there was still the occasional scuffle between the girls. He tended to head for the basement shower still. Not as fancy, maybe, but none of the girls wanted to use them unless it was an emergency.
The hallway outside the kitchen was quiet too, just Mom and Dad doing their thing. It smelled like mom was making waffles.
He stepped in. He was back in the old kitchen, the rarely used one back at the Harrisses, the smell of stale beer and food kept past its sell-by date that he had associated with kitchens for so much of his life until he'd learned what a real one should smell like.
It was different from smell of the Rosenbergs' kitchen in that there the smell of food was only present when Willow cooked, and was removed almost as soon as possible, to return to the antiseptic smell that would have done credit to any operating room in a top grade hospital.
Tony looked up from the table, his face and hands covered in blood. Jessica was lying on the table, bloody and battered and it was clear she was the source of the blood on Tony.
“So you fucking came looking for a home, did ya, ya little punk?” Tony slammed a big fist into Jessica. “They finally figure out what a little shit you are? How worthless you are? A fuckin' waste of space?” Each sentence from his biological father was punctuated by his heavy fist striking his biological mother.
“Get your fucking ass in here and help, shithead,” Tony commanded.
“No,” Xander whispered. “No.”
He backed away, hoping, expecting to appear back in the hallway at Hooghwater, or in his own bedroom. But he didn't. Or at least not the bedroom he was hoping for. There was the grimy bed spread and the cream and brown walls, the carpet that had been there before he had been born and that Tony couldn't be bothered to replace even for his new born son.
The poster of Amy Yip was there, as well as some others. The sort of posters a growing boy hung up on his walls. Mom had rolled her eyes at them and Dad had smiled and taken her away and explained some facts about being mother to a boy that had never occurred to her. And possibly girls as well, since she was now eyeing a few of the boy-band posters in Buffy and Willow's rooms with slight suspicion.
But though it had a lot of things that had been in his room at home, which wasn't here and never could be here again, it wasn't his room. His room smelled of paint and new wood and a strange mix of herbs and spices that Willow and Amy had mixed up to get the paint smell out.
This place was different. It smelled the same as the rest of the Harris house, of the smoke and nicotine and booze that formed most of the diet of Tony Harris, that had permeated everything he owned until the day that he'd moved out.
Xander backed out of that room as fast as he could. He felt a hand on his shoulder, heavy, unforgiving. Tony glared at him. “Think that you're gonna go back to fancy pants and his fancy pants bitch wife, do you? They don't want a loser like you, shit for nothing. They got a real little Meier coming along, they don't need your pathetic ass around the house.”
“No,” Xander whispered. “No, they love me.”
“No one gives a shit about you, boy. You're not worth even giving a shit about, can't even remember why I didn't drown you at birth, you and you whoring Gypsy mother both. You're not worth this room either. Get your ass down to the basement, boy!”
“I'm not gonna live in the basement,” Xander shouted.
Tony sneered. “Haven't been doing nothing but, boy. And you still think they love you? You with your sisters all tucked up nice and pink in their beautiful rooms and you in the basement, with the roaches?” He tightened his grip. “Probably putting out to daddy, to get all that.”
Xander tore loose from his grip and ran, down the stairs, only to see Jessica, naked and bloody, stand in the doorway to the kitchen. Her dead eyes were unfocused and she spoke. “The son of the seer… I prophecy… He will not amount to anything, and all his acts will scatter like dust before the wind.”
Xander sobbed and ran out of the front door, down the garden path and out of the street, running as fast as he could. But he didn't seem to have the stamina he knew he had, the carefully built up runner's stamina, that had grown under the tough but fair guidance of the bodyguards. He was out of breath almost before he was out of the street, a stitch in his side. He was breathing hard and painfully when he finally reached Revello Drive, saw the linked up houses of the complex, ran towards the door.
Bchenka was standing in front of it, blocking the way. “Nyet,” he shook his head.
Xander stopped. The huge Russian was about three times his weight and it was all muscle. He also knew enough ways to kill a man with his bare hands to make a Mossad agent blanch.
“I need to go in. I need to talk to Mom and Dad!” Xander whispered.
He felt the anger, the primal force rising in him when the big man shook his head again and with a scream of rage he jumped at the bodyguard, slamming him into the door, then lifting him off the ground and throwing him aside like a rag doll. He tore the door open and ran inside.
A small man stared at him, draped in slices of processed cheese. Xander wanted to rip the stuff off him and into his mouth, to taste the salt, but the man turned away from him. “You are not worthy of the cheese!”
Xander growled, then sniffed. She was upstairs and he took the steps two at a time, tore open the bedroom door in turn.
Joyce was at her vanity, wearing a thin satin robe over a very flimsy nightshirt. She looked shocked and afraid at seeing him. Simon stood up to protect her, but Xander struck him , with his full Hyena strength and his chest caved in under the force. Joyce screamed.
He growled at her, reaching for her, intending to tear the cloth away from her and claim her as his own. Then Buffy jumped at him, kicking him in the small of his back. He fell, but reached up as she approached and grabbed her leg as she kicked again and threw her against the wall. Rising swiftly, he took her by the throat, squeezing as she clawed ineffectually at his hands.
When she was unconscious, maybe even dead, he turned to Joyce, with a leering grin. “Both of you at the same time. Won’t this be fun ‘Mommy’?”
The dart hit him before he could go any nearer and he felt the sting and rapid spread of the sedative. He turned around and saw Kendra, trembling and pale, rifle in hand. He jumper her with a snarl, his teeth finding her jugular, sensing she was the Slayer now, that he must have killed Buffy. He bit down, just as the drug claimed him.
“You see! We can’t trust him, not around you, not around the girls,” he could hear a voice say. “Not even I can save him, not that I would. The boy is beyond redemption.”
“Master Kol’tec is right. He isn’t worthy of your love. The best thing would be to take him to the desert and let nature take its course,” James said in a hard, yet regretful voice. “He tried to kill Buffy and Kendra. They would have been dead if there hadn't been doctors on hand.”
Xander tried to struggle, but failed. Hard hands picked him up and threw him aside and he felt the desert heat. He heard the laughter of the pack, felt it run through him. He felt danger and surged to his feet. There was a huge cat coming towards him, a Smilodon, three or four times his size. It opened its mouth and as it did, Xander resigned himself to his deserved fate.
Willow shivered awake, much colder than she expected to be. There was no warmth from either side where her parents’ comforting presence ought to be.
“Looking for something, little felon?” a cold, hard voice asked.
Willow opened her eyes, looking up in confusion at Joyce, who was standing by the bed. “You've slept in this house for the last time. You're neither wanted nor loved here, Willow Rosenberg. We've had enough of you and your hacking and lying and stealing and all your other 'little games'.”
“B-but you said you forgave me! And I won't do it again!” Willow begged, as Joyce grabbed her by the hair and started to drag her from the room.
“We changed our minds. Simon doesn't need you anymore and that’s the only reason I tolerated you and your criminal insanity. He's got an heir on the way and we can probably manage a spare, too. Out!” She commanded as she threw Willow out of the door. “And you'll stay away if you know what's good for you!”
“B-but you can't! You adopted me! You said you loved me!” Willow sobbed desperately.
“We lied,” Joyce shrugged. “Buffy, if this piece of trash is still here in thirty seconds, go Slayer on her.”
Buffy smiled, cracking her knuckles. “Cool. I get to beat up the stuck-up little Miss Know-it-all.”
“Buffy? We're sisters, we're friends!” Willow pleaded.
Joyce rolled her eyes and went back inside. Buffy hummed a little tune and thumped her right fist into her left hand, speculatively. “Xander said I shouldn't do too much damage.”
Willow looked up hopefully. “He thinks that pretty soon you'll get desperate enough to want to sell yourself and he said he wasn't paying twenty bucks for an ugly whore.”
Willow bristled indignantly even as tears started down her face at this additional betrayal. “I’ll never do that!”
“Thirty seconds are up. Oh, and look who's here to take you home...” Buffy grinned evilly.
Willow looked over her shoulder and gasped in shock as she saw Sheila standing by the Rosenbergs' car. Ira was inside, kneading something between his fingers. Sheila stepped forward, carrying the chequered dress that Willow had worn the day she'd met Buffy. “Hello Willow. Time to go home.”
Willow's old bedroom was upstairs, but Sheila didn't lead her there, but towards the basement door. “No,” she whispered. “NO!”
Willow cried as she cowered naked in the small, cold room that one day should have been a shower. She cradled two tiny, pale bodies to her chest. She looked up and saw a pale blonde from the corner of her eyes, looking frightened but determined. Her hooded blue eyes fastened on Willow's green ones and she seemed to be pouring strength into her. Then the door opened and the girl disappeared.
Sheila stood in the doorway, smiling. “Well, looks like you're not as lovable as you thought you were, dear. None of you were.”
She gestured and Willow screamed as her triplets were torn from her arms.
Sheila sniffed “Useless, too, except to power rituals. That’s what your soul will be doing, powering rituals.”
“No! They love me! They do!” Willow protested, sobbing.
“Do they? Then why are you here?” Sheila gestured behind her and Willow saw Ira, still kneading something, and gazing at what looked like a rough clay statue. He added a blob and it changed into Dave.
Ira shook his head and reached for the blob he'd just added.
“DAVE! Help me!” Willow called out.
Dave gave her a nonplussed look, as if he was wondering who she was, shook his head disdainfully and then changed back into the rough clay sculpture as Ira removed the blob of clay. He added it again, in a slightly different place and suddenly the sculpture was a man in a neat suit, but draped in slices of cheese.
He handed one to Ira, who accepted it gravely. “The cheese must be the heart, of course,” he looked at Willow, disappointedly. “The cheese must never be forcibly taken.”
Sheila shook her head. “Foolish man,” she made her dead children dance in front of Willow and laughed. “They gave Rowan back too, I got to sell her twice, which is excellent value for money.”
Her dress and face changed and she became a classic fairy-tale witch, crooked-backed and nosed, warts and black dress and pointy hat. She leaned forward and pinched Willow's thigh.
“I'll leave you in there until you're ready. I will say that they fed you well. You'll be mighty tasty!” She cackled and then closed the door.
Willow whimpered in the cold darkness. Then she felt a cold draught and the floor changed from rough concrete to un-worked sandstone, raspy beneath her naked butt and the bare soles of her feet.
She rose shakily when she saw a tiny sliver of light and she put a hand to the wall followed it until she reached a rough cave opening, the early morning light filtering in. Blinking against the dawn she carefully stepped out of the cave. She could smell sand and dry earth, and saw a desert stretching out in front of her. There was a soft tread and she looked behind her. Out of the darkness came a Smilodon, huge, yellow-eyed and with a bright red tongue licking its vast chops. It opened its mouth and with a whimper Willow curled back into a ball.
Kendra awoke at her desk in her new room. She frowned slightly, as she clearly remembered getting into bed, and playing with the curtains and being scolded very slightly by a laughing Joyce to get under the blankets, not just into bed.
The desk was covered in books and notes, all in her own handwriting. The door opened and Joyce came in, her face stony. “Good, you're up. The car is here to take you to the airport.”
“Airport?” Kendra asked. “Why am I going to the Airport?”
Joyce rolled her eyes. “Really Kendra. You weren't called as a Slayer and your cousin Albus decided that it would be best if you were married off to a Watcher. Mr Zabuto volunteered.”
Kendra gaped. “W-what?”
“It was clear to all of us after you failed to save all those girls at the ritual. We kept you around to see if you were good for anything, but really, you're dreadfully disappointing. You study, but you don’t understand. You think scholarship is the dry replication of facts and haven't made a single intuitive leap, ever. So this is quite a good arrangement,” Joyce smiled frostily, and patted her arm.
“I'm sure that you'll enjoy being a nice obedient little wife to Mr Zabuto. He says he’s looking forward to it at any rate,” Joyce added dubiously, as if she wasn’t sure why anyone would.
“You said I wasn’t called…” Kendra asked, her voice halting.
“No. You weren’t,” Joyce’s voice was cold to the point of freezing. “And yet you were so sure of yourself, so cocky. So sure you went out to slay vampires and Buffy had to come and save you.”
Joyce leaned in. “My daughter died because of you, you little bitch,” she hissed. “If it was up to me, you wouldn’t be married off, you’d be getting sent off to prison. You as good as killed her, as much as those vampires did with your over confidence.”
“B-but-” Kendra began, staring at her in horror.
“No buts. The car is here. You’d better get what you’re allowed to bring,” Joyce grabbed her arm and dragged her up. “I’m not even sure why I allowed you to stay here tonight instead of in your own room, in the basement.”
Kendra looked around the room, trying to see where her suitcases were, but Joyce pointed at a small rucksack by the door. “Mr Zabuto said you won’t need many clothes.”
Kendra felt the tears start, but Joyce ignored them, and that more than anything told Kendra that she really did not care. She had never cried and not been comforted if Joyce knew about it. And somehow she always seemed to find out.
She was dragged down the wide staircase and saw that Xander and Willow were there, with another redhead who looked just like Willow and had to be Rowan. “So the bitch is finally leaving?” Willow said, her eyes flinty.
“Yes, it took some time before we found anyone who wanted to pay at least something for her. At least this way we don't have to spring for the plane tickets.”
“We should just have handed her to the Council. They were willing to pay for ex potentials for that program of theirs,” Rowan argued.
“We are handing her to the Council, dear. They need new Watchers and at least Kendra will be able to bear a few healthy offspring. It’s probably the only thing she's good for,” Joyce dragged Kendra to the door and pushed her out.
They came out into the sunlight and Kendra gasped. There was a small round lawn in the middle of the carriage drive and on the lawn, a simple white gravestone that read 'Buffy Summers, 1981-1996. Sorely do we miss her.'
“Remember what you did, Kendra. How you killed her. Always remember!” Joyce told her with a hiss as she pushed the girl into the waiting van, the driver separated from the prison-car like back. The mesh on the windows only reinforced the image of a prisoner being moved.
Kendra sat looking at the house, at the family she thought she had gained, as the car drove away. None of them seemed to care. Kit and Dawn looked at the car, at her, with clear hatred in their eyes. The car moved down the driveway, then down the tree-lined lane and then she was walking confidently in a graveyard, dressed in fatigues, with a cocked and loaded crossbow in her hands.
The vampire charged suddenly from the side and knocked the bow from her hands, then had its hands around her throat and she was choking. The vamp was thrown away from her, kicked away, and it landed heavily against a tree.
Buffy was there, in fatigues as well, scowling down at Kendra. “Dammit Ken, you know you aren't ready for this! Get home!” She then turned to the vampire which had gotten back up again and charged at her. Buffy kicked it again and staked it.
That was when things went wrong. A group of vamps appeared, four of them, all big and tough looking.
Buffy faced them confidently, but their twisted faces sent fear through Kendra's stomach. She got to her knees and crawled to her crossbow, picking it up with trembling hand and cocking it, fumbling a new bolt from the case at her belt. Buffy was fighting the vamps, one was down and dusted, but the others were attacking her from three sides.
Kendra aimed, tremblingly, and fired. Buffy moved, dodging a vamp's blow. The bolt struck her in her lower back, above her left buttock, passing all the way through her and hitting one of the vampires in the arm, which meant that the bolt must have had an upwards trajectory, which wasn't strange with Kendra's position on the ground, even if her oldest sister was short.
Buffy staggered, but did not fall, her right arm coming up to block an attack from the right, flicking the stake into her left hand, then using it to stake the attacker. She ducked a blow from one of the remaining two vamps, but the other punched her in the wound Kendra had caused.
Buffy cried out in pain, but barely faltered as she closed with the larger of the two vampires, her fists and knees moving faster than Kendra could follow in her dazed and anxious state. This was the vamp that had taken the bolt that had passed through Buffy's body and the Slayer was making full use of even the limited damage it had done. She concentrated on the right side and the vampire staggered back under the force and ferocity of her assault, then fell to dust as Buffy's stake unerringly found his heart, on his unprotected left side.
The other vampire growled, too amazed by her sudden attack to aid his pack mate, but now it closed.
Buffy stamped hard on the foot of the vamp, using only her strength since her weight was inconsequential, then punched him in the stomach, at the same time kneeing him in the groin with the other leg. The vamp doubled over, but it double punched her in the wound the bolt had left and she screamed and staggered, almost falling.
Kendra fumbled with another bolt, but her hand touched the small yet complete first aid kit all the children carried and knew how to use. She saw the blood run down Buffy's back, staining her trousers and shirt, saw the paleness of her face and hands in the dark, much paler than Buffy ought to be.
Buffy flung the vamp over her back, then was on him like a shot, staking him. She sat in the cloud of dust, her hands pressed against her stomach and her eyes boring into Kendra. “You killed me. I didn't think... Didn't think you wanted to be the Slayer this much... You hated me... so much...” Then her eyes rolled up and she fell forward.
Kendra gasped and she was back in the car, driving through a desert, and then it stopped and the door opened in front of a low, ramshackle house. She saw Mr Zabuto, dressed in a tweed suit and in a wheelchair, looking at her disdainfully. “There you are. I always knew you wouldn't amount to anything, your parents gave you up much too easily. And you didn't. You actually caused the death of a Slayer, and you weren't even called. Come. You have work to do and children to bear.”
He wheeled his chair around and up a ramp into the house and Kendra stumblingly followed as she heard the car drive away.
She felt someone looking at her, and turned around and saw Buffy, her eyes dead and staring, her hands reaching for her and she screamed and ran, ran sobbing into the desert. She ran until she was exhausted, long until she was out of breath and collapsed on the hard, dried and cracked bed of an ancient lake or broad river.
Kendra felt the breath of the great cat and heard the rasp of its tongue. But she didn't have the energy or the will to fight it.
Jenny sat in the old fashioned desk, her fingers clasping the fountain pen, tongue protruding between her teeth as she laboriously drew the letters and figures to the high standard her Great-grandmother demanded.
“You must be able to transcribe your visions and dreams accurately, Janna,” the formidable elder struck the floor with the cane she didn't really need. “Your visions are essential to the well-being of the Clan, the Familia.”
Jenny bent her head deeper over her work, concentrating hard, knowing what would come next. “Yes, Dàki Dey.”
“Your mother gave her life so you could have this gift. You must not waste it!”
“Yes, Dàki Dey.”
Jenny was laughing and running through the wooded areas of the Harry Parker State Forest, the smell of rain heavy and heady among the trees. She could hear Jake call out behind her, could hear his footsteps as he made his slightly clumsier way through the undergrowth. She loved him and he loved her and even her great-grandmother approved of him. He was a good boy of the People, even if he was of a different tribe. She had seen the future and there were children and happiness and even some forgiveness for her Family, for whatever dreadful deed they had committed. One day she might learn what they had done that the other tribes had cast their family out, and might even help resolve the differences, but now she was young and in love and the man she was with was going to be her husband. There was a time for tradition and it certainly had its place in her heart, but today was the day she would give herself to Gianno, as a wife to her husband. Today she would become a woman. Suddenly he was there, and she was in his arms and there was pain and she felt as if something was torn from her, something that had been part of her for her entire life, he laughed exultantly and she screamed in agony.
She was before the Kris, the tribunal, the elders gathered, her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her Great-uncle Enyos. They all looked at her as if she was something they'd scraped from under their shoes.
“You lied to us, Janna. You told us when you introduced Gianno that you saw children and happiness in your future. And even the Clan going back to the Tribes. And then you broke the Law and slept with him before your marriage. You betrayed us, just as you betrayed our laws and our traditions. We let you go and study at that Gadje university, we let you plan your future because you said you saw yourself. Now we find you lied to us about this. Which probably means that you lied about a great many things before.”
Great-Uncle Enyos leaned forward. “We find you guilty of lies, of disobedience and of endangering the Family by wilfully destroying your gift. You are useless and worse than useless.”
“And yet we shall find a way to use you...” her great-grandmother said coldly. “Your Uncle Enyos will be your only contact with the Family. If you do not obey him, this banishment will be permanent, and we will lay a curse upon you...” she pinned Jenny with a hard glare. “And it will be terrible.”
“So that was why you were banished? I quite understand, you know. You weren't much of a Seer, if you couldn't foresee all this happening,” Joyce said, suddenly beside her as the tribunal faded away.
“You aren't much use now, and frankly neither is Rupert. Though I suspect he only wanted you for a bit of fun. Not a very constant man, Rupert,” Joyce patted Jenny on the shoulder and her smile was cold. “I think you're a very bad example for my daughters. So I've arranged for your arrest by some very nice FBI officers. After all, a hacker as famous as Nerdanel can't be allowed to go Scot-free...”
Jenny sat in the courtroom and listened to Willow declare she’d found out about her hacking by accident and had gone to her mother and she was really sorry she hadn't done it before. Lillian Giles sat next to her son, who was bleak faced and stern, with Thomas on Rupert’s other side, offering silent support to his heir.
The grey-haired woman in the judge's seat and looked down at her, disapprovingly. Her slight form was dressed in voluminous judicial robes that she almost seemed to drown in.
“You were never good enough for my son. You were not good enough for your family. You aren't good enough for your second family, you little hacker. For your crimes of being untrustworthy and a shame to your family and friends, I condemn you to fifty years of solitary incarceration in a maximum security penitentiary, without the possibility of parole.”
She was an old, old woman when she left the prison. No one had asked to visit her in the fifty years she’d been there, generations of guards had looked in through the tiny, heavily glassed and barred viewing window. Mumbling to herself, she wandered the streets, pushing an ancient, empty stroller, carrying her meagre worldly possessions on her back and her body. She screamed at the empty air on occasion, and people walked around her, avoiding her on the beautiful streets of the future. She could feel the eyes of her family on her, their pointing fingers following her, their jeers pulling at her ears and soul like they had done every day, hour minute, of her incarceration.
She sat down rocking forward and backward in front of the empty stroller, singing at the dark haired baby only she could see. The Smilodon approached on silent feet.
Rupert remembered the hospital almost as if he'd been there every day since the first time he'd come there. The look, the smell of the place. His father sat in the same chair, looking at the featureless grey-green door that led deeper into the place, the one that the doctor had come out of to tell them that the accident that had nearly killed his mother and older sister had caused injuries, but that the operations had been wholly successful.
His father had the hard, cold closed look on his face he'd had the entire six hours of the drive to the hospital and the wait for that news.
Giles moved towards him, his childish body feeling small and awkward and he sat next to the man, tentatively reaching for his hand, but his father moved his own away and gave him a harsh, cold look. “We do not show emotion, Rupert. Emotion gets in the way of duty.”
Rupert remembered that sentence. He'd told his mother that the first day she came home from the hospital and she’d hugged him. There had been a terrible row and his father had slept in a separate bedroom for several months, even after his mother had recovered sufficiently to share a room with him.
He'd also looked rather shell-shocked and disbelieving. But after three months of icy cold war, three months in which Miranda and Rupert had moved through the house on tiptoes and soft tires, fearful of what might happen, their parents had resolved their differences in a spectacular manner. They'd become much closer after that, and Esther had been born nine months later, which had left his father very flustered.
The door opened and a doctor stepped through. “Mr Giles?”
“Sir Thomas,” his father corrected the man. It was bad enough he had to sit here in an NHS hospital instead of a decent one that was in the know on Watcher matters, he wasn't even in one who knew how to address a Baronet.
“Of course," the doctor replied, his face professionally blank where earlier it had been sympathetic and kindly. “I'm afraid I have to tell you that, I'm sorry Sir Thomas, but Lady Giles and your daughter did not survive the surgery.”
Rupert froze, as did his father. “I see. Very well. I shall send my solicitor to deal with the formalities of the remains. Good evening, doctor.” Thomas nodded coldly, rose, gestured for Rupert to do the same and practically drove him out off the hospital. Rupert wanted to cry, but his father's hand squeezed painfully down on his shoulder every time he let out the tiniest sob. He was to be a watcher, and emotion could not be allowed to stand in the way of duty.
They stepped out off the hospital’s green painted metal doors and suddenly the light was different, he wasn’t outside, he wasn’t a young teen.
He was smoking and leaning back and looking on while Randall lay on the ground, his arm bare. Ethan was wielding the needle with his customary skill as they inducted a new member to the inner circle, while in the other room the groupies waited, hankering after the treatment that one of their number was now receiving, mentally tallying what they might have to do to achieve the same status.
It was quite simple really. You merely needed to be wanted by one of the inner circle. Randall was the first acolyte to be admitted and that was because Ethan wanted him there, Randall, with his fey-like, fine-boned face, pale under his blond hair, with his delicate build and woman's hands.
He was exactly the sort of man Ethan loved, just like he would have been exactly the sort of woman. Refined, gorgeous, high-bred, delicious prey, wonderful to utterly debauch.
Giles personally like his own bed-partners to be a bit stronger willed, it made it more interesting to break them to his will, convince them to do what he wanted them to do. Ethan went for the weaker ones. Ethan had no patience about things like sex, he wanted gratification.
The tattoo was finished with a final whimper from Randall and the circle was drawn, the candles lit, the words spoken. The groupies were then allowed in to watch how one of them was initiated into the inner circle.
Randall surged upright, his eyes gleaming yellow and laughed. His hand reached for and snuffed out a candle, he threw his head back and laughed. He punched one of the groupies, a young man called John, and the boy was thrown hard against a nearby wall.
Panicked as Randall reached for him, Giles drew a knife and stabbed, stabbed, stabbed again. He dropped the bloody knife.
“No! It wasn't anything like that!” He muttered. “We tried! We really tried to cast him out! I didn't-”
“The cheese is young and must be protected,” a slight man waving two slices of horrid processed milk by product, one in each hand. He slapped the slices onto his chest, cradling them protectively.
Giles blinked in surprise when suddenly he was no longer in the flat, but in the drawing room of his parents’ house. The room was much colder than it had ever been before, much colder than he could remember. His father sat in his chair, looking at the one opposite. It was empty. “You’re a vast disappointment to me, boy. And you would have been an even worse one to your mother. You’ll never make a Watcher. And I no longer have a son.”
Giles stood looking at the girl training on the mat, facing off against three large and highly capable martial art experts. After some initial hesitation about her exceptional strength and agility, they had swiftly picked a fighting style to teach Buffy, and later Kendra. They had also taken to training all the other children, something Giles knew he would have been reluctant to do, since all his training and, yes, indoctrination as a Watcher opposed the notion that ‘civilians’ get involved.
Jon was watching from his wheelchair, a heavy bound book on the little table, written in a form of Aramaic that took Giles a lot of time to decipher, but that the old man read with as much ease as Giles read French.
He turned away from the scene, his heart aching with jealousy and anger. He’d spent a lifetime training to be a Watcher and now here he was, useless, superfluous, redundant, no more wanted here than he was at home.
There was a shift and suddenly he was in a graveyard. There was a grave there, newly dug, with a floral garland and the words ‘Buffy Anne Summers, 1981-1996’ on them. Another grave, slightly older, was beside it. There was a wooden board set upon it, and a single, fresh red rose. There was a name carved on the board. Jennifer Calendar 1970-1996.
Rupert felt his knees buckle and he fell to the ground between the graves.
“You wanted to know what would happen if you had the training of her alone, didn’t you Rupert? Well, there it is, one dead Slayer. Killed by the Master, just as you knew she would be,” his father said coldly. “And her little friends, too. They’re buried in the next aisle over. Miss Rosenberg was killed by Moloch, Mr Harris died when Miss Summers had to break his neck during the whole unfortunate hyena business.”
“No…” Rupert whispered. “They can’t be… They were being trained… Buffy wouldn’t…”
“By who? By you? No, boy, this, this is the world you wanted, with you as the Watcher, and her as your obedient little Slayer,” Thomas Giles sneered. “You failed her, Rupert, as I knew you would. Like you always will, fail everybody.”
“Jenny…” Rupert began.
“Miss Calendar despises you. You were less than polite to her after Moloch. After all, it was her computerisation of the library that led to his release and Miss Rosenberg’s death,” Thomas smiled darkly. “I’m quite sure that she’s happy where she is now.”
The scene shifted again. Giles found himself in a dark alley with an old woman dressed in rags, who was rocking in front of an empty, battered stroller. She hummed a tuneless lullaby. Then she changed into Jenny, young, gorgeous, with the glow of motherhood over her as she bent over the no longer empty stroller, a beautiful dark haired little girl with blue eyes, the same deep blue as his mother’s, looked up at her happily as Jenny sang the lullaby in dulcet tones. He could see the slight bulge of Jenny’s stomach and realised she was pregnant again.
Then she faded back into the old woman, her eyes vacant and fastened on the faded canvas.
Giles stepped towards her, but she didn’t see him.
“Everything you ever loved, ever cared for, is gone, boy,” Giles senior said with a sneer. “You’ve got nothing left, but memories of things you should have done better.”
Giles whirled to face him, but he was gone and then so was the alley and he fell to his knees in the desert. He heard the soft tread of padded feet behind him, but he was too far gone to care.
The late spring sunlight shone brightly into the high room through the mullioned windows, yet the room was cold. Music that ought to be heart-warming, beautiful and soothing instead filled the space with cold clinical tones.
The black harp gleamed with reddish and blue highlights, the sun picking out the metal strings as the long, dextrous fingers of the white-haired man playing it moved over them with ease and practice.
The only thing that broke the sound of the music was the stifled cries and the sounds of flesh hitting flesh.
The man looked on dispassionately as the two large men beat his son, his Whitelighter beside him, glass of brandy in hand, waiting to heal the victim of the savage punishment.
Simon looked up from the floor and spat out some blood. “You’re dead.”
“Death is not a barrier to anyone such as me, Simon. You ought to know that. Besides which, what makes you think I’m your father?”
Simon looked in the mirror that filled almost the whole wall between the large windows. The face he saw was younger, different. There was a little bit of Joyce about the cast of the eyes, the tilt of the lips.
“No,” he whispered. “No.”
“You think you can escape it, boy? We use people. We always have, we always will. The Duty comes first. Always,” His father, himself, plucked the strings again. “Continue. The lesson hasn’t been learned yet.”
Simon was driving through the mud, the humid air clinging to his skin, wetting his clothes. There were soldiers out there who needed his help. He glanced at his arm, where the rough machete of the Vietcong soldier had sliced deep into the flesh. He was quite sure that the blade had been rubbed in excrement at the very least. But there were people out there who needed his help. He arrived at the small hill intelligence reports had declared to be the site of the battle, where a large number of Vietcong had had pinned down the Marine platoon. There had been no radio contact with the platoon since two hours after the attack began.
A relief force in several helicopters had been sent in, but two of the three had been shot down, successfully replenishing the forces inside the perimeter, but causing significant hesitation on the part of REMFs to send in more reinforcements. Not that they had many, as there was a major offensive underway. All they could spare was a group of impressive looking, but under-strength and ill-equipped recent arrivals, thrown into the fray, and under an inexperienced commander.
Ordinarily Simon would not have done what he did, rounded up a few nurses and joined them. But he had a notion, and idea, that there was more to this than just an attack in strength on a larger than usual patrol. He could feel it. He had feelings like this rarely enough that he tended to listen to them.
And he’d been right. The Vietcong soldier who’d swung his machete at him hadn’t been alive. He just hoped he could do something to save the men who were under attack by a horde of Juju Zombies.
The ground was torn up by more than just gunfire. Simon could see the tracks of fingers, fingers that had clawed desperately at the dirt to prevent their owner from being dragged off.
Simon could feel the magic pulsing and weaving through the jungle. Earth magic, which meant there was a node or leyline nearby. He was pretty sure it was a leyline. He pulled his backpack with supplies tighter and hefted the bags with medicines higher and set off again up the hill, closely followed by what remained of the relief column. The trucks had been abandoned a mile away, on an ancient and overgrown road. Simon hoped they’d still be there when they got back. If anybody got back.
The sound of gunfire sounded, desultorily, frightened. As if the one who was firing knew it would have little or no effect. Simon led the group of raw recruits and recent convalescents up the hill and hoped that Second Lieutenant Crawford was holding the rear guard together.
They reached the location of the shooting and Simon reached back and drew his kris, specially prepared for his grandfather by a local witchdoctor. He’d been laughed at by his colleagues and frowned at by his superiors when he’d shown up with it instead of a regulation combat knife, but that laughter had evaporated when they noticed the respect the blade got from the locals.
The zombies were assaulting a forward position, and from the traces had been doing so for quite a while. Simon growled. Whoever was in charge of the platoon was an idiot of the first order. As soon as he realised that bullets had no or little effect on the attackers, he ought to have withdrawn his forces up to the crown of the hill and concentrated his fire on single opponents. Simon shrugged off his pack, striding up to the fight. There was a group of three Marines holding off five zombies, who were concentrating on their prey to the exclusion of all else. The kris found a zombie spine and the creature collapsed in a boneless heap. Simon stabbed another and the fierce red light went out in its eyes.
“Aim for the heads! They need them to find you!” He barked at the soldiers in the shallow pit, while his own men fell on the zombies with machetes and chopped them to bits.
He ran up the hill, a bag slung over his shoulder, kris in hand, hearing the sounds of fighting coming from further up. He arrived in a small clearing near the summit to find a girl fighting a group of the zombies, her strength allowing her to shatter helmeted skulls and sever limbs with what looked like a pair of very rusty machetes.
Simon came to a stop, blinking in shocked surprise. The girl didn’t stop, eviscerating and beheading zombies with gusto, incredible speed and great skill.
Once the last zombie was down she turned towards him, thick purplish blood and black putrid fluids dripping from the blades. “Who are you?” she asked in heavily accented English?”
“Dr. Simon Meier. Who are you?”
“The tool he needs,” a dry voice said. Impeccably dressed in a three piece bespoke suit, Simon XIV stepped out of the jungle. “Remember that, son?”
“No,” Simon whispered. “No, it wasn’t like that.”
“Wasn’t it?” A gesture and they were standing in the Oval Office and Nixon was pinning a Silver Star to his chest. “Was it her that got the medal? That got the recognition? I don’t think so.”
Simon turned on his heel and walked out of the room, falling to the ground and landing a puddle of water that smelled of rust and filth next to a dumpster. He could hear the sounds of combat coming from nearby. Stumbling to his feet, trembling, he made his way to the fight.
Nicky was fighting three vampires, her fists and feet moving faster than humanly possible. “Poor Nicky. You promised you would be there for her. Always at her side…”
Another flip and Simon was standing among a group of white-robed men and women, his face stern. “We are agreed then? We shall deal with the Gargoyles on the Empire State Building and then with the ghosts in the Public Library?”
Grosvenor Coote, one of the oldest members of the coven, of a longstanding New York Magical family, shook his head. “I think we should deal with the boggarts in Grand Central Terminal first.”
Simon suppressed a sigh. “What reasoning do you have for that, Master Coote?”
The scene changed. Hart Island was where the city’s poor were laid to rest. There was no stone, just a number on a piece of two by four hammered into the ground.
“Politics. Politics were the death of your friend Nicky. And instead of helping her son, you got drunk,” Simon XIV flicked some dust off his jacket as his son turned towards him.
“IT WASN’T LIKE THAT!”
“You said that before. I don’t think it quite means what you think it does,” the corners of Simon XIV's mouth turned up marginally.
“Shut up!” Simon hissed.
“You're just like me Simon. You use what’s there to be used, mercilessly. Always the Greater Good, always the Duty, before everything, even love and family,” the older man stepped away and faded, the last thing to disappear his dark eyes. “You will learn.
Simon glared up at him. “I’m nothing like you. So I’ll never learn!”
Then he realised where he was. The backyard of 1630 Revello Drive. Xander was underneath him, sobbing. Simon's knee was in the boy's back and his arm was pulled back and pushed forward, the joint popped out of the shoulder socket. Horrified, Simon saw that it had been snapped at the elbow and wrist as well. What he could see of the boy's face was bloody, battered and bruised. Xander's breath came in gasps and he moved in such a way that Simon was sure that there were ribs broken.
“Oh god,” Simon whispered, releasing Xander, stumbling to his feet and back.
He moved back again, reaching for Xander but the boy whimpered and tried to evade his touch.
“Xander, let me help you,” Simon pleaded, just as the rattling breath told him it was hopeless, that his oldest son was dying, at his hand.
“Help?” Joyce scoffed. “You said you’d help. Your help cost me all my daughters. And when my son protests, all he gets is beaten to death.”
Simon looked up. Joyce was on the porch, her face haggard and yellowing, her hair sprinkled with grey as well. She was wearing a tatty robe and a glass of whiskey was in her hand.
“Joyce?” Simon whispered. “What happened?”
Joyce laughed bitterly and took a swig from her drink. “They died, Simon. One by one you used them, to hold back enemies, to support you in rituals they weren't ready for. Buffy was cut apart by the Shaszat, Kendra was called and died minutes later. Then the ritual you used to try and stop it drained Willow, Kit, Dawn and Amy. Rowan deleted herself once she lost her sisters.”
She took another swallow. “I lost the babies. But we won. The Shaszat is dead. The world is safe for democracy, witchcraft and the American Way,” she toasted him. “All thanks to you, and the children you sacrificed.”
“No. I wouldn't. I wouldn't,” Simon whispered.
“Oh, but you would, and you did. You're just as ruthless as your father. Worse, because you pretend to care. Duty this and Duty that. That was almost the whole of your eulogy for the girls, my girls. You killed my children Simon. And for that you will pay, you will suffer.”
“You will suffer, knowing that everything that happened was your fault. You killed the children as surely as the Shaszat. You used them in battle, Simon, like cannon fodder. You will suffer my curse, the curse of a Mother. You will never find peace in life, Simon. You will finally die, lonely and unloved. And I will laugh the day I hear about it,” Joyce smiled evilly and turned her back on him.
“No,” Simon whispered. “No. I wouldn't.”
“Oh, you would. You are just like me Simon,” his father's voice was soft. “My son, my blood. And like with me, Duty comes first.”
Simon groaned and closed his eyes, not hearing, or caring, about the cat-like tread that approached.
She found herself sitting on a large rock by a salty-smelling body of water in a small, browning copse of immature trees and shrubs. She knew the landscape, it was the Salton Sea, an area she'd often walked and trekked in when she was younger, when she was still a Scout and a Troop Leader.
Joyce frowned down at her uniform. She hadn't worn it since shortly before Buffy's conception, and then only because Hank had thought it sexy.
There were quite a few bad memories that clung to it. Well, not so much bad as horribly embarrassing. She could hear the voices of her troop. It wasn't an uncommon nightmare for her, especially since it was firmly based in reality. Where others only had the shivering horrors about imagining themselves naked at school and other such things, she knew what it felt like. Almost.
She looked rather hopelessly over her shoulder. But it wasn't her troop. It was her family. All of them were wearing some sort of uniform. Simon in one of his military uniforms.
The children were odd, though. Jenny was at the front, followed by Xander, then Buffy, then Willow, Rowan, Kendra, Kit and finally Dawn.
They were dressed in pale grey-blue-green outfits. Joyce immediately recognised them. They were straight copies out of The Sound of Music.
Joyce clasped her hands at her back, shook her head and walked over to Rowan, gently adjusting her tie and then gave her a big hug. “I've been wanting to do that for a while now,” she smiled. “I know this isn't real, but it’s so good to see the two of you together like this.”
Rowan blinked, then frowned as if she was uncertain. She looked at Willow. “I-is she using her power?”
Willow looked uncertain as well, but her mouth and chin and eyes quickly firmed up into her 'resolve face.' “P-probably. You have to ignore her,” she threw a glance at Jenny.
“Ignore me?” Joyce raised an eyebrow, even as her heart started to beat faster with anxiety. “There will be no ignoring your mother, dear.”
Jenny stepped forward. “I’m Jenny, I’m twenty-five years old and I don’t need a mother! And I won’t be forced to get one!”
“What? What are you talking about?” Joyce asked, confused. “I didn’t force you to do anything! You know that!”
“Do we? We’ve only got your word for it, and that's the whole point, isn't it?” Buffy said weakly, as if fighting against a heavy pressure on her chest. “We can't ignore you because you control us. You make us do what you want us to do. Make us believe what you want us to believe. You made us into your perfect little child slaves.”
Kendra nodded in agreement while Kit tried to, but her head seemed to freeze in mid-motion. She fumbled for Kendra's hand, desperately.
“Let her go!” Dawn screamed. “Let us go! We don't want to be your slaves!”
Joyce looked aghast, then focused on Simon. “I'm not controlling them! You said so! Mary Beckforth said so, too!”
“Of course you aren't. They always dress up in their uniforms and march in order, don't they? They obey your whims and toe the line and woe unto them, and me, if your rules are broken,” Simon said tonelessly. “If this is how I must get love, I want no part of it.”
“No! It isn't true! I would never do a thing like that!” Joyce protested.
“Wouldn't you?” Xander asked sceptically. “Seems to me that you love doing it. Love the way we grovel and cry for your attention, the way we meekly submit to your punishment without protest, or any attempt to defend ourselves.”
Buffy started to strip off her uniform, underneath she wore jeans and sneakers a dark blue top. “We want to be free of you, of the way you rule and control us!”
The others followed, all wearing something casual and colourful. Jenny also sported rather more cleavage than Joyce thought strictly proper, but she was an adult.
“I am not controlling you! Now stop this!” Joyce snapped.
They all froze, their eyes widening in fear. With slow, reluctant hands Buffy started to pull her uniform back on, the casual clothes seeming to melt away under their touch.
Dawn whimpered, as did Kit.
Simon closed his eyes and grimaced, then dropped the uniform coat he'd picked up again. “No! No, fight her, children. Fight the Black Mother! If all of us fight her, she can't control each of us when we're together.”
Joyce gasped as the uniforms came off again. “But I'm not controlling you! I swear!”
“That’s even worse. You don’t even know that you're doing it,” Kendra stated. “You seek to control us, yet do not even know.”
Willow took Rowan's hand and glared. “You're just like our mother! And yours! You're nothing but a controlling and manipulative bitch!”
“Willow! I will not tolerate that sort of language!” Joyce snapped.
“You will not tolerate anything! You take away all our fun for some cheese!” Kit yelled, her face exuberant. “You fixed Rupert and bought me clothes she could never afford, so I'd love you more than I loved my mom!”
“We're free of you, free of your mind tricks,” Xander suddenly wore his Jedi-like Wizard's robes.
“We won't be caught again!” Buffy snarled. “If you try, we'll kill you!”
She took Dawn's hand and backed away, leading the others as well. “It's no wonder Gran hates you. I bet you were controlling them from the day you were born,” she hissed in final parting.
Joyce started to cry, sitting back on the stone she'd appeared on. She didn't hear the soft tread of the great cat.
It was a nightmare she'd had more often. The burning gym that signified the death of Lothos, the wails of the various types of sirens, the thrum-thrum of the water through the hoses, the loud sizzle of the water as it struck the burning building.
She could smell the dust of the vampires she'd slain on the air, and felt the gritty particles on her skin, in her hair, between her teeth. A cat was nosing around some of the piles of ashes that had once been minions.
She heard the measured thread of the policeman that was coming to talk to her. Then she would be 'taken for questioning' her parents called, and then she would go to Overton. The feeling of helplessness as she told her parents, as they looked on with pity and horror as they handed her over to the men in white coats at the expensive institution, it all made for horrible memories.
“The cheese has been grilled,” a soft voice said.
Buffy turned around. A rather timid looking man in a brown suit with thick-rimmed spectacles looked at her. He carried several slices of melted processed cheese in his hands and had more draped over his suit. It clung and dripped as the heat of the fire hit it.
“What?” Buffy asked confused.
“The Cheese has been grilled. It cannot be saved. Dead, molten, gone,” the man replied mournfully, rocking the cheese slices in his arms.
“What are you talking about?” Buffy’s eyes narrowed.
“You failed them. They were too close. They are dead, all dead.”
Buffy gave him a suspicious look, then she started to run. She was at her house, the old house in LA, before she knew it. But it was as if she’d never left the campus. The house was on fire. Firemen were swarming around it, hoses were spewing forth water in great gushing fountains, steam billowed.
There was an ambulance as well, and a police car. Several cops were taking notes, looking haggard. “I can’t believe it!” A neighbour sobbed. “I can’t believe it! She baby sat my daughter! That a girl would do this to her own family!”
“Wonderful isn’t it? Your enemies burning, the smell of roast pork, beg pardon, teenager, in the air…” a cool, suave voice said.
Buffy whirled. Angel was there, wearing a leather coat that came to mid-thigh.
“Angel? What are you doing here? What’s going on?”
Angel laughed scornfully and his face changed. “You love a vampire, invited him into your family and you wonder what’s going on? Oh Buffy, Buffy, Buffy,” he mocked. “I’ve been killing, of course. Everybody. Your mother, father, little sister. And such fun we had together. And all the time you were trying to kill Lothos and save you ignorant little classmates. And you failed. How many of them died? Because you just aren’t good enough?”
He leaned forward, his fingers stroking her cheek. “Good for only one thing,” he whispered. “Just like your mother and sister.”
Buffy turned, for the first time seeing the shrouded forms on the gurneys, two larger, one small, with the smell of burned pork hanging about them and felt her heart contract. A cat jumped off the fence and onto the gurney with the smallest body, Dawn’s. The shock caused a small, burned hand to fall from under the canvas, lacking its fingers. Buffy vomited and ran.
Buffy yawned widely and stretched, expecting to feel the soft, thin and just perfect duvet and the broad, firm and yet perfectly yielding mattress of her new bed, grateful to be waking up out of her nightmare. *Boy will I have things to tell Marcel next time*
, she thought wryly, reaching out for Mr Gordo, expecting to find him on the corner of the big bed.
But she didn't, her hand hit a wall, didn’t find her beloved plush animal. The bed was hard and narrow, the duvet felt lumpy and the room smelled of old nicotine and stale and burned food. She also smelled blood and worse, which was worrying.
She opened her eyes, looking around in ever growing confusion. She was in the small apartment she'd shared with Pike while she was in Las Vegas. It had a small bedroom, which she was occupying, and a sitting room with a badly equipped kitchen which was barely larger, and a shower and sink in what might charitably be called a bathroom, but was in reality a closet with some tiles.
Buffy pushed off the blankets and put her feet on the ground, shivering slightly at the cold that permeated the worn linoleum.
She padded softly over to the door and opened it. She gasped. Pike was lying on the couch, like he had always done. Or at least part of him was, since the rest of him was strewn around the room, his intestines had been drawn out of his body and were draped over the rod that held the shower curtain.
Letting out a whimper, Buffy slammed the door closed and looked around desperately for a weapon. But the huge supply of high-end weaponry, from the Slayer's Sword down to the stakes that Kit and Dawn had whittled for her wasn't there.
Buffy tried to remember where she and Pike had stashed the weapons and finally ducked under the bed. She came out with the sword she'd taken after Merrick's death, which she had thought had been the best, right until the moment that Simon had gotten her a better one.
She put on jeans and a pair of strong shoes. She hung an extra sword on her back and three knives from her belt, with two stakes as well. Pike was dead and it wasn't going to help to storm into the sitting room half-naked and badly prepared.
She pushed the door open again. Pike was still there, still dead. A cat was lying on his chest and was lapping at the dried blood on his chin and face, its rasping tongue making a noise that counterpointed the flies that fed on the blood and offal.
FAILED AGAIN was written in Pike’s blood on the wall. Buffy vomited and ran, again.
Buffy was in Cleveland, living in a rundown motel, existing off the things she’d plundered from vampires and the parts of demons she sold when she got the call. Four watchers had died since she’d been called and she’d been unable to save any of them from Angelus, who took great pleasure in slaughtering them in varied and inventive ways.
Leery of losing any more members, the Council had stopped sending any, merely giving her a phone number to call if she needed help. She was to go to Sunnydale, and deal with the vampiric infestation there, a town ruled by a master vampire so old he claimed the title of Master.
She shivered at the memories, ones she knew to be false, of a happy life there, with her mother and little sister - no, sisters and a brother – packed her meagre travel kit and left.
The town was full of fear and lay in what might be described as desert scrub. When she first saw Giles, she knew he was going to die. When she saw vampire Willow, she recognised her as the sister she lost, Xander as the brother. When she saw them drain Giles and her limbs felt too heavy to lift, unable to help him, she understood.
Her eyes narrowed at the cat that sauntered down the street. “Okay… I’m not going to say this was fun, ‘cause, you know, it totally wasn’t. But I know for a fact that Xander and Willow are alive and that I live here and that mom and dad are alive and Dawnie is too. And you know, I can feel you. You ain’t no cat. I don’t know who the he-ck you are, but I know that you’re here. So show yourself. ‘Cause you know? I’ve had about enough of this crap.”
The dark street with her sister and brother draining Giles whirled away into a desert landscape. There was a girl there, dark haired, wearing a baggy grey track suit. Her eyes were dark and haunted.
“Who’re you?” Buffy asked suspiciously.
“Your sister. Inevitably,” the girl answered in an accent that Buffy thought might be from somewhere on the east coast.
“You’re the cat?”
The girl shook her head. “I speak for her who has no voice. She’s alone.”
“And who are you, that you speak for her?” Buffy circled the girl. “Who are you?”
“Your sister, in all ways,” the girl looked up, sniffed the air. “She comes.”
Buffy felt a resonance, the most powerful impressions on her demon sensing abilities ever, stronger than Lothos, or any of the Master's minions. Stornger even than the Shaszat, Rochus. But showing fear was not an option.
The beast that approached was huge, an enormous sabre-toothed cat, a Smilodon. Its coat was mottled black, brown and grey and it was almost invisible against the desert landscape.
Buffy crossed her arms and smirked. “Here, kitty, kitty.”
The great cat growled and jumped at her. Buffy ducked. She concentrated and suddenly her sword was in her hand, gleaming, pouring forth light. The Smilodon screamed, backing away.
Buffy followed. The cat began to shrink, further and further until it was a girl, or woman, smaller even than Buffy, with wiry arms and legs, covered in white paint, her teeth blackened and browned by food and bad hygiene, nails broken, hair matted.
“Who are you?” Buffy demanded, the Slayer sword poised to strike.
“I am alone! We hunt alone! We must! Alone!” The girl in the track suit said with an emotionless voice that carried anger, hatred, disdain.
“Alone? You’re here with me, you know. You got Miss Bad Dress Sense here too,” Buffy pointed out. “So not alone.”
The girl growled and jumped at her. Buffy ducked and punched upwards, catching the girl in the stomach with a blow that ought to have sent her to the nearest emergency surgery with massive internal bleeding, but the primitive shrugged it off.
Buffy closed in, sword at the ready, prepared to kill. The Primitive looked at her, growled again, and rolled away, into a bush.
“Oh no, you fricking don’t!” Buffy snarled, and jumped in after her.
She emerged by the shore of what she thought was the Salton Sea. Her mother was sitting on a rock and crying, dressed, of all things, in her Girl Scout uniform. A flicker of shadow disappeared from the corner of Buffy's eye. “Mom? Did you see a really big cat or a strange painted girl come through here?”
Joyce looked up, her face hopeful, relieved. “Buffy? You came back?”
Buffy frowned. “What? What are you talking about? Did you see a cat or a big cat with really big teeth?”
“Cat? I-I can't really remember...” Joyce frowned “You were all here, dressed like-”
“Oh my god, I was like Louisa!” Buffy blurted out, her eyes widening in horror. “Mo-om!”
Then she frowned. “But that's not important right now, I’ve got to catch the smelly cat lady!”
“Umm, why do you have to catch the cat-lady, honey?” Joyce asked confused.
“She's messing with my dreams. And that is so not of the good!” Buffy growled. “Now, did you see a cat or not? And don't try to distract me, I'm not going to fall for that one again!”
“She manipulated your dreams?” Joyce asked carefully. “Doing what?”
“She made me think you and dad and Dawnie were dead, that I never came here, that Angel killed you. That I was a failure who could only succeed at being a Slayer when I was alone,” Buffy's eyes were distant and her expression hard.
Joyce gasped, rising and hugging her. “Oh, honey… How horrible!”
Buffy relaxed, feeling a great relief come over her at her mother's embrace. A realisation that what she had dreamed really wasn't true. She had parents and a sister. She was going to wake up in her big, soft bed after the dream. Or on the floor if she was very unlucky, but in her own room. “You're here. You're really real and here,” she whispered.
“Of course I am dear,” Joyce assured. “I'll always be there for you.”
Then her expression changed. “Wait, you know what I... What I dreamed? About the uniforms and...things?”
Buffy's frown deepened. “We were all in the horrible things, even Jenny. A-and then we left... Oh. Mom? This is your dream, isn't it?”
Joyce nodded. “And if your dream manipulating cat-woman came here, she might be in others’ minds as well. She was probably in Dawn and Kit's earlier.”
Buffy gripped her sword. “I don't care who she is, that bitch is going down.”
“Normally I'd say something about language, but currently I'm in complete agreement,” Joyce said in a barely controlled voice. “Do you think you can find her?”
Buffy tilted her head, then nodded and pointed with her sword. “Thataway.”
“Got room for someone else?” Joyce asked hopefully.
“Why?” Buffy asked suddenly suspicious again.
“Because if that bitch hurt the others like she hurt me, I'm going to need to be able to do something about it as soon as possible,” Joyce said. “I might get through to them more easily than after they wake up.”
Buffy opened her mouth to protest, then shook her head. “That actually kinda makes sense. Okay. I don't know if this will work. Take my hand and don't let go, okay, Mom?”
Joyce took her hand and smiled. “Sure, honey.”
Buffy took a deep breath and leaped.
Kendra was on the floor on her knees, scrubbing. The air was warm and muggy and there was an older man in a wheelchair drinking from a bottle leering at her. A cat was in the windowsill.
Buffy growled and the cat jumped and ran and Kendra looked up. “B-Buffy? But you are dead?”
Buffy shook her head. “Not nearly. Someone is messing with our dreams, our minds, Ken-ken. That cat, I think.”
Kendra reached towards her neck and shivered. “No, you're dead. You sent me back to Mr Zabuto...” she looked at Joyce. “I killed Buffy.”
Joyce moved over and helped the girl to her feet. “Didn't happen, dear. And yes, I'm here and real. Buffy took me along for the ride,” She gently hugged her, pushing wisps of hair out of her face.
“But you hate me, I-” Kendra was interrupted by Joyce's finger on her lips.
“I don't hate you, you're my daughter, one of my girls. And after Buffy and I have gone after the cat, I want you to try and wake up and then come to my, our room, okay? Can you do that for me?”
“You're leaving? Why can't I come along?” Kendra protested, then winced. “No. No go alone.”
Joyce gave her a speculative look. “We'll talk about your dream, later.”
Buffy moved in and hugged Kendra. “I don't hate you, Kendra,” she poked the other girl's stomach. “But you’re gonna learn how to shoot a crossbow, so’s you hit the vamp and not the Slayer.”
Then she leaned in and whispered. “And don't ever go out alone hunting vamps. If you do, I'll join Mom in giving you a righteous case of whoop-ass.”
Kendra nodded, her eyes wide. Buffy let her go, took Joyce's hand, and leaped.
Giles was standing forlornly, gazing down at an old woman, who was on her haunches by what looked like an elderly and empty stroller, rocking to and fro and singing. Voices were speaking in a strange language jeering, for a second, then fell silent.
Buffy frowned. “Giles?”
Giles looked up, clearly surprised. So did the woman. Her face was ravaged by time and grief, but her eyes were still the same.
Buffy gasped. “Jenny?”
The old woman blinked. “Buffy,” she said in a toneless whisper. “You aren't real-”
Joyce stepped forward and dragged the old woman upright. “We both are. There's someone messing with our minds, as Buffy puts it.”
Giles was reaching for Jenny. “You're alive,” he whispered, then dragged her into a hug. The years seemed to slough of Jenny, the bag-lady clothes fell away, leaving her in a rather low-cut slinky black dress and high heels.
“Ru-Rupert? What are you doing in my dream?” Jenny asked, surprised but not unhappy as she sank into his embrace.
“It was showing me the things I lost,” Giles whispered. “You and-”
There was an annoyed squeal from the buggy and a little hand threw a stuffed toy fox at Giles legs. “Dada! Gramma! Aunnie Buffy!”
Giles eyes widened. Jenny laughed exultantly and picked up the toy. Buffy stepped past the stunned Giles, followed closely by Joyce. There was a girl in the buggy, with hazel eyes much like Giles’ and raven black hair and pale skin like Jenny. She reached out her arms, clearly commanding to be picked up.
Joyce promptly did so and hugged her. “Aren't you a little darling!”
“Her name is Deborah?” Giles said. “Isn't it?”
Jenny nodded, using the fox's snout to tickle the girl's cheek. “Yes, it is, it is, isn’t it sweetie? Debbie? That's your name?”
The girl giggled and hugged Joyce around her neck, then precariously leaned over and reached for Jenny and Giles. “Dada! Mama!”
Giles caught her deftly, a look of intense wonder on his face. “Dada!” the girl stated with satisfaction, as she settled in his arms.
Buffy grinned. “Wanna tell us something, Giles?”
Jenny rolled her eyes. “She isn't even conceived yet, Buffy. But this is what my visions show she will look like.”
“Awesome. I'm gonna be Auntie Buffy. Ummm... Mom?”
Joyce sighed and stopped tickling the baby. “Yes dear, we'll go. Rupert, Jenny? If you were alone I'd advise you to wake up, but-”
Giles cleared his throat. “I want to stay a bit and, well...” He bounced Deborah in his arms and she giggled again.
Jenny nodded. “Me too.”
Giles smiled at her. “We do need to remember as much as we can. It may be important, if this manipulator can reach into our subconscious mind.”
Joyce nodded her agreement. “We won't run over to wake you up then. Call us when you do, okay?”
“Okay,” Jenny tickled her daughter with the fox again and this time she grabbed its snout and pulled, scowling, clearly wanting it back.
Buffy laughed, taking her mother's hand. She pointed into an alley where rats could be seen scurrying. “That way.”
Xander was crying, curled up in the desert. Joyce knelt by him and put her arms around him. “Xander? What happened? What did she do to you?”
Xander stiffened, then tried to move away.
Joyce held on as tightly as she could. “Xander, easy! Calm down! It was all a dream! Whatever happened, it was all a dream.”
Xander looked up, his face tear-streaked. “But I-I, I attacked you! I'm dangerous!”
Joyce nodded sagely as Buffy stalked the desert, looking for the weak spot where their assailant had slipped through, giving her brother and mother as much privacy as she could.
Joyce hugged him closer still. “Xander, whoever did this took things we fear, that we are ashamed of, and twisted them to its own purposes. What happened wasn't you. No more than I control you. You don't want to hurt us. You aren't the Hyena.”
Xander looked up, his eyes wide. Joyce gave him a loving if exasperated look. “Yes, it’s that obvious. And I want you to talk about it with Marcel, again, if you've already done it, okay?”
Xander nodded. Joyce smiled. “You didn't hurt us, okay? Remember that. And try and remember as much of the dream as you can. That may be important.”
Xander gave her a horrified look. Joyce kissed his forehead and ruffled his hair. “I know dear. But Arlene says that there can be clues in the tiniest details of the dreams we have.”
“B-but,” Xander cast a glance at her fearful, horrified, full of self-loathing.
Joyce hugged him harder. “I know. But we need to know. And Marcel does say talking about them helps.”
Xander nodded unhappily but Joyce simply smiled at him and kissed his forehead. “Go wake up after we leave. And then find your father.”
Xander gave her an anxious look. Joyce nodded encouragingly. “Yes, your father.”
“Mom? We need to go,” Buffy said quietly. Then she looked at Xander. “She was wrong, you know. You already amount to something.”
Xander gasped in surprise and Buffy smiled, then took Joyce’s hand. They leaped.
They were in a desert, but they weren’t alone. There were two small mounds and a crying naked girl. Willow.
Buffy frowned and suddenly Willow was wearing clothes, straight out of the Sound of Music. The girl shot up, her eyes wide and looked down at herself. “Ms Sum-”
Joyce reached out and drew her into a hug. “Mom, dear. No matter what you dreamt, still mom.”
Still holding Willow she looked around. “Have you seen Rowan? Jenny and Rupert were together and…”
Willow started to sob again, more violently this time.
Buffy growled something unintelligible. When she became intelligible there were a lot of ‘Bitches’ and ‘evils’ in the sentences. Then she took a deep breath and stabbed her sword into the two little mounds in quick succession.
Willow screamed. Right until the mounds were thrust aside and two girls, redheads, appeared. Both were naked and blinked against the light, earth and sand flowing from their hair and running down their pale bodies.
Buffy looked slightly abashed and then closed her eyes. The girls were clothed exactly like Willow, though their hair was styled differently. One had hers in a loose ponytail, the other in a pair of tight French braids, curled on the sides of her head.
Willow gasped, as did the other redheads. The one with the ponytail looked down at herself, stunned.
“Wah?” she managed.
Joyce let go of Willow and reached out, grabbing both the newly appeared girls, who stumbled into her arms. Willow threw her own arms as far around all of them as she could.
Joyce smiled as the girls shook off the shock and started to look around and think. Even if the third girl was unsure and apparently babyish in the way she looked at the world, even a desert in a dream, she too had that insatiable curiosity that Buffy and Joyce associated with Willow and Rowan.
“Oh, it’s so wonderful to see all three of you,” Joyce whispered in a choked voice. “To hold you.”
Willow beamed, then frowned, just a little. “Yeah… But did you really have to dress us like this again?”
Rowan blinked. “We… We were in your dream? And Buffy... She just… What’s going on?”
Joyce smiled wryly. “We were attacked, a mind attack. As for what Buffy can do, I haven’t the foggiest notion, but she seems to have an instinctive idea of what to do.”
“We need to go,” Buffy said apologetically, as she reached for Willow and gave her a quick hug, then repeated it with Rowan and the babyish girl who had to be Hazel, still looking at everything with infinite wonder.
Joyce let go off them regretfully, kissed all three of them and then took a deep breath. “I’m ready.”
Buffy frowned. “Mom? Something wrong?”
Joyce gave her a sad look. “We’ll probably go into Simon’s mind now. I can’t imagine that’ll be pleasant.”
Buffy nodded and held out her hand. They leaped once more.
It was a battlefield. Bullets were flying over a muddy field where corpses were strewn around. And it was also Revello Drive. And the corpses were theirs, horribly dismembered, bloody, rotting and dissolving into the wet ground. Joyce stared up at the sky from the porch, her eyes as wide open as her torn thorax, but as empty and bloody as her chest.
Simon was sitting in a lawn chair, a glass of amber coloured liquid in his hand, gazing thoughtfully at the carnage. Except that he was much older. He looked up and Buffy shivered. His gaze was hard, cold, dispassionate. And unlike her Papa’s dark brown eyes, these were amber, the same colour as the drink.
Joyce gasped. “Oh my god. Simon?”
He inclined his head at her, then blinked. The glass fell from his nerveless fingers and shattered on the ground. The white was pushed out of his hair by dark brown that was almost black, his amber eyes darkened. The face and the long fingered hands stayed almost the same, but the crinkles around the eyes were kindlier somehow.
“J-Joyce?” he stammered? “Buffy?”
Joyce held out her arms and he stumbled towards them, into her waiting embrace and she hugged him as desperately as he held her. He fell to his knees, sliding down her body, sobbing into her stomach.
Buffy looked on helplessly. “What the hel- heck?”
“His father,” Joyce whispered, looking around the devastation which very slowly started to fade back into the usual aspect of Revello Drive, the corpses disappearing first.
Buffy shuddered. “Note to self, be really very glad granddad Meier is exceptionally dead.”
Otherwise, she might just have had to kill him herself. Probably slowly and definitely painfully.
“Yes,” Joyce agreed fervently. Then she put her hands on either side of Simon’s head, pushed his head back and looked into his eyes. “Simon, I need you to wake up and take care of the other children. Buffy and I need to deal with whoever attacked us.”
Simon nodded weakly. “Gachnar, daemon of fear, I think.”
“Is he a cat?” Buffy asked.
Simon frowned. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Why?”
“There was one, everywhere. Mom? You sure you want to do this?” Buffy gave her mother a worried look.
Joyce nodded. “I feel I have to dear. I think I knew, somehow, the others needed me. I want to, need to, face this thing with you.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “If I end up with a brother called Gachnar, Daemon of Fear, I’m gonna be so annoyed!”
Simon laughed wanly. “I think in this case Momma Bear wants to tear Gachnar a new one.”
Joyce smiled slightly, but it was a feral smile. “The thought may have crossed my mind, yes.”
“Does he have any weaknesses?” Buffy looked at a space next to the house. “That you can tell me in thirty seconds?”
“Beheading, total destruction, cold iron, I think,” Simon shook his head. “Sorry.”
Buffy nodded. “Okay, the usual. Mom? Gotta go now.”
Joyce gave Simon a quick kiss. “Willow and Rowan may be a bit later. Hazel is there as well.”
His eyes widened. “What? What is she like?”
“We'll tell you later,” Buffy took her mother's arm. “Come on, mom.”
They leaped yet again.
They were back in the desert where Buffy had faced the primitive woman. “Gachnar?” She called out. “Show yourself! I know it’s you.”
The girl in the tracksuit stepped out of the shadow of a pathetic little bush. “You know nothing, you understand nothing.”
“I understand that you hurt my family, bitch,” Buffy growled. “And you're not helping!” She stabbed an angry finger at the girl.
“Faith Lehane?” Joyce said stunned. “What are you doing here?”
The girl seemed to waver in shock, but it lasted less than a second. “I speak for her who has no voice.”
“What happened to you? Can you tell me?”
The girl's eyes widened. “The Scarred Ones...”
Buffy cleared her throat. “Mom? I know finding her is important, but serious Gachnar butt-kicking needed here?”
Joyce looked abashed. “Oh, yes I forgot.”
“Come on out!” Buffy called.
The only reaction was a small shadow flitting away. Buffy jumped at it. It was a scruffy looking alley cat, black and white and thin. As soon as Buffy laid a hand on it, it grew, becoming a huge mottled grey Smilodon that turned quick as lightning and clawed at her.
Buffy could barely dodge the huge claws, then had to make three back flips and a somersault to escape the flashing teeth that tried to sink into her neck. She swallowed heavily as she stood, waiting for the next attack.
“Okay. Not quite as much as a scaredy cat as I though,” she admitted.
The big cat didn't make a noise, just jumping at her again from a half crouch. Buffy ducked underneath it, her sword coming up and slashing a long, bloody wound into the right side of the beast's belly.
The cat yowled in pain, then landed, favouring its right. Slowly it grew smaller and more upright and became the primitive woman Buffy had faced before.
“I do not fear you!” Faith said for the girl whose blood was dripping down onto the hard desert ground. “I fear nothing!”
“You are fear, yeah, yeah, we get, Raggie,” Buffy sneered. “What I don't get is the get up. What's with the painted Bush girl with an extremely bad hair century do? “
“I am who I am, alone. We are always alone,” the primitive snarled and so did Faith as she spoke.
Then she jumped. Buffy blocked her right hand attack with her left, using the sword against her right. Then she slid closer and punched the other woman in the face, or at least tried to, but even with her injuries the attack was blocked.
“Fast, and some interesting moves. But it won't help, you know. You hurt my family, bitch. For that you're gonna pay,” Buffy promised in a low, angry voice.
“We are ALONE! We have ever been alone!” the primitive hissed as Faith spoke. “We will always be alone!”
Buffy attacked again, but the primitive sidestepped easily, then ignoring her wounds, kicked out with her right foot and almost caught Buffy on the thigh with what would have been numbing force.
“Fast and strong, but stupid. Know why you're stupid?” Buffy sneered.
The primitive growled.
“'Cause I'm not alone. I'm much stronger, 'cause I've got lots of people who help me. Even the Watchers understood that the Slayer can't do everything!” Buffy taunted.
The Primitive's face twisted in anger and she leaped at Buffy, hands extended like claws. Buffy brought the sword up and her eyes widened as her opponent twisted in mid air, only the tip grazing her. Then she landed on top of Buffy and began pounding.
Buffy realised two things almost immediately. The primitive was much younger under her thick cake of make-up than she’d thought. And she smelled awful.
She was also very strong, possibly stronger than Buffy herself. But she fought without much skill, just ferocious anger, unrelenting, fearless.
Buffy brought her knees up and put her feet flat on the ground, then threw the girl over her head, to land on her back, but she was on her feet in seconds, just like Buffy.
“Who are you? I don't think you're this Gachnar dude Papa was talking about,” Buffy taunted. “So, are you the demon woman of BO and bad hair days?”
The Primitive hissed. Faith spoke in a monotone voice. “I am alone. First, and alone. I hunt.”
Buffy's eyes widened in shocked realisation. “You're not a demon! You're a Slayer! And you're that Potential Papa has been looking for!”
“The First Slayer,” Faith said in a slightly wavering voice, her eyes widening.
Buffy let out a breath and lowered her sword. “Okay. Time out. I don't want to fight you. No, I do. But I don't want to hurt you. I understand where you're coming from, but times have changed, you know. There's no need for us to be alone.”
The Primitive Slayer growled and seemed to paw the ground. Faith looked blank. Then Joyce reached out and touched the Potential and tears started down her face.
Joyce drew her into a hug. “We'll find you, dear. Don't worry. We'll find you and keep you safe.”
Faith nodded, then faded away. Joyce turned towards the clay-daubed girl, the blood seeping out of the large wounds, mixing with the pigments and looked her up and down. Then she stepped forward, grabbing her.
The move was so unexpected that the First Slayer didn't move to escape. Then very slowly her face changed expression from obvious great surprise and annoyance, to a heart breaking vulnerability.
Buffy grinned. “Yeah, she does that a lot. Get used to it if you haunt her dreams.”
The Slayers looked at each other, their eyes meeting in understanding.
The First Slayer gently disengaged Joyce’s arms and stepped back, still looking at Buffy. Then she started to fade.
“Just so you understand, the next time you hurt my family, I will kick your ass,” Buffy said just before the other was completely gone.
Joyce looked at her blood-covered scout uniform and then at her daughter.
“Well. That was unexpected.”
“What, you hugging the poor orphaned psychopath slayer? That's par for the course, mom,” Buffy teased.
“I've had some experience, yes,” Joyce replied with aplomb. “How do we deal with this?”
Buffy shrugged. “I think we just wake up. Don't ask me, I've been winging it since this whole thing started.”
“Yes. Another thing we have to look at. I'll see you once you're awake dear,” Joyce smiled.
Buffy smiled back hopefully. “Hot chocolate? With marshmallows?”
Joyce laughed. “I think this definitely calls for that, yes.”
Joyce woke up and looked around. The TV was on, and Rowan was on it. The room was full of her children. All of them seemed to be scowling at her, to a greater or lesser extent.
“Really mom? The Sound of Music?” Xander said in an aggrieved voice.
“So not Gachnar?” Simon asked for the third time or so.
“No dear, not Gachnar,” Joyce said in amused exasperation. “You were wrong. It happens, dear.”
Simon sighed. “I know it happens. Just usually that when it happens, the cost tends to be higher,” he added quietly.
“I know love. But everything went well, this time. Though I have no idea how Buffy did what she did,” Joyce sounded worried.
Simon shrugged. “Well, I’d say it’s her Talent. She's a Dream Walker. We'll need to get her a teacher.”
“A Dream Walker?”
“A type of Dream Seer, but with an added whammy of being able to actively direct other types of dream. The reason why all of us remember snippets of the others' dreams and why Buffy remembers a lot of it.”
Simon put down his pen and looked at what he'd written. “I wonder what we can glean from all this.”
“Not much, going by Kit and Dawn,” Joyce smiled slightly at where the two youngest were sleeping at the table, heads pillowed on their arms.
Rack didn't see the very slight crack that had developed in the crystal. It was too small to see with the naked eye, but it was there. The soft white glow nestled within had long ago resigned herself to her fate and didn't notice it either.
An undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains
Unlike the white glow in Sunnydale, the green glow in the Director's Soul Gem had never resigned itself to anything. It noticed the weakness immediately, and with single minded purpose set about exploiting it.
Faith woke up from a disturbed sleep, shivering in the cold, pre-dawn air. She looked around the small bedroom, sparsely furnished and wondered what the hell that dream had been about.