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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)vidiconFR1598780,0851591501417,53628 May 115 Jul 14No

Some 'splainin'

Author’s note:

Many thanks to my beta’s Cordyfan and Letomo without whose invaluable help this story wouldn’t be nearly as good.

Everyone who reviewed, my hearty thanks!

Also many thanks to shawnie for recommending this story.

If you have questions or remarks, please review. I will do my best to answer the questions, unless the spoilers are too great.

I need to catch up with Faith before this can go much further, but I hope to have both those done in a timely manner.

Chapter 98 Some ‘Splainin’

Hooghwater, late evening of Thursday February 15th 1996

“MOM! DAD! MAMA! PAPA!” A chorus of voices called out. A stampede of feet sounded on the steps and Joyce laughingly held out her arms to hug Dawn, then Kit, then made her way up the line.

After her hug Willow was standing, arms crossed beneath her breasts, her face resolved and looking at Simon. She didn't even relax when he leaned in to kiss her cheek.

“Something the matter, sweetheart?” Simon asked.

“People know about me!”

Simon snorted. “I should hope so.”

Willow almost growled. “You know what I mean! They asked questions about me!”

“There were also questions submitted about all the others. From Buffy's ice-skating and Dawn's ballet to Xander's apparently prurient interest in Dungeons and Dragons,” Simon shrugged. “Of all the questions, the one about you was the only one that actually needed to be answered. There were rumours.”

“I like D&D too!” Willow snapped. “And why didn't you ask me what I thought?”

“I did. I asked how you'd feel about the fact that people might say that you got on the AJAS short-list through my influence. You told me to 'Bring it.' I just brought it for you,” Simon said quietly.

“B-but that was just a conversation! In the car! To school!” Willow wailed.

Simon shrugged uncomfortably. “I’ve been trying to keep the Press as far away from all of you as I can. I'm sorry if you’ve been hurt. That wasn't my intention.”

Willow took a deep breath. “You could have told me the question was there. Show me the questions.”

Simon smiled. “Including the one from the New York Post that wanted to know if you had a boyfriend? And what you did on your dates? And the one from Tiger Beat that wanted to know if you had any tips on Your First Time?”

Willow 'eeped' and turned beet red. “O-okay. M-maybe I don't need to know everything they ask.”

Simon touched her face gently “I'm sorry you were surprised Willow. I'll try and keep you informed in future. But most of the questions about me are handled by Sophia and her staff, too. I'll make sure she meets with all of you and knows the sort of thing you want her to answer, okay?”

Willow nodded. “Dad? What was all that in the New York Times about Mr Gallagher having seen a picture of me and wondering if you were the last Meier?”

Simon rubbed the back of his head and sighed. “Remind me to take the lot of you past every single picture of my illustrious forebears that exists. And your mother too.”

“Okay, care to explain that?” Willow asked.

Simon smiled. “Your mother insisted on buying some posters, since the copies of the originals are in Vlughwater. Let's go inside and we'll show you.”

Willow gave him a suspicious look, but followed.

In the sitting room Joyce rolled out the first poster. It showed a red-headed girl, quite young, Willow's age, sitting in front of a window on a large, wooden chair with green pillows in it. She was wearing a simple white dress with blue beading and was looking at her audience with pensive but intense green eyes, her forearms resting on the armrests, her left hand holding a fan and the right the golden chain of an opened locket.

“Oh my god! Willow, that's like totally awesome! When did you get your portrait painted?” Buffy then glared at her mother. “And hey! Why didn't I get my portrait painted?”

Joyce smiled and pointed to the letters words in the margin around the poster.

“Portrait of Julia Claudia Meier at the age of fourteen, by Joshua Reynolds. Wife of Simon Meier VIII,” Buffy read out. “Woah!”

Willow let out an indignant squeak. “DA-AD! You totally knew I had an ancient dead double!”

“It gets worse,” Joyce commiserated.

She unrolled the second one. It showed the same girl, slightly older, sitting back on an expensive looking settee with an elusive, rather come-hither smile on her face. She was wearing a very sheer linen gown that more than hinted at things underneath. At either side of her was a large mirror, set at a slight angle and her reflection in both was shown.

Willow made a squeaking noise when she realised the only thing that kept people from seeing right through the thin layers of cloth was the fact that in strategic places, it was folded to be double or triple thick.

“The really awful thing is that I knew about these portraits, but I still never made the connection,” Joyce groused. “And I really should have.”

“Holy cow. That... I mean that could be portrait of us, if we found Hazel...” Rowan whispered. “And like, we dressed like total skanky ho's.”

Everybody turned to Simon, who raised his hands defensively. “Don't look at me! I'm used to being compared to every ancestor I have. I just didn't think about it.”

“Make sure you do, next time,” Willow and Rowan almost growled in tandem.

“I'll make sure he does,” Joyce glared at Simon as well, though there was a good deal of amusement in her look as well.

Simon inclined his head in apology. “At any rate we've made some progress on the Marigold abductions. All the kids we identify will get Social Security numbers matching their ages and their real identities. A bunch of acronyms will have to give up a bunch of reserved numbers for undercover work, but they’ll get the ones that were used instead.”

“Well, that's nice. And what about Hazel? Have you found anything that will let us find her?” Willow glared. Rowan nodded and glared as well.

“Actually, Magister Crumrin was able to delve into his family's considerable resources and came up with this,” Simon held up an envelope. “Your mother and I discussed it. We'll talk with the two of you later.”

Willow's eyes narrowed. “Why didn't you find her already, if you have the ritual?”

“Probably needs some of your blood, Will. Relax. Dad didn't mean any harm about the paintings. He probably just assumed you knew,” Xander soothed her.

Willow nodded and sighed and went over to hug Simon. “Sorry daddy. It's just... Everything.”

Simon hugged her back and kissed her forehead. “I know sweetheart, I'd be upset too. I just didn't think about it. I grew up with the damned gallery hanging in every corner and I sometimes forget you didn't.”

Willow smiled at him. “Well, I'll take that as a compliment I suppose. Any other pictures of Julia Claudia?”

Simon looked pained and sent a frantic look at Joyce, who sighed. “Willow... Ummmm... You have to realise that Julia and her husband were very much in love and he was a very good amateur artist-”

“He drew her naked?” Willow gasped, feeling as if she was red from her toes to the crown of her head. “That's what you mean, isn't it?”

“Yes, that's what I mean,” Joyce agreed. “There's apparently a set of drawings at Vlughwater, kept in the vaults.”

Willow squeaked again.

Buffy sniggered. “Well, if they were ever published, Dave probably owns a set.”

Willow let out a wail and Rowan did the same.

“Buffy!” Joyce scolded. “Behave!”

Buffy immediately looked contrite and put a hand on Willow's shoulder. “Sorry Will. Just a bit jealous, I suppose. You know, no one can deny you're one of the family, ever, with these pictures.”

“Yeah, well, that's just great! There's probably scholarly discussion about whether she's a natural redhead! Unless they passed those naughty pictures around after dinner!” Willow groaned.

“They were kept utterly secret. I can tell you that no-one outside the family knows their subject matter. A few pictures Simon VIII drew are shown at Vlughwater, but they're all very sweet, domestic scenes. He drew dozens of them, so the folders with the R-rated material are just marked as family drawings-private, in the records. They were very carefully kept out of the way of researchers too,” Simon explained.

“R-rated?” Xander scratched his head. “Wasn't she a bit young?”

“She had her eldest son at fifteen. They eloped the day after her fifteenth birthday. It was quite a scandal,” Simon shrugged. “Her parents wanted her to wait a year longer, but she didn't want to wait.”

“What sort of pictures of her are there? I mean, shown?” Rowan asked suddenly, having finally overcome her shock.

“Family scenes, her reading, playing with the children, weaving, embroidering, things like that,” Simon explained. “Next time we're at Vlughwater, I'll show you the museum wing. Or I can have them pulled from exhibition if you prefer.”

“No, leave them there. Just... Not the other ones, okay?” Rowan said after sharing a look with Willow. “And we'd like to see them, just not the... ummm... The...”

“The naughtier ones, check,” Joyce said with a slight smile.

Buffy in the meantime was frowning. “Papa? Didn't you go to art school for a bit? To learn to draw? I know I've seen you sketch at night…”

Joyce nodded. “Yes, he feels quite self-conscious about his drawing, because he hadn't done it in a while. Once he's a bit happier about it, he'll show it.”

“Cool!” Dawn grinned. “Did he ever draw any pictures of you?”

Joyce snorted. “Yes. And it's not as exciting as it looks when he keeps looking at my hands and trying to get them right.”

Buffy relaxed as if her mind had been put at rest. “Okay, but I'd like to see them. When you feel more confident, papa.”

Simon shrugged. “Sure. But before we get further distracted by art, there's some serious news. We've found out that the stolen kids have been implanted with some tracking devices and we're planning on how to remove them. Keyhole surgery should work, but the blasted things are enchanted to be overlooked.”

“Ugh, I hate those guys,” Buffy shivered. “Are you sure they're no longer a threat?”

Simon looked thoughtful. “I don't think they're as big as threat as they were. But the mind-set that brought it into being, the way they think about human life? That's still around and I'm quite sure that there's still people in Washington who feel that the bastards who ordered this were doing the right thing. Wish I could give you a better answer, honey,” he finished, seeing Buffy's expression.

“Naah, it's honest. It just means I'll have to work at beating people up a bit more,” Buffy scowled.

“I should disapprove of that, but I can't really make it convincing,” Joyce sighed.

Xander laughed, then sobered. “What about dad and the Interdiction?”

“I consulted with Aloysius and Lilith and consulted the Concordat Archives and the Family Archives. We need a source of raw power and a circle of those interested in getting me healthy,” Simon said.

“And we're not doing it here at the Monolith, but I called Aunt Penny and she'd be delighted to receive us,” Joyce smiled.

“But we were gonna meet Lucy!” Dawn whined, almost in tandem with Kit. Then they both looked mortified and ran to hug Simon.

Simon snorted and Joyce smiled. “Don't worry, we still will. Magister Crumrin suggested that since the Nexus is bound to the Warrens, it might be possible to help Lucy recover her magic a little quicker there, or at least give her a boost out of the danger zone.”

“So it will be an all family get together?” Willow asked eagerly.

“Yes, it will, though maybe Arlene and Evy can't make it,” Joyce agreed. “We'll leave on Friday evening.”

Buffy frowned. “What about my teacher? Isn't she supposed to show up on Friday?”

“She's a witch, dear. She'll be there, observing,” Joyce explained.

Buffy's frown deepened. “Observing how those Marigold ba- guys hurt our family. With Lucy and stuff.”

The children started discussing how they wanted to beat up Marigold, while Willow and Rowan couldn’t keep their eyes off the pictures of Julia.

Joyce put her hand in Simon’s and smiled, then leaned in to whisper. “Good thing I didn’t tell her how you look at my breasts to get them right when you draw me naked.”

Sunnydale, outside of Hooghwater, early morning of Friday February 16th

Laura shivered, despite the fact that the California night was cool rather than cold. The whole town got to her. She seemed to want to snarl at everyone, to want to hunt, and to tear into her prey. All the things that she’d been taught not to do. There was something about the place that made her almost… feral.

Added to that was the fact that all her attempts to get to the Meier had so far failed. She’d found out he’d lived in a suburban house, but in spite of the fact that it looked about as defensible as a cardboard box against a horde of Huns, there were defences there. She’d seen several cameras, and sensed the Mountain Ash, and the silver, and some really strong if young wards. She’d felt something like this near the building where she thought he lived in New York, the one she’d not even gotten close to due to all the security. It didn’t feel like the others, a place where someone lived, it felt like a home.

It occurred to her that a man with as many houses as the Meier might not actually have many homes. She thought the one on Revello Drive was a home. And this one, the huge manor in its park, was getting there. There was a wall, with three huge iron gates, heavily warded, the whole held together by silver, Mountain Ash and various crystals, powered by something she’d never felt before. It wasn’t evil, just… odd. She almost thought it flicked her tail playfully once, when she tried to jump the wall. She probably could get through, but it might alert people.

The wards were patchy in places, new and with some gaps she thought she could use. But underneath them there was a core that was old and watchful and set by someone who was both very paranoid and powerful. If the new wards ever merged with the old ones, the place would be practically unassailable.

Under the new wards and on top of the oldest, quirky ones were wards that were scary. The only place that had felt like this had been the one she’d mentally dubbed ‘the black hole’, a Brownstone that had given her the desire to run away as fast as she could. She almost thought she could feel the souls of human sacrifices layered through the wards there. But the Meier would not have a house like that, she was sure.

When the gates were open, the park could be visited by the local citizens, at least until they reached a wooden fence, interspersed with hedges, some old, some newly planted.

There was a series of signs that said that visitors were welcome to use the park, but that the area beyond was private. And the fence was heavily warded as well, and again Mountain Ash was plentiful if not everywhere. She also thought there might be old, now inactive wardstones set in certain strategic places, and in others she felt them lying underground, but whether buried on purpose or forgotten she wasn’t sure.

It made Laura wonder how many werewolves the Meier had to fight in his life. But she had to get to him. She just had to.

*I need to go into the park by day, stay until night and try and sneak in,* she resolved. She needed help. And she knew of nobody else to turn to.

Los Angeles, Penkowski house, morning of Friday February 16th

Lucy was eating pancakes. They were very good pancakes, smothered in syrup and with bits of fruit on them as well. This was her third pancake, the other two having been chocolate chip and caramelised sugar.

She was eating a lot and had to do stretches and exercises. Her parents were trying to get her back up to a healthy weight and muscle tone. She’d been to see three doctors, who’d proposed a diet that was immediately torpedoed by her mom. Because it had no candy. No chocolate. Wonderfully healthy and completely boring, as Celia had called it.

So the doctors had left, recognising an immovable object when they encountered one, and now she had another diet, and the stretches and exercises, but still felt tired and worn-out a lot of the time.

“You okay, Beebs?” Celia asked. She was brushing her hair, preparing for her day at school.

Lucy glared at her. “Don’t call me that!”

“Sure thing, Bibi,” Celia grinned.


“Yes honey?” Charlotte asked.

“She’s doing it again!” Lucy whined.

Charlotte sighed. “I warned you, Celia. Now you leave me no choice.”

“Mom! No!” Celia wailed, almost dropping her brush.

“Celery,” Charlotte told Lucy. “It was Celery.”

“Celery? Seriously?” Lucy started to giggle. “Man, that’s way worse even than Bibi.”

Celia groaned as Harry came in and shook his head. “You’ve got no-one to blame but yourself, Celia.”

Lucy grinned. “And now I can tell all the others, too! Are we going to San Francisco, mom? Are we? Can I go too?”

Charlotte smiled. “Since it’s mostly for you that the whole thing is being organised, yes we will and yes you can. Now finish your pancake.

Lucy nodded, ate and watched while her mother was packing lunches. She would soon be heading off for her interior design shop and Celia to school. Lucy spent a lot of time sleeping on a day bed in her father’s office, which was located in what had once been the attached garage. It was very comforting to listen to him ‘crank his numbers’ as Celia called it.

And Celia was pretty cool, too. If Lucy had suddenly gotten a new sister who got all the attention she probably would have been pretty mad about it. Celia mostly seemed happy to have another sister. Even if she kept saying that it was because Celia would be available to baby-sit, so she wouldn’t have to do all of that alone.

“Mom? Was that concert really just for Aunt Joyce and Uncle Simon?” It felt weird to use the names and the terms for people she’d never met, but there were pictures of them, especially Aunt Joyce, everywhere in the house. And pictures of Buffy and Celia and a whole lot of others, all older than she was. That was a bit annoying, even Kit and Dawn were older than she was.

“Well, for a lot of people in New York dear. But it started out for Uncle Simon’s great-grandfather and his wife, yes,” Charlotte said with a smile.

“Do you think he could get me to sail on the President?” Lucy asked hopefully, talking around a bite of pancakes.

Harry laughed. “We can ask him on Saturday, sweet-pea. And don’t speak with your mouth full.”

Lucy stuck out her tongue. A dribble of chewed pancake fell out of her mouth and on her t-shirt.

“EEEEEUEW!” Celia shuddered. “Gross!”

“I have to agree with Celia, dear. Please don’t do that again,” Charlotte scolded. “And you can stop laughing now, Harry.”

Lucy giggled.

Afternoon of Friday February 16h 1996, Hooghwater

Daphne Moon had said goodbye to Martin, to both Doctors Crane and to Eddie. She'd been taken by a taxi to Seattle- Tacoma, received by an unruffled steward in charge of VIP's, led to the First Class lounge, guided on board after the plane had landed, then served chilled drinks and really, really good food. And then she'd landed on LAX and had been whisked away by deferential employees to a separate exit, her measly luggage carried by another unruffled steward, guided into a black and very expensive smelling and looking BMW with full leather upholstery and a small bar with refreshments. Her favourite sandwiches, her favourite drinks.

Daphne was really starting to get worried. She knew that whoever she was visiting was powerful in the magical world, that there was a strong, young Dreamwalker waiting at the end of her journey. She'd gotten used to people with a lot of money. Both the Crane brothers were wealthy by her standards. But the amount of wealth being shown here was considerably beyond that. Her eyes were drawn to the enormous wrought iron gates in the solid, high wall, a painted set of arms in the centre. Topped by a gilded M.

The gates swung open as the car approached and closed as soon as they were through it. There was a tree lined driveway and she could see the roofs of several large buildings through the dark glass of the windows, with breaks in the trees showing where roads led to them.

Daphne shivered as the car drew up in front of a large, white plastered house. It was the sort of house she'd only ever seen in movies, she didn't think that there were real places like this, not owned by actual people.

The driver got out and closed his door, then opened hers and stood waiting. Daphne clasped her bag and stepped out on wobbly legs.

“We have arrived, Miss Moon,” the driver said in slightly accented English. “Hooghwater House.”

He waited while she mounted the steps and rang the bell with a pale, trembling finger. The door was opened by a very tall, distinguished looking African-American gentleman.

Daphne smiled and grasped hold of the tatters of her self-confidence. “Hello, I'm Daphne Moon. I was sent here to help train your daughter?”

The man lifted an eyebrow. “I fear you are mistaken, Miss Moon. I am Miller, the Estate Steward. Miss Buffy is waiting with her parents.”

Daphne felt the tatters of her self-confidence fall away into confetti and followed the imposing Estate Steward deeper into the huge house. A set of swinging doors led into a vast hall, dominated by a sweeping staircase, the black and white marble blocked floor gleaming in the light.

Daphne gulped. Miller led her into a passage at the back, past a high set of double doors and through what Daphne felt was most of the depth of the house and opened a door. There were three people in the room, a blonde woman with blue-green eyes, a blonde girl of about fifteen or sixteen in a jogging suit and trainers whose moss-green eyes held too much knowledge for her age, and a man with brown, grey-speckled hair and a slightly amused expression.

“Miss Moon,” he greeted her, his baritone rich and vibrant.

Daphne’s grip on her bag tore the strap and it fell, scattering the contents all over the hardwood parquet floor. She closed her eyes as one of her sanitary napkins slid all the way, to end up at the feet of the man she was sure was going to send her right back to Seattle.

The girl winced. “Man, that happened to me once. Here, let me help you.”

Daphne watched as the three people who had been waiting and, she was sure, ready to judge her helped to hunt for her widely scattered belongings.

The man frowned at her as he placed a bottle of Tylenol into the bag. “I can refer you to some excellent gynaecologists who might be able to help with cramps, Miss Moon.”

Daphne had been sure she couldn’t be more embarrassed. She wasn’t so sure now.

“Simon, stop thinking like a doctor,” the older woman chided, but with a smile. “I'm Joyce Summers. This is Simon Meier, my fiancé and this is Buffy Summers, our daughter.”

“Yeah, you're supposed to be teaching me,” Buffy chirped in. “Do you know anything about weird dreams about me in other places?”

Daphne blinked. “Other places?”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, like, looking at our house in LA and everybody being dead. And the one where I’m sitting at school and talking to Willow and her not being my sister. And the creepy one where Mom’s singing songs at home about Papa shooting himself and not knowing who he is.”

Joyce opened her mouth to explain, but Daphne was not looking thoughtful in the slightly stunned ‘I don't understand a word she's saying’ sort of way, but rather in the ‘Oh shit’ sort of way.

Daphne took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay. I’ve only ever heard of this sort of thing. I mean, this involves serious levels of power.”

She smiled a little. “I’d say Great Spirit Line, but I there isn’t one called Summers, I know that.”

“Warren,” Joyce said succinctly.

Daphne whimpered. “Warren? Oh, bollocks!”

“I hope that was an expression of surprise and not distaste? And kindly mind your language, there's impressionable children around,” Joyce reproved.

Buffy guiltily tried to look less interested.

Daphne whimpered again, then straightened her back and closed her eyes for a second. “Okay, a Warren witch Dreamwalker. Any other surprises I should be aware about?”

“Other than that this town is built on a Hellmouth and there's seven other children in the house, all of them with at least some magical ability? And later tonight we'll be taking you to San Francisco to meet the Warren Matriarch and help during a ritual on the Nexus there. Oh, and Buffy is a Slayer,” Joyce took Buffy's hand as she added the last bit.

Daphne closed her eyes. “Manchester City,” she said softly and with great feeling.

Simon laughed.

Joyce pressed a button that was set by the stairs in the hall and Daphne gave her a questioning look, as a tinkling of bells was heard all over the house.

“The house is far too big for me to call the children. There’s bells in all their rooms and some other strategic places,” Joyce smiled.

There was a tromping of feet and Joyce’s mouth fell open. Jenny came down the steps, in a green and black check skirt, white shirt, black jacket with green beading and Mary Janes with green socks. Behind her came Xander, dressed in a black suit with a tie, then Buffy, dressed like Jenny, then Willow, then Kendra and then Kit and Dawn. They lined up perfectly and stood stock-still.

Simon took a whistle out of his pocket and blew on it. Jenny stepped forward. “Jenny, Miss Moon.’

Daphne gulped.

The whistle rang out and Xander stepped forward. “Alexander, Miss Moon,”

The gulps became more and more audible as the others repeated the actions, all the way down to Dawn. The loudest gulp was reserved for Rowan, however, who popped on a large screen in the hallway dressed just like her sister.

Joyce crossed her arms and glared at Simon. “Was this your idea?”

There was a snigger. Jenny stepped forward. “No, it was all of us. Miller provided the whistle.”

Joyce shook her head at the estate steward. “Et tu, Miller?”

Miller smiled slightly. “Well, I did take the liberty of having it all filmed, ma’am.”

Buffy gasped. “You said you wouldn’t!” she glared at Simon.

Simon raised an eyebrow. “I said I wouldn’t tell them to film it. But being well-trained, they knew my desires anyway.”

Joyce shook her head. “I’ve created a nine-headed monster.”

“Cheer up mom!” Rowan chirped. “Once you’ve got two more, this will all seem like a wonderful dream!”

Daphne whimpered.

Sunnydale Airport, evening of Friday 16th of February

“A private jet?” Daphne squeaked, clutching her new bag, a gift from Dr Meier.

Buffy gave her a shoulder hug. “I know. Awesome, isn't it? And we're going to get a couple of suites at the hotel again. I think Papa is going to sell the mansion there, or donate it, or whatever, but he doesn't think it does much for the family holdings. It's going to be a bitch to do, 'cause it's entailed.”

Daphne bit her lip. “Well, at least it should offer the privacy needed to assess your abilities and start your training.”

Buffy sighed. “Oh, okay.”

“Now the first thing I want you to do is not to think about pink rhinos,” Daphne instructed. “I want you to try that while we get on the plane.”

Behind them Xander snorted. Daphne turned and glared. “You think that’s funny? The ability to control the mind, conscious, unconscious or subconscious is one of the most powerful tools an adept has, and for one like Buffy, with our talent, possibly the most necessary.”

“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s just, I was wondering if you’re going to make her strip to her skivvies and tickle her with an eagle feather,” Xander chortled.

“What? What are you talking about?” Daphne blinked.

Buffy sniggered. “So that was part of your training? Eagle feather tickling?” then she sobered. “Did it work?”

Xander shrugged. “Well, I think I’ll probably withstand a tickle attack from all you girls now. Grandad and Col’tec said that was probably a good life skill to have anyway.”

Daphne frowned. “What are you being trained for?”

Xander grinned at her goofily. “Heyoka.”

Daphne whimpered.

“They’re up to something,” Joyce whispered, looking at where Willow and Rowan were in deep conversation, occasionally throwing furtive, guilty glances at their parents.

Simon nodded. “They look like Liz and Ellie when they were planning to put hair dye in Jed’s shampoo bottle.”

Joyce snorted. “Pictures?”

“Yes. Of course that had to be the morning Abbey was out of shampoo and grabbed Jed’s…” Simon grinned.

Joyce shook her head. “And you knew you were planning something?” Then her eyes narrowed at his expression. “Where did they get the dye?”

Simon coughed. “Our twins are up to something, maybe we should concentrate on that?”

Joyce shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“The Ritz-Carlton?” Daphne whimpered.

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, the Mansion isn’t big enough to house us all. At least, it hasn’t got enough bathrooms. Uncle Victor was talking about adding some, maybe an extension at the back over the kitchen or something, to add another room for Paige too. It’s a bit dangerous for them to live apart. Aunt Penny wants them to learn to use their talents first.”

“Dangerous? Why?” Daphne asked.

“They’re the Charmed Ones,” Buffy said with a grin. “Plus one.”

Daphne whimpered again.

Willow and Rowan faced each other in their room. “We have to, Row,” Willow said firmly. “I mean, think about it. It’s no longer just me, us, and the guys. We no longer have to find out how the stove works, learn how to bake cookies, make grocery lists. We have people we can talk to and ask and they’ll help.”

Rowan looked uncertain. “B-but they’ll go nuts. I mean, it’s one of the laws! Capital l, capital punishment! And they wouldn’t execute us. We’re apprentices, so they’d kill dad instead! And I’d rather suffer the bad dreams forever, than put dad at risk.”

“Me too, but that’s magic. This isn’t, its tech, but it’s dangerous and I don’t want to do it alone. I want to be sure it works, before I have a houseplant and not a sister. So we need to talk to people,” Willow answered.

Rowan frowned. “You said people, not mom and dad.”

Willow looked slightly ashamed. “Because they’d freak, and I’m already way, way bored with being grounded. We need to talk to others first, so they can help us convince them.”

Rowan let out a puff of virtual breath. “Okay. What did you have in mind?”

Halliwell Mansion, San Francisco, morning of Saturday 17th of February

“It’s pretty! This is where gran was born? And do I get to meet her now?” Lucy had slept most of the journey by plane and taxi, and all night long as well. Now her energy was entirely focused upon the red house on the hill in front of her.

“That’s why we’re here, squirt,” Celia said with a smile. “Or is your memory that bad?”

Lucy stuck her tongue out. Celia did it back. Charlotte, seated between them, let out a sigh.

There was a group of people waiting at the top of the steps. Lucy gulped when she saw them and also winced at the steps. She knew that she’d have to stop halfway up and rest, and that was going to make her look like a wimpy little girl.

The cab door opened and her father picked her up and lifted her in his arms and started up the steps.

“Dad! Put me down!”

“No. I could see you tremble when you walked to the cab, Lucy,” Harry said in the implacable voice even Celia didn’t dare disobey.

Lucy sighed and wriggled a little to get more comfortable. When they reached the top of the stairs, the group of people had gone inside and her father carried her in. There were an older man and woman there, eyes shining with tears.

“Oh Harry, she’s even more beautiful than her pictures,” the woman said, putting a hand on Lucy’s hair.

“I’m not beautiful; I look like a shrimp with hair!” Lucy complained.

Charlotte laughed from the door. “That seems to be the only thing that Celia and Lucy agree upon.”

“Yeah, she’s absolutely hideous,” Celia said solemnly, then glared at Xander. “And if you dare make a joke about it, I’ll float you out over the street and drop you. On your head, though that probably wouldn’t make any difference either for your appearance or your brain.”

The older man laughed. “Ah, but then he’d get a better Indian name. We can’t have that.”

“Better Indian name?” Lucy asked confused. “We have Indian names? Why didn’t you tell me we have Indian names!” she turned to her father.

“Because you’ve been asleep a lot,” Harry told her. “Now these are your grandparents, your mother’s parents, grandpa James and Gran Cecelia. Your eldest aunt, Clarice-”

“Woah, you look just like that picture of that lady that Charlie said he was gonna work for!” Lucy frowned. “She’s a Clarice, too. Ummm…”

“Starling?” Clarice said with a resigned smile. “Do you think Charlie would like an autograph?”

Lucy’s smile vanished. “He’d have loved one. But he died.”

A girl stepped forward, her hair part black, part auburn. “I know. He was my little brother. I’m Evy, and that’s my mom, your Aunt Arlene.”

“You knew Charlie?” Lucy asked, surprised.

Evy shook her head. “I never met him. But I’m sure you can tell me lots about him. I want to know everything about him.”

Lucy smiled shyly. “I can do that.”

They’d put Lucy to bed for a few hours to let her get some strength back, before the ritual at noon and they sat around the living room, talking softly.

“She’s awfully thin,” Penelope shivered. “It wasn’t anything that those people did?”

Harry shook his head. “All they did was to indoctrinate her to think that she has to serve her country. I’m not sure if we can keep her from going into the Military.”

“Something wrong with the Military, Harry?” Arlene asked archly.

“Other than being satanic servants of the Military-industrial complex? Nothing whatsoever,” Harry teased. “No, but I’d like her to have some fun as well. I’m afraid they’ve drilled the fun out of her.”

“I think she knows how to have fun,” Dawn piped up.

Kit nodded in agreement. “And can she really teleport? That’s awesome!”

Dawn frowned. “Why can’t I do magic? It’s not fair!”

“Because Lucy needed to do it very badly and you never had to,” Penelope said. “I doubt they never hit her. I just don’t think they were able to, after a while.”

Harry took Charlotte’s hand and that was answer enough. Dawn sat very quietly until she ran to her mother and crawled onto her lap.

Ruth Blenkinsop had lived in the house at 1327 Prescott Street since 1909, the year of her birth. That wasn’t really true, it had been 223 Meier Street first, but that was named after the developer who’d owned the land and sold the plots and whose company had made a lot of money designing, building and selling the houses. She’d been born there and the only way she was going to move was when she got much smaller, very permanent accommodations. It wouldn’t be much longer, she’d spent a lot of time in hospital lately, and what little money she had went on care. There would be nothing at all to leave to distant cousins.

It was a good house, even if it had become a little run down with her fixed income no longer being able to cover the cost of maintenance, food and medical bills. That nice boy who’d been helping fix up Penny’s house had done a few odd jobs and Ruth was sure he was sweet on Piper and had done it partially because Piper asked him.

When she was a teenager and a young woman, she’d babysat the first generation of Halliwells born at the manor, Penelope and her brother and sister. And she’d had some words for Priscilla as well, raising a child in a speakeasy! Suffice it to say, insofar as Penelope had been living in San Francisco and not hot-trotting it with her parents in her early years, her time had been spent mostly at 1327, not 1329.

She’d loved those children almost as much as her own. The fact that young Pippa had disappeared at age fifteen and Gordon had died so young, was as big a shock to her as it had been to the family itself.

She’d married, and continued living in the house, taking caring of her aging parents until they died there, and helping Priscilla and Gordon through the loss of Cecelia and then afterwards Gordon. Then she’d stood by Penny as she worked through her grief when Allen died, and helped raise Patty (and had always hoped that one of her Twins would marry her. Ideally Penny and Allen would have had two daughters, of course.)

But both her sons had died in the Vietnam War and her husband had died of grief. And then Patty had drowned and Victor, who was a good boy whatever Penny might say, had left as well, and she’d hung onto the three girls almost as hard as Penny had. There was nobody but some distant cousins who even knew she was alive.

And now she sat watching the empty street. Earlier that morning a cavalcade of taxis had dropped off lots people in front of 1329, where there seemed to be quite a gathering going. She’d sat on her wicker chair in her front room and watched the scene through the bay windows, her gnarled hands on her cane.

She’d looked a little askance when Penny grabbed a woman in a hug. Penelope wasn’t all that demonstrative.

Now she could see them at the foot of the steps up to her house, the other woman said something, Penelope answered sharply, then started to drag her up the steps. She didn’t bother ringing the doorbell, just opened the door and came in. “Ruth? I’ve got some people you’ll want to see.”

Ruth looked up. “Do you now? And who might they be?”

Penelope drew the woman into the room and put her in front of Ruth, who gazed up at her.

She was in her late fifties or so, Ruth would guess, and looked distinctly uncomfortable and guilty. “H-hello Mrs Blenkinsop.”

Ruth rose, very slowly. She’d been very tall for a woman in her day and age, and she was still taller than both the younger women.

“Philippa Cecelia Johnson,” she said. “Where have you been, young lady?”

“Thank you,” Cecelia whispered. “I didn’t realise she was still alive.”

Penny shook her head. “I didn’t just do it for you. She was in hospital when you were here before. Cancer. She needs something to fight for.”

Cecelia let out a gurgling laugh. “Well, she met a whole new generation of Halliwells.”

Penny laughed. “I know the feeling.”

“Does she know? About…” Cecelia waved a hand and Penelope snorted.

“Anyone who doubts for a second that Buffy is your granddaughter would just have been convinced by that. Yes. She does. Apparently mother did her first ‘magic trick’ for Auntie Ruth. And apparently so did we,” Penelope added sheepishly.

“Did you tell her about Gordon?” Cecelia asked, after a moment of laughter.

“Yes, and about Willow being his granddaughter. She was very pleased,” Penelope smiled.

“I wish there was something more we could do for her,” Cecelia fretted.

“Simon said he’ll buy her house, and fix it up and let her live in it for free,” Penelope shook her head. “He says we may need it later, when we start spreading out and the girls start having babies.”

“Having babies? What haven’t you told me, Penny?” Cecelia asked, grinning.

“Well, Piper and Leo went on a date without getting attacked by a demon, Prue is sort-of dating her high school sweetheart Andy, and apparently Phoebe is in an experimental phase,” Penelope smiled. “Paige… Paige is still getting used to the fact she’s part of this family again.”

Cecelia nodded. “Well, that’s what might be expected. Come on, let’s go see if everything is ready for the rituals.”

Lucy plucked at her white dress and looked at her mother. “Why can’t I wear this at home? It’s pretty!”

“You can wear it at home, dear. You won’t get an actual robe until you’re fully grown. This will double very well as a dress,” Charlotte smiled. “We’re Warrens, honey. Ever practical, ever thrifty.”

“And belligerent as pack of Irish on the creature,” Harry grinned. Charlotte poked him while Lucy giggled.

Penelope took Lucy’s hand. “Now dear, I’m just going to introduce you to the Nexus. Put your hand in the well.”

Lucy looked at the hole in the ground, now lined with salvaged and aged bricks, and the small, narrow staircase that led down, the hole lined with cubbyholes for wine. A hatch at the bottom had been opened and a white light shone out of it.

“Shouldn’t I go down more?”

“No, the nexus will feel you and reach out. It’s quite curious in some ways,” Penelope smiled wryly. “Not really alive, but… More than just a pool of power.”

Lucy nodded and held out her hand. There was a soft glow and then a tendril of light reached up and gently touched Lucy’s hand.

Willow smiled at Buffy, who grinned back, remembering their own ‘introduction’ just before their first ritual in the basement.

Lucy started to giggle. “It feels like a puppy! Licking my hand!”

Cecelia laughed. “It is dear. But when someone takes control of it who is evil, it becomes the nastiest pit-bull in existence.”

Lucy looked at the white light. “I don’t think it would like that. And I wouldn’t either.”

“Then let’s make sure it never happens. Please sit on the stool, dear,” Penelope led Lucy to the wooden stool and helped her sit, then took a position near the Nexus, Cecelia facing her. The others gathered around in loose circles, as marked by a few chalk symbols on the floor.

“Powers of the earth, goddess, mother, we beseech thee! Grant of your strength to fill this empty vessel, grant of your strength for this the child of our line!”

Penelope called out.

“For the love we bear her, for the destiny she must carry, we ask your beneficence!” Cecelia added.

“If you can help, I’d be very grateful!” Lucy called out.

A pillar of white light had been flowing up from the nexus and suddenly seemed to stutter, then flowed faster. It circled Lucy a few times, before splitting into thinner, tentacle like filaments that struck the girl in many places at the same time. Lucy gasped as the rest of the circle stiffened in shock.

“It tickles!” Lucy giggled.

The light pulsed, slowly, softly and Lucy kept giggling, then the tentacles faded and the pillar withdrew into the well. Lucy shivered and then yawned. “That was fun.”

Harry walked up to her and helped her stand, then lifted her when her knees buckled. “Are you alright, sweet-pea?”

“Yeah. It was really happy to see me and to help. It said… It said the Panty fillers were so serious,” Lucy let loose another jaw-cracking yawn.

“Panty fillers?” Penelope asked. But Lucy had fallen asleep against her father’s shoulder.

“It talked to her…” Cecelia whispered. “Who else did it talk to?”

Rather diffidently, all of the younger generation put their hands up.

“Buffy? It talked to you? What did it say? Why didn’t you tell us?” Joyce asked anxiously.

Buffy shrugged. “It seemed kinda private, you know. It was… polite. Curious. A bit childish. It sort of giggled in my mind.”

“Yeah, same for me. It, well it didn’t tell me anything, just gave me images you know. That things would be alright,” Xander shrugged. “I thought everybody had it and it just wasn’t talked about.”

Penelope snorted. “After you’ve put Lucy to bed, it’s time for a conversation or two. Anyone have any idea about the Panty Fillers?”

“Errr…” Piper held up a hand. “That’s about us. The five of us. I think. ‘Cause I don’t think that Lucy knows the word Pentaphyllon.”

“Heck I don’t know the word Pentaphyllon,” Xander joked. “I’m with Lucy on that one!”

“Solomon’s Seal,” Cecelia whispered. “Well now… Isn’t that interesting.”

Penelope let out a deep breath. “Harry, put Lucy in my room. After that, it’s time to talk.”

“Well Rupert? Got it all down?” Penelope asked Giles, who’d been furiously writing, alongside Jenny.

Both nodded. “I think we did,” Jenny answered. “But I made a recording to make sure.”

“What do you think it means?” Penelope asked anxiously, looking protectively at her granddaughters.

Giles looked at the assorted impressions and thoughts that the younger generation, from Prue down to Dawn, had of their introduction to the Nexus. “I haven’t a bloody clue.”

“Rupert! Language!” all the adults chorused, even as Dawn and Kit giggled.

Afternoon of Saturday 17th of February

Penelope was watching as Jenny was kneading dough with Piper and Cecelia. Clarice was hanging over a pan of simmering pasta sauce base, while Penelope herself was working on the salad. That was about it for the room in the kitchen.

Buffy was hopeless at cooking. According to her mother, that had been the case even before she was called as a Slayer.

Xander was actually fairly good, but had a tendency to add too much salt for everybody else and to want to batter and deep fry everything.

Willow and Rowan had grand visions of making magnificent dinners, that invariably ended up being sandwiches with a sprig of parsley, since there were so many other interesting things in the world.

Kendra was able to cook, but hers was mostly simple fare that would do well on campfires.

Kit and Dawn were at that age where they added ketchup to practically everything and sugar to everything that didn’t get ketchupped. Lucy wanted to add chocolate to everything.

But Jenny wanted to learn how to cook more than cup noodles and skittles. And Cecelia seemed determined to teach her.

The door opened and Willow snuck in. It was an exceptionally furtive movement, for which the word snuck was extremely suited and might even have been coined.

“Piper? I really, really need to talk to gran and Aunt Penny and Jenny alone?” Willow’s eyes begged her cousin.

Piper gave her a look, then pursed her lips, shook her head and stayed at the kneading table. “And I think I really, really need to be here.”

Willow opened her mouth, closed it, closed her eyes, and sighed. “Okay, everybody will probably find out soon enough.”

Cecelia frowned. “What have you and Rowan done dear?”

“We haven’t so much done anything as… Explored possibilities,” Willow said, after some thought.

“What possibilities?” Penelope asked. “Is this to do with David?”

Willow blushed. “No! It has nothing to do with Dave! Well, I suppose he could help, but I’m not sure Row would like it,” she finished dubiously.

“So what are you talking about?” Cecelia asked.

Clarice let out a sigh. “I think I know. Or can guess.”

Willow took a deep breath. “Rowan needs to get rid of the memories of what that bastard Moloch did to her. Not so much that he did things, but… Well, she’s got a computer for a memory, better recall than even I have. She remembers, she relives everything. She’s a computer with feelings who has nightmares she can’t shut off. She can’t sleep without someone there. She’s all cheerful when there’s people around, but I’ve heard her wake up screaming, I’ve felt her wake up screaming.”

Penelope had been tearing the head of lettuce to shreds as Willow spoke. “Marcel called me, and said he was worried about her continued sanity. Jenny, you know more about computers than I do, do you think it is possible?”

Jenny frowned in thought. “Well, with a normal computer you can delete the files and then there are ways to make sure they’re really gone. That way they wouldn’t even stay in her subconscious mind. Does she really want them entirely gone?”

“I would,” Cecelia said quietly. “For all the love I bear for Clarice, if I could get rid of the memories of how she was... conceived, I would.”

Penny winced. “And Marcel... Marcel says that once after he had a session with Rowan... We're trained to be dispassionate. But he couldn't be.”

There was a tiny sob from Willow's shoulder. Penelope reached out and suddenly the sob cut off.

The monitor Victor had hung in a corner switched on and Rowan appeared on the screen. “How did you do that?” Rowan asked in a tremulous voice. “Can you just reach into the computer with telekinesis? Like mom can with her power?”

Penelope smiled. “No sweetheart. I can use telekinesis to type on the laptop in the other room and I learned how to type blind years ago. ‘Penny hugs Rowan’.”

Rowan chuckled through her sniffles. “I wish I could do that, really, physically.”

“Your father is doing everything he can to help. Everything in his case is more than some medium sized countries can manage,” Penelope said. She looked around the room. “Okay. From a psychological point of view, I'd say that Rowan wanting these memories gone is entirely healthy and understandable. Clarice? Second opinion?”

Clarice gave her a look. “I'm a profiler because I suck at the whole patient treatment thing, Aunt Penny.”

Rowan and Willow giggled again and Piper coughed. Clarice sighed. “Get rid of them. Everything, even the tiniest detail, she remembers. Every time she's afraid, Moloch wins. He was the Corruptor, after all. If we can remove the corruption from Rowan, that would be a victory over him and I'd say very good for her mental health.”

Piper held up her hands. “I'm just here to give the hugs.”

Cecelia smiled. “We're all here for that. Well, you’ve got our support, dear. Now we've got to convince your parents.”

“Do you think they'll agree?” Rowan asked anxiously.

“If Jenny can show that it can be done without endangering you, I think it should be possible to convince your father,” a voice came from the door.

Willow spun on her heel, to see Joyce standing in the doorway, looking pale. “Sorry, I was hanging over the sink in the utility room and heard everything.”

Willow gulped. “Mom, I... We...”

Joyce reached out and drew her into a hug. On the screen a blue avatar did the same with Rowan. “I love you both so much. And I'm not angry at all, so stop worrying, you didn't do anything wrong. You analysed the problem and when it came to the point when you knew you shouldn't go on without talking to someone responsible about it, you did it. I'm so proud of the two of you.”

“We didn't go to you,” Rowan whispered.

“I think I would probably have flipped, if I hadn't had the buffer of hearing the others react,” Joyce said honestly. “Thinking about anyone messing with Rowan's memory scares me. I wouldn't have listened long enough for the two of you to make your point and then you'd probably have not wanted to try again.”

“But dad?” Willow whispered. “He would have listened, wouldn't he?”

Joyce winced. “Mental magic is one of your father's blind spots. The integrity of the mind, no matter how damaged… Well, let's say he'll take some convincing.”

Willow looked at her dubiously. “So... We didn't screw up?”

Joyce laughed softly and kissed her hair, again the avatar did the same on the screen. “No, you did very well. Now we have to find out if what we think must be done is even possible, without hurting Rowan.”

“What about Hazel?” Willow asked daringly.

Joyce laughed. “Well, we do have a group of strong magic users with a vested interest in finding her and a number of her blood relations around here. That was one of the things your father wanted to do.”

Willow looked sheepish. “Being too impatient again?”

Joyce sighed. “You wouldn't be our Willow if you weren't impatient. But you've got to realise that it needs both you and Rowan and someone who has touched enough dark magic not to be overwhelmed to cast the spell. Looking for souls... Isn't nice magic.”

“And daddy can do it because he had to do bad things,” Willow sighed. “But he might not be able to after the ritual to stop the interdiction.”

“Yes,” Penelope smiled. “And that was why we didn't tell you, because we didn't want to disappoint you.”

Willow buried her head in her mother's shoulder. “I've been acting like a spoiled brat, haven't I? Wanting everything? Now, now, now?”

Rowan winced on the screen. “Oy vey, we've been right little bitches.”

Joyce laughed. “Well, I wouldn't go that far. But I was getting pretty close to sitting you both down and adding an extra week to the grounding, without even phone calls from Dave. Or that online game you like so much and think we don't know about, Rowan.”

Willow looked up in horror, as did Rowan. The others started to laugh.

Daphne looked on as Buffy went through a series of stretches on the living room carpet. “Planning something?”

Buffy shrugged. “Every time I've been away for a weekend, the vamps swarm like cockroaches. I might as well make sure I can take them without spraining a muscle.”

“So you go out hunting vampires on your own?” Daphne asked, shocked despite knowing what Buffy was.

“Well... Not so much alone anymore. Kendra was Called through some freakish shit-”

There was a cough from the couch and Simon looked over the top of his book.

Buffy smirked at him and corrected herself in an accent that was remarkably similar to her future step-father's. “Some weird occurrences that were really quite upsetting.”

Simon smiled at her, shaking his head.

“What are we talking about here?” Daphne asked suspiciously.

“A young Dreamwalker, forced to over extend himself while in a coma and with the power of the Hellmouth running through him, so his perceptions of other people's fears became reality,” Simon said succinctly.

Daphne whimpered, throwing him a look, closed her eyes, seemingly looking for words. “Oh, Arsenal!”

Simon snorted and went back to his book.

There was a wooden construction right over the pit of the Nexus and Simon was lying on top of it, looking at Penelope and Danielle.

“Joyce? Charlotte?”

“At the distance Aloysius specified. With Harry, Celia, Lucy, Kendra, Kit and Dawn. This is a really nasty spell, Simon,” Danielle said worriedly.

“I know. Happily I updated my will,” Simon answered solemnly.

“Don't make jokes like that,” Danielle snapped.

“I'm not joking. Aloysius said he thought there was a twenty percent chance I might die. He's not the kind of man to understate a risk,” Simon closed his eyes. “And if we don't do it, he estimates the neurological damage will kill me within the year. So here we are.”

“Such a cheerful man, our Aloysius,” Penny muttered.

“I always thought you’d make an interesting couple,” Simon smirked. “He's in very good shape for a man his age.”

“He's a hundred and sixty years old, Simon,” Penny pointed out. “That's inching into geological age.”

“Are you sure you want to do this, Simon?” Danielle whispered. “There has to be another way.”

Simon sighed and took her hand. “Albus Dumbledore gave as his considered opinion that it is a horrid ritual, but he doubts anything else will work, Lucius thinks the same. Severus thinks I'm an idiot either way.”

“Aloysius may have his dark side, Danni. But he's always gotten on well with Simon,” Penny pointed out. “And if he'd wanted to kill him, he's had many better opportunities to do it than now. And if he’d wanted control of rule the Concordat he could have taken over when Simon XIII was paralysed when he was a lot younger.”

Danielle sighed. “I know. He's been loyal and a true friend. And I suppose a beacon of hope, that someone with his background could become such a firm pillar of the side of the light.”

“Well, enough about Old Warlock Boy,” Penny clapped her hands. “Let's get the others in here and get you back on your feet.”

The potion had been difficult, if not truly intricate, to make but thankfully required little time to prepare. Simon knew certain potions took weeks or months, some even years, to brew. It also tasted like salty mud with an after-taste of death and made him feel light-headed.

That would explain why he felt the energy tingle down his spine in a way he'd never noticed before, as if it was a curious child trying to count his vertebrae, gently but impatiently.

Everybody was chanting, in descant to Penelope and Danielle, who were intoning the main spell.

He closed his eyes. He could feel the separate streams of power as they touched him. Penelope, old and certain in her power, a broad-based pillar of blue power that reached into the sky and came back in an arch to sink into the earth once more, an unending circle of strength.

Danielle, red and white intertwined, experienced but searching for the balance within her that she'd lost with the stroke and only partly regained at the monolith.

Cecelia and James, strong in their bond, James' chuckling yellow-brown brook of power streaming and gurgling in odd waterfalls around the blue pillar that was Cecelia. They were deeply worried on behalf of their daughter, and more about him than he expected.

Clarice, a lighter, more wavering blue, deeply worried, uncertain, clinging to the solid brown bedrock that was Patrick.

Daphne, surprised to be here, to be invited to this intimate ritual, quirky, slight, thin, pink and rose, thin tendrils of power reaching tremulously into the sky. Thrilled, honoured and awed to stand in the circle and determined to do her best, even if her powers were dwarfed by those of the others.

Jenny and Rupert tied in a double helix, with Jenny glowing bright blue around Giles' brown-grey tweedy core. The worry in Jenny's magic was almost as deep as Clarice's, which surprised him.

Xander, yellow ripples flashing, a younger, even springier version of James, moving and curling around each other, as if looking for their own anchor to attach themselves to. Simon could almost feel, almost see who it would be. Xander was scared, frightened that something would go wrong, that he would do something wrong, that his power would make things go wrong. That was why James had insisted he be there, no matter how much Xander protested.

Buffy. Buffy was... Extraordinary. There was a pillar of deep green, deep glowing, intertwined completely like a woven rope or a rococo pillar, with sparkling red-rose. He could feel her tension, her fear that he would die, that her mother might break if that happened, that the newfound family and security would end today. And she wasn't going to let it happen. Not on her watch. She was the last line of defence and she knew it.

He could understand now, seeing that strength, that inner core of fire and determination, that prophecies had been made about her three thousand years ago.

Willow was like a walk through the Painted Desert, the Dakota Badlands, Mount Washington and the Grand Canyon at the same time. All quirky and inquisitive and with deep, untapped reserves of power that shot up into vast towering cliffs and came down again and formed plains, canyons. Her personal power was probably greater than any else in the circle, but it was dwarfed by the four sisters in their merge. He could feel her heart beat faster with fear, and yet with a determination as big as Buffy's not to let anything happen to him, but not as focused, not as patient. He couldn't sense the core of her, as if it was masked, or hidden or unfocused.

With her was a much weaker mindscape, a small ravine next to Willow's Grand Canyon, but with echoes of the same strength. And yet the same ambiguous feeling hung about Rowan as around her older sister. Except for the fear and the love for him, that was very clear.

The four pillars that were Prue, Piper, Phoebe and Paige were formed almost into a single one, the blue shades of their power melding into one vast column that towered into the sky to an almost unimaginable height. It was greater than anyone else’s in the circle. Their various powers were subsumed into the whole of their personal merge, vibrant and linked to the Nexus, like Penelope's but not turning back to close the circle again, showing the difference between the older, experienced witch, earthed and aware of her limitations and her exuberant granddaughters, exultant and cocky in their new-found power.

He could feel the anxious presence of Patty, floating by her daughters, keeping watch.

And hovering at the outer edges, there lay a vast and deep reservoir of power a deep-blue green ocean, the colour of the Arctic seas. A river of power ran to Buffy, but it was clear who was now Alley's primary connection to the world. A much greater force ran up, towards where he knew Kendra was, sitting on a worn couch in Ruth Blenkinsop’s living room.

He smiled slightly as the power rocked him, the vast strength incongruous with the tiny tap that felt as if a kitten was trying to play. He could feel interest and a hesitant little sliver of love and care, and fear. The fear was strange. It, like many things he had felt so far, needed thinking about. He wondered if he would remember it after the ritual.

Penelope spoke the final word of the incantation. Bands of energy, dark and pulsing with sickly green shimmered into view, wrapped all around him. And he screamed.

Buffy felt the presence, almost like a shadow on her senses. When she wasn't in Sunnydale being bombarded by enormous and powerful evil from the Hellmouth, she was much better at sensing various things. Vampires, demons, warlocks. Part demons. Witches. There was a whole world of the supernatural out there and most of it apparently believed quite happily in live and let live, or didn't even know they had the power. She'd be going out on patrol later and would try and find out what some of the things she'd sensed were. She knew some of them were evil and of the ick and would have to die, but she really looked forward to meeting some more nice demons. Like the Kirby's.

She wasn't a master at using her senses, but she thought she could make out gradations of evil. She'd had a tour of the house and felt the presence that seemed to hover anxiously in the attic, which had turned out to be her cousin Patty.

But this presence was different. It was hovering and watchful, like Patty. But it surged with power and anger and there was an edge to it, dark and harsh and tainted. It didn't seem hostile, though. It didn't make a move, or even look ready to interfere. And it was within the wards and that had to mean something. And Patty was hovering near it, and even if she was nervous and frightened, she wasn't acting and Buffy thought that had to mean something too.

She kept throwing power into the merge, hoping that she would get it back before night fell, because she wanted to patrol and beat things up. She felt an answering niggle in her mind and knew that Kendra and Alley wanted to do the same.

She could feel the bands of magic around Simon, pressing and pulling on his muscles, straining against his own magic, feeding on it, like a leech.

The bands were weakening as the merge pushed and pulled on it and she saw one break, then another.

Simon convulsed and she hurried forward, prying his teeth apart and jamming a handkerchief folded around a piece of wood into his mouth. He bit down on it as another band broke.

Willow stepped forward, her hands balled into fists, glaring at the dark magic. Buffy took a slight step back. There was something implacable and dangerous in Willow's eyes.

Willow held out her arm, uncurling her fist, touching Buffy's arm. Buffy felt power surge into her, wild, chaotic, unbalanced. Then it poured through her and into Simon, far more steady, leaving behind a fount of strength she could use herself.

The final bindings snapped. Simon's spine arched, he let out a whimper and then he fell back.

Buffy felt the dark presence approach, and readied to fight it, somehow. She saw Simon's sweaty hair that had fallen into his face being gently smoothed back and the presence disappeared.

Buffy blinked. “Woah. What the heck just happened? Willow? What did you do?”

Willow looked guilty and bit her lip. “I... Someone talked to me.”

“Talked to you?” Penelope asked sharply. “Who? What did they say?”

“Dad's father. He said 'Less is more’”, Willow whispered. “He didn't want Dad to die.”

“What?” Penelope frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Interdictions get stronger both with the caster and the one trying to break it. A strong adept will die sooner than a weak one,” Willow explained. “If he'd broken the interdiction in dad's body, dad would've died within hours,” she swallowed.

“And he told you this?” Danielle looked suspicious.

“Well, all the magic chain things are gone and he's sleeping,” Buffy said quietly. “And he's been here for a while and he didn't hurt anyone.”

“He’s been what!” Penelope thundered.

The door flew open and Kendra jumped down, her feet not touching a single step.

“What?” she called out, her voice unusually shaky.

“Just a visit from our dear, departed granddad who isn’t quite as departed as we thought,” Buffy replied flippantly.

“He’s been here. Watching. That strange dark feeling at the edge of our senses?” Kendra frowned. “And the lighter one, that’s Patricia?”

Buffy nodded. “Let’s get Papa into a bed. I don’t think this wooden thing is really good for his back.”

The polgara were large and menacing, as always. They were also unexpectedly stealthy. Buffy knew that demonic behaviour in Sunnydale was abnormal, with people denying the existence of green-skinned, seven foot tall demons with spikes coming out of their arms, even as said demons were standing in front of them and driving said spikes into their stomachs. But she'd not realised how abnormal it was.

That was another support for Willow's theory that Mayor Wilkins was the Shadow, or at the very least involved in the supernatural world in some way.

These two polgara were following a couple that was walking through the park, apparently with a view to making couple-kebab.

They might even be a couple themselves, out on a date, figuring out if the demon couple that killed and ate together, stayed together.

Buffy waved a hand at Kendra who nodded and moved off into the dark bushes on her right. Buffy took the left. She thought she recognised the human couple too, but it was dark and they were pressed closely together, to ward off the chill of the February night.

Buffy sighed. *Note to self, next time round get a boyfriend who’s warm, so I can snuggle up to him when I feel cold, and not just provide the heat.*

They reached a small clearing with a statue in it, of a man leaning on an axe with a gun over his shoulder. Xander would probably be able to tell her what kind it was, but it was old-fashioned looking and the guy wore rough clothes.

The woman leaned back against the pedestal and the man bent over her and kissed her.

Buffy grinned as she recognised them. *Looks like Piper the Demon Magnet is gonna have another disturbed date.*

Leo was a very good kisser, apparently. Piper was certainly showing a lot of enthusiasm and appreciation for his skills.

Then the polgara snarled and attacked. And then the Slayers pounced.

Buffy had drawn her sword as she moved closer and before the bigger polgara could stab his right hand's spike into Leo's back, she slashed down.

Most swords, wielded by the majority of people, would have bounced lightly off the hardened bone. Some people, with most swords, would have seen the blade get stuck halfway.

A few with the right weapon might have managed to cut through the spike.

Buffy with the Sword of Slaying, as Xander had named it, cut through it like it was made of butter. The part that was removed didn't just fall, it tumbled through the air right at Piper's head.

Piper yelped as Leo yanked her aside, the couple overbalanced and the two of them fell down on the muddy gravel at the foot of the pedestal.

The spike had no nerves or anything, but the polgara stopped to look at the stump of it out of sheer shock.

Behind it, Kendra engaged the other demon.

Taking advantage of the polgara's shock, Buffy shifted her position slightly and lunged again, this time aiming for the slightly exposed armpit.

The polgara screamed once as the magical blade found its way into its heart.

Kendra had dodged the smaller one's spikes and was busy using her far greater agility to literally kick it to bits. Her steel reinforced combat boot smashed the polgara in the chest, as she twisted aside to evade yet another clumsy stab from the left hand spike.

She reached out and grabbed the left-hand spike as it was thrust at her, let herself fall backward using the force of its own attack to propel it over her, while guiding the spike into the hard ground. There was a hollow snap as the spike broke under the stress.

The polgara lay on the ground, slightly stunned and then froze. Kendra took advantage of the opening and slammed her K-bar knife deep into its chest with the full force of her Slayer strength.

The polgara didn't react, its head still lifted slightly off the ground, its eyes still dazed looking.

Then it slumped into death.

“Well, that was new,” Buffy grinned. “Bait with bite.”

“It seems like a useful skill,” Kendra agreed.

“And we should take her home with us, she’s like a total demon magnet!”

“Do we not have Xander for that purpose?” Kendra smirked.

Buffy grinned again and looked into the shadows by the statue. “You okay there, Piper?”

“I’m covered in mud!” Piper growled.

“Isn’t that supposed to be good for the skin?” Buffy teased.

“And gravel rash!” Piper added. “And I think I tore my coat!”

“You should have worn hunting clothes,” Kendra said mildly.

“I don’t wear camo vests on a date!” Piper replied. “Leo, help me up!”

Leo nodded and held out a hand. “You managed to get the demon without freezing Kendra. That’s good to know.”

Piper nodded a grudging agreement. “Yeah, but the great big lug lying on top of me made aiming difficult. Couldn’t you just have orbed us over there?” she waved a hand at the edge of the clearing, where a bench stood facing the statue.

Leo looked sheepish. “I didn’t think of that. Sorry.”

Piper glared at him. “Make up ice-cream. Lots of it!”

“It's February, Piper,” Leo pointed out.

“It's never too cold for really good make-up ice-cream,” Piper said adamantly.

“Wiser words were never spoken,” Buffy said sagely.

“What about ‘A man who will not fight for his liberty is not only a coward, but a traitor to his children’?” Kendra asked.

“Okay, that's pretty good too,” Buffy allowed.

“And 'Liberty is as great a gift as we can make it’?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“ ‘In the heart of all men there lies the truth that no man's voice deserves to be heard more just because of wealth, but only because of wisdom and honour?’” Kendra continued.

“What are you, a walking phrase dictionary?” Piper asked.

“Reading the statue,” Kendra pointed out. “Uriah Howard Frank. I think he was some sort of freedom fighter?”

“He fought the British in the Revolutionary war,” Leo smiled. “We learned about him in school, and at Boot camp. He was very big on liberty.”

“What happened to him?” Kendra asked.

“He was killed by the Hanoverians. They say he crawled into their camp at night, where he beheaded a Hanoverian commander and then was shot by the entire regiment,” Piper replied. “Supposedly Washington Irving got the idea of the Headless Horseman from that.”

“How do you know that?” Buffy wondered.

“I grew up around here. Grams told us the story only like, oh, a thousand times,” Piper groused. “You, go get me ice-cream. I'm going home to get warm and clean.”

Leo blinked. “But ice-cream is cold and-” he froze at Piper's expression. “Why don't I walk you home and pop out to get the ice-cream while you're showering, okay?”

Piper smiled. “Very good, darling.”

Buffy looked at Kendra, then both giggled. Leo sighed. “You two will be alright?”

“Says the man with mud in his hair,” Buffy smirked. “Go take my fair cousin home and see if you can salvage your date.”

“Fair cousin?” Leo asked.

“That Shakespeare stuff sticks in the mind like Big Mac on the waist. And are you saying she isn't fair?” Buffy's brow rose.

Leo sent a sideways glance at Piper, who was looking ready to growl again and shook his head. “I'd say she was the fairest in the land.”

“As long as that doesn't mean that I get dropped off in a dark creepy forest, by some probably far too familiar huntsman sent by my evil stepmother, I can live with that,” Piper smirked.

“I can't win, can I?” Leo sighed.

Piper patted his arm. “Not likely, dear.”

Leo accepted his defeat and offered Piper his arm and the two moved away.

“Ken?” Buffy asked. “Anything useful on polgara?”

“Polgara, plural polgarae, their blood, eyes, spikes and skin can be used for magical ingredients. Most valuable, however, are their spikes, hearts and spleens,” Kendra rattled off.

“Hearts and spleens?” Buffy looked at the two corpses. “Urgh. Not going there unless we really need to.”

“We could have our intrepid bodyguards do some butchering?” Kendra proposed to the night.

“We could have some extra exercises involving full back packs and crawling through mud, and maybe a lovely little run uphill after a swim? In the harbour?” came the soft spoken answer from the night.

Buffy sniffed. “Meanies.”

“Da,” a second voice said. “Me very mean. Also good eating on one of those. Teach you how to cook?” it added hopefully.

“EEEEEEUUWWW!” the girls' chorused.

“I suggest you deal with the matter swiftly, before Oleg decides that this should be a standard part of your training and not just optional,” the soft voice sounded more than a little queasy.

Kendra and Buffy both shuddered. “Good suggestion,” Buffy agreed. “Let's see if this stuff of Aunt Penny's works,” Buffy pulled a vial from her pocket and looked dubiously at it, then the demon. “A drop per foot. Okay then.”

She let eight drops fall and watched in awe, as the demon started to sputter and then dissolved into vapour.

“That is so very cool. We'll do the whole butchering of the demons some other time.”

“When we don’t have to walk through the lobby of a hotel,” Kendra agreed.

“Or climb up a fire escape and then crawl over a few ledges,” Buffy nodded. “Oh well, let's go see what other night-life exists in the Bay City.”

“The Bay City Rollers?” the soft voice suggested, as Hurst stepped out of the shadows, followed by Bchenka, who looked rather wistfully at the place where the demons had been.

Sunday, February 18th Ritz-Carlton Hotel, living room of the Grand Suite

“I'm sorry, Willow, Rowan. We really can't risk doing the spell,” Joyce said wearily.

Willow snorted. “Mom, we sort of figured that when Hurst and Bchenka had to carry dad into the car.”

“And if she's like me, there... Well she won't be hurt as long as she's in a crystal. She'll be lonely, but it won't be like me and Moloch,” Rowan shivered.

Joyce winced. “And I haven't spoken to him about that either.”

Willow smiled and hugged her and Rowan did the same to the avatar. “Mom, don't worry. We're pesky, needy spoiled brats, but we're not that unreasonable. You can wait with feeling guilty until dad has been awake for a full minute.”

Joyce laughed and ruffled their hair. “Brats.”

Willow smiled, then bit her lip. “Mom? Dad will be okay?”

Joyce nodded. “Just very tired. Aunt Penny called Magister Crumrin and he said to stop being a foolish little chit, that he was possessed, Interdicted, did a Ritual of Replenishment and that we're just lucky Leo was here to get that tracker out of Lucy, or he'd have done that too and probably slept for a week.”

“He called Aunt Penny a little chit?” Rowan whispered. “Whoa.”

“Magister Crumrin seems to be singularly unimpressed with most of the other members of the Concordat. Most anyone, really,” Joyce admitted.

“He gives me a sort of weird feeling,” Buffy spoke up from her lotus position on the floor beside Daphne.

Daphne reached out and hit her with a rolled up newspaper. “Concentrate!”

“Hey! I'm not some puppy!” Buffy pouted.

“Well, you're doing bad things on the carpet,” Dawn giggled.

“Mom!” Buffy whined.

“Concentrate on your exercises, honey,” Joyce instructed.

“Then why can't I do them in my room,” Buffy muttered. “They keep distracting me.”

“Being able to ignore distractions is part of your training. Now concentrate! No pink rhinos!” Daphne said, closing her eyes again.

Buffy huffed, but did as she was told.

Halliwell Mansion, late morning of February 18th

There was a swathe of black silk on the table and lined up on it was a series of necklaces and brooches made of a silvery metal, with small hooks, ringlets and studs. Beside each was a single gemstone, each about half an inch long and carved in tiny intricate runes, set in a circle of the same metal as the necklaces and with hooks, and studs of their own.

Patrick was standing behind the table looking proud and Clarice was beside him, looking equally proud and smug, if not more so.

Buffy frowned as she looked at them. “They feel odd. What are they?”

“They’re abluaria, tailored to each of you specifically. The last rituals to purify and seal them were finished this morning,” Patrick said proudly.

“The first new tailor-made abluaria created in more than five centuries,” Clarice beamed and squeezed his arm. “Which should protect you from the corrupting power of the Hellmouth and keep your magic and yourself from, well, being corrupted.”

Patrick grinned down at her. “I thought you'd prepared a speech, to inaugurate the new era?”

Clarice stuck out her tongue at him. “I was going to. Then you had different plans to celebrate.”

Amy closed her eyes and whimpered. “Can you two please stop?”

“We went for a walk, honey,” Patrick clarified. “We were up late and then got up at dawn and needed to clear our minds with some fresh air. Maybe something you should think about doing?”

“Oh. Sorry,” Amy flushed.

Clarice grinned. “Anyway, we had to be ‘pure’ to seal the abluaria. So no nookie for at least-.”

“MO-OM!” Amy begged loudly, slapping her hands over her ears.

Clarice flushed a light pink with pleasure and went and hugged Amy.

Patrick smiled. “Anyway, each one of these is made especially for one of you, for maximum effect. If Clarice and I did it right, you should be able to pick them out with your senses.”

“You helped with these?” Cecelia asked.

Clarice nodded. “There's a section in the ritual that allows an empath to help, so to make them specific, it takes longer, but they're much more powerful and tailored to a specific person. It wasn't difficult, just took a long time and a lot of meditation.”

Cecelia beamed. “Oh honey, that's wonderful!”

“And we'd like to know if we did it right. Please try and pick out yours. Each stone can be mounted in either a brooch, or hung from a necklace. If you want a different way to wear, we can see what we can do,” Patrick explained. “We've got ideas about rings and bracelets already.”

“So. Who first?” Clarice prompted.

Buffy stepped forward. “I'd like to try.”

“Go right ahead,” Clarice smiled.

Buffy closed her eyes and held a hand over the table. She frowned slightly, as she moved her hand to and fro, then it hovered and she opened her eyes. Her hand was over a delicate, cushion cut red-pink crystal. Clarice and Patrick beamed.

She picked it up gently, between two fingers. “It tingles.”

“It's adjusting. That one's yours,” Patrick grinned.

Buffy ran her fingers over it, eyes shining. “It feels a bit soapy.”

“That's not unusual in diamonds,” Clarice smirked.

Buffy looked up. “This is a diamond?” she squeaked.

“Yes, natural pink diamond. It had to be a strong stone for a Slayer,” Patrick added. “Couldn’t risk it breaking in a fight. Also, it should get your creative juices flowing.”

Buffy frowned. “What?”

Clarice rolled her eyes. “He found a new age book on the meanings of crystals. He thinks it’s funny.”

“So what did you use to determine who gets what stone?” Willow asked.

“We thought about each of you in turn and meditated, which gave us an indication on colours and such. Then we goggled at the price. Then Simon said not to worry about the price, he had a vault full of the things. So when we were in New York, we got a box of gems and meditated over them and these are what we came up with. We hope they fit,” Clarice smiled.

“Papa owned all these?” Dawn goggled. “Wow. That one’s mine!” she pointed at a straw yellow stone.

“Yes it is,” Patrick agreed.

Dawn smiled broadly. “Cool!”

The others gathered round the table and tried to find their stones, as Patrick took Clarice’s hand and brought it to his lips.

Sunnydale High, morning of 20th of February

“Mr Romulus Cassius Snyder?” A polite voice asked in the middle of the school courtyard.

Snyder froze and turned around. “Who's asking?”

“Edward Smalley of Ludwidsky, Abrahams, Dufour and Partners,” the polite voice belonged to a well-dressed man. “You and the school board are being served. So are several teachers. Have a nice day,” the man handed over a long envelope, nodded and left.

Snyder looked at the envelope for a few stunned seconds before he heard the start of the sniggers and titters.

“Laugh and detention will be the least of your worries,” he growled, before stomping off to his office.

“Man, did you see his face?” Xander giggled in a most unmanly fashion.

“It was awesome. And really? Romulus Cassius? I almost feel bad for him. Almost,” Buffy sniggered.

“Dad probably knew and didn't tell us,” Willow pouted.

“Dad likes his little surprises,” Rowan soothed her.

“I know. And surprises can be nice,” Willow admitted. “But I heard there's a new student coming today, and I know we don't have to find them and take care of them real quick before Cordelia gets her claws out, the way things used to be, 'cause Mrs Kendall really doesn't like that, but well...”

“No hacking, Willow,” Buffy said firmly. “Not unless it's for you-know-what purposes.”

“Sex?” Xander suggested slyly. “Why Willow, I didn't know you were into the internet porn.”

“Oh! You! You man!” Willow huffed. “Oh good, here's Amy. Amy! Hit Xander for me? He's being mean!”

Amy shrugged and made a fist. ”Sure.”

Xander backed away. “Oh come on! I just made a joke about her internet porn addiction.”

“The only way Willow would have an internet porn addiction is if it was all pictures of Dave,” Amy punched his upper arm lightly. “Seen the new guy yet?”

Willow gave her a look. She sounded just a little too smug.

“No. Why?”

“He's apparently totally dishy. You can follow the trail of fainting, drooling females,” Amy pointed.

“I haven't even seen Dave yet,” Willow muttered. “And I didn't see him all weekend.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn't have seen much of him anyway, 'cause you're still grounded,” Amy pointed out.

“Yeah, but still,” Willow whined. “Maybe he's talking with the new guy. If he needs to be helped up to speed, it probably would be me or Dave to do it.”

“And Dave might get jealous if it was you,” Buffy grinned. “Go all white and feathery on the guy.”

“Maybe he likes guys and Willow will have to be jealous,” Xander whispered daringly.

Willow huffed and walked away, with the others laughing as they followed her to the office.

There was a gathering of students near one of the doors and groups of female ones were looking at it anxiously.

“Man, that's pathetic,” Buffy muttered. “Are they really that desperate that they're actually lining up out here?”

“We're out here,” Amy pointed out.

“I'm here for Dave,” Willow said defensively. “And Buffy just split up with her boyfriend. So she's probably not looking for a new one yet.”

“Oh? Seems like an excellent time to me,” Xander answered.

“You're looking for a boyfriend? Why didn't you tell us?” Buffy pouted. “There's sooo many great guys we can set you up with.”

Xander whimpered and looked around, trying to see if anyone had heard. “Don't make jokes about that.”

“What, don't like gay people?” Willow asked archly.

“No, I think the only gay guy at school is Andrew Wells, you know, Tucker's little brother? And his brother tried to kill Buffy and Dawn and he's annoying,” Xander whispered back.

“Point. I really don't want him to whip out his itty-bitty lightsaber to show to Xander,” Amy snickered.

“Amy!” Xander whined. “Stop saying stuff like that.”

“Well, well, well. Seems like the gang's all here,” Cordelia spoke up.

“Yeah, but not to get a glimpse of a new guy. I want to see Snyder, smile at him and ask him how he likes his Roman history,” Buffy grinned evilly.

“Su-re,” Xander deadpanned. “Oh look, here he is now.”

“Snyder?” Buffy asked hopefully.

“No, the new guy. And can I say ‘eeew’ on wanting to see Snyder?” Cordelia answered.

“And see that you behave yourself, unlike your brother,” Snyder's sour voice said.

“You mean abide by school rules, sir? Until such time as you arbitrarily change them?” Dave answered in a very meek tone for the words he spoke.

Snyder growled, the door opened further. Dave appeared in the doorway, with a much taller form behind him, his tanned skin making his blue eyes stand out startlingly in his ascetic looking face, framed by sun-lightened brown hair.

“Hello red-hot salty goodness,” Cordelia whispered.

“Mike?” Buffy said. “You’re the new student?”

Hooghwater, afternoon of February 20th of February

“You want to hire an extra press secretary?” Simon repeated the words of Geraldine Yancey.

“Yes. Sophia has been swamped with questions about Joyce and the children and she does serve the whole of the Meier Group as senior spokesperson, Simon,” Geraldine explained. “And it really would be better to have someone closer. If a story breaks we want to be able to react quickly.”

“What sort of story might break, Gerry?” Simon closed his eyes.

“Well, if someone took a picture of Willow and Dave. Or that whole thing at the school right now. You know, suing the school board for harassing your children?”

Simon sighed. “Who did you have in mind?”

“Well, I've sent out inquiries. But... I've got this friend. She's really good. But I'm not sure if she's read in,” Gerry replied.

Simon nodded. “Go and make a list. Remember that we have to work with this person, too. You can put your friend on the list, but I want a full background check on everyone. And I'd much prefer someone who already knows over someone who's got to be told. Understood?”

Gerry nodded and made a face. “Perfectly. And maybe put them outside of the influence of the Hellmouth?”

“That might be wise too. No matter how entertaining it is to hear about the exsanguination of yet another paparazzi, I do occasionally feel slightly guilty about it,” Simon yawned.

“Well, that was all,” Gerry rose. “Thanks, Simon.”

Simon muttered something unintelligible and fell asleep again in seconds.

Hooghwater, night of 20th of February

“So that’s our visitor,” Hurst muttered as they watched the bank of monitors. A girl was making her way through the park, stealthily and with skill.

“A girl, she has body heat. Maybe werewolf?” Bchenka’s eyes went to the silver-bullet loaded rifles and the tranquiliser guns.

“She looks young and scared,” Colombe declared. “And you think everything you meet is a werewolf.”

Bchenka shrugged. “Everything might be.”

“Is she threat?” Hurst asked.

“Her image is blurred. That might mean that she is a werewolf,” Colombe frowned. “But she is very young.”

“She could be here on a dare. And It isn’t as if the system is working perfectly,” Hurst tapped the desk. “Keep an eye on her, if she moves towards the Pale, send the outside guard to intercept. Tell the children not to go out-”

“Too late. Xander left about five minutes ago and is now communing with nature and Buffy and Kendra went on patrol with Zoe, Lewis and Klaas.”

Hurst sighed. “Contact Lewis. Full alert. And someone go out and find Xander.”

End note:

For those who are wondering, the Charmed ones no longer use a Triquetra as their symbol. The Triquetra used on the show isn’t strictly speaking a triquetra, because of the addition of the circle. In this universe (and in canon it might be the same) that circle means the fourth magical sister, Paige. When Brenda does join her sisters, the knot will look something like this:

As for those who wonder about the Manor, who built it and who lived there, the Warren family tree is an absolute mess. That means that for a lot of it I’ve been making up stuff so it works with what was said on the show and what I want for the story.

The End?

You have reached the end of "Lonely Souls" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 5 Jul 14.

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