On Investigations, Visitations, and Preparations
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or worlds used in this story, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, House M.D., Private Practice, Scott Pilgrim, South Park, and The Craft. No harm is intended toward any of the copyright owners. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only.+++++PREVIOUSLY: Sarah and Vi were sent to Seattle to investigate the murder of an entire coven of witches. We also learned that Hector, not Willow, is in charge of the witches, and that Vi is living with someone named Chris. Faith and Buffy sparred for a group of trainees, and Buffy taught them that, once your opponent is down, you never stop unless she submits. Later, Buffy worried about Willow. Finally, Allison started her journey from New York to Cleveland.+++++TWO: ON INVESTIGATIONS, VISITATIONS, AND PREPARATIONS
Sarah was a little surprised when the police just waved her, Vi, and Monica -- the head of the Seattle slayers -- into what was clearly a crime scene. “They really bought the Guardian Angels story out here,” Monica said under her breath. “Some of the cops don’t like us, but Bill out there is all right.”
Sarah nodded. Behind her and Monica, Vi was on guard, messenger bag over one shoulder, weapons at the ready. Sarah had told her that it was safe -- and, anyway, if anything happened there were police everywhere, as well as two slayers and a witch -- but clearly Vi hadn’t believed it.
By now, the bodies were gone -- Sarah knew the morgue would be her next stop after this -- but she needed to see the scene. Little markers noted where bodies had been, but aside from the dead witches, the scene was as it had been left before. Good thing, too -- Sarah would’ve hated to get stuck recreating spells in all this mess.
“I’m going to be a little while,” she said to both Monica and Vi. “Could you guys maybe stand outside? Just so you don’t... you know... interfere?”
Vi started to protest, but Monica took her arm. “She means our magic.”
The red-haired slayer’s mouth opened and closed a few times before she spoke. “Oh. Right.” She looked around the room again. “But if anything happens, scream, okay?”
Sarah smiled. “Okay.”
Once the slayers were gone, Sarah closed her eyes and centered herself, then opened her perception to the magic in the room. It didn’t always help, but as an investigator it would definitely be beneficial should a spirit want to make contact or some sort of magical residue be left behind.
That done, Sarah started examining the pentagram in the center of the floor. With its creator dead, she was able to step into the circle and get close enough to it to kneel and run her fingers along the edges of the shape. It wasn’t blood -- at least, not entirely, although the paint had seen some blood sacrifice before being placed on the floor. Sarah had seen pentagrams and symbols painted in pure blood, and those had flaked at her touch. This only showed signs of frequent use -- some of the paint around the circle was worn from what must have been years of witches kneeling and invoking. The symbols themselves weren’t anything special: standard protections, glyphs to amplify power, praise for the goddess Hecate -- Sarah’s natural magic shuddered at the thought. The fragment of spirit inside her didn’t like Hecate very much, but it had never told her why, and in more than a dozen years of practicing magic, she’d never come across an explanation.
But that was a question for another day.
Sarah stood slowly and walked around the circle three times counterclockwise, then knelt at its westernmost point and raised her arms. Inside her head, she made the invocation to the Guardians of the Watchtower of the West. She didn’t so much need the water as the intuition.
It came. Sarah blinked twice, slowly, and knew that the witches hadn’t been attacked by a demon, or by anything they’d conjured. In fact, one of them -- the witch at the South point -- had a nephew suffering from leukemia, and they’d been working to create a talisman to help him overcome the painful side effects of his treatment.
A talisman. It had rested at the center of the pentagram, and all four women had poured their magic into it until it was practically bursting with power. It had been in the form of a pale green disc, as big around as a hockey puck. Sarah had seen similar talismans made, had even lent her strength to them. It would darken as the wearer drew out its magic, until finally it was opaque and black, good for nothing more than holding down paper on a windy day.
Sarah lowered her arms and blinked again as she got to her feet. Her senses, still open and flooded with echoes of the magic done in this room, felt nothing malevolent. That had been because of the witch who’d sat at the North point. Evan, the Seattle witch, hadn’t been able to tell who’d been sitting where, but Sarah could feel the psychic after-images. The witch of the North had overruled her sisters, forbidden them from any magic that was the slightest bit dark. Not even glamours had been allowed, and that was odd, because where she was from glamour was one of the first magics taught to witches.Interesting.
Sarah examined some of the paraphernalia in the cabinets around the room, though it was just avoidance. She really didn’t want to get close to the ruined wall. But she had no choice.
The police had done a good job getting the body off the wall. Some ripped pieces of clothing and what looked like skin were still stuck there, and of course there was a human-shaped indentation in the plaster. But what really bothered Sarah was the combination of fear and hatred emanating from that wall -- fear from the woman who’d been stuck there, and hatred of who the woman had been. All Monica could tell her was that the owner of the house was named Alex Monroe, and his wife Laura was the deceased.
So who would want to kill someone so brutally? What could Laura Monroe have done?
Sarah performed a few more tests, and also obtained some plaster and fibers for later. As she did so, she felt the spirit inside her pulling her toward the magic in the wall. It only did that when something was really wrong. She closed her eyes again and reached down deep to that place inside her soul where the spirit dwelled. She said an invocation -- this one out loud -- and felt Manon release himself from her body.
A moment later, Sarah was knocked back on her ass. Almost instantly she was flanked by Monica and Vi, who helped her to her feet. “What happened?” Monica asked. “Do you know who did it?”
Sarah took a few deep breaths, then shook off the slayers and held out her hand. Manon curled around her fingers and allowed himself to be absorbed back into her body, returning to his place in the depths of Sarah’s soul. Only then did she turn to face the other women. “I don’t know who did it,” she said, her voice soft -- it took a lot out of her to release Manon like that. “But it was definitely a witch. A human one. She invoked Hecate, but twisted the power to her own ends instead of working with the goddess.”
“How do you know?” Monica was glowering a little. “Evan couldn’t tell me any of that.”
Sarah shook her head slightly, more to clear it than anything else. “I’m an investigator,” she said, as if that would explain it all away. Monica didn’t look convinced, but she seemed to accept it for the moment. It was a little more believable than the truth, which no one except Willow knew: when Sarah was seventeen, she and three friends had invoked the god Manon to give themselves power, and only after a major showdown with them had Manon realized that Sarah was already powerful. He’d departed, but as a gift for Sarah, had left a tiny bit of himself behind. In the years since, Sarah had had to call upon Manon’s power only a few times; never had Manon himself -- she called the spirit by its name, even though it was only a sliver of the god’s true form and power -- asked her to be released.
She really, really wanted to know what Hecate had done to piss Manon off that much. Someday, when she had the courage to do it, she’d invoke his full form and ask.
But not today.+++++
Allison was at the hotel bar, trying to fend off the advances of a middle-aged businessman, when she saw Chris. She waved him over, sliding off her stool to hug him. That had the added bonus of getting rid of the other guy.
“Hi yourself.” He smelled good, clean, but without the hospital undertone Chase always seemed to have toward the end. “Good trip?”
“Yeah, I bet.” Chris looked at the drink in her hand. “You ready to go?”
Allison drained the glass and set it on the bar, along with a couple of dollars for a tip. “I am now.” She linked arms with Chris and they made for the door. “Where are you taking me?”
“Well, Vi suggested we just go to the Bowl-n-Burger.”
She felt her eyebrows lift. “Really? That’s
what your girlfriend said you should do?”
Chris chuckled. “Don’t worry. We’re not going there. It’s really just a place where she and her friends hang out. The students go there too, because it’s all-ages.”
Allison shook her head. “I still can’t believe you went from Hopkins to... to that
.” He opened the door of a dark-blue Nissan and closed it behind her after she sat down. When he got in the car, he was grinning. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” he said, starting the car and pulling out of the parking space. “Just, we don’t all want to save the world. Some of us just want to help people.”
“You work at a private school. How much money does it cost to go there?”
“Not a dime.”
That took Allison aback. “Free private school? Now I know you’re joking.”
“No joke.” They pulled out onto the road. “We’re fully funded by the International Council of Watchers.” Allison had heard of them -- a worldwide philanthropic association dedicated to furthering the rights of women everywhere. “Of course, we accept donations, and some of our students come from wealthy families, but any student who passes the entrance exams may attend for free.”
“I still don’t buy it.”
Chris shrugged. “And you have room to talk?” They turned onto the highway. “Didn’t you tell me you’re going to work at a private practice in Santa Monica or something? Because that’s totally about world-saving.”
She had no recourse to that. “I guess you’re right.” They sat in silence for a moment. “We never really end up where we think we’re going, do we?”
Allison looked out the window. “You’re not taking me back to the school, are you?”
“Cafeteria food? Really?” They both laughed. “No, it’s a Thai place. The owners moved up here a few years ago; I used to go to their restaurant back home.” Allison knew that, for Chris, ‘back home’ was Orlando, Florida. “You’ll like it.”
Another one of those roadway silences filled space until Chris said, “y’know, tomorrow’s Last Saturday -- monthly visiting day for family and friends. You can come see the school, if you want.”
She shrugged. “I don’t really have any other plans.” She thought of something. “Is Vi going to be there?”
“No.” Chris’s voice was suddenly soft. “She was called away on business.”
“But... she works with you, right?”
“No, really. She and Sarah -- another one of my colleagues -- had to visit the ICW branch in Seattle to take care of something. They should be back in a few days.”
“Too bad,” Allison said. “I’d like to meet her. She can’t be worse than Charlotte.”
“Charlotte? You remember Charlotte?” He laughed. “Jeez, I haven’t thought of Charlotte in years.”
“She’s at the practice. And she’s the chief of staff of the hospital they’re affiliated with.”
“You must be kidding.”
“Nope.” Allison shrugged. “She didn’t remember me, but I certainly remember her.”
“I dated her for all of a month!”
“A loud month.”
He considered that. “Yeah. I guess it was.” They pulled into the parking lot. “This is it.” As they walked in, Chris said, “you know, Vi’s jealous of you. Ever since she saw your picture on Facebook. She thinks I’m going to make a move on you, now that you’re single.”
“Pfft.” Allison let Chris hold the door open for her. “She really said that?”
“Yup. In her words... let me see... ‘she’s everything I’m not; why wouldn’t you want her instead of me?’”
Allison shook her head. “She knows it never happened. And never will. Right?”
Chris put his arm around Allison’s shoulders. “Of course not. Besides,” he added, “if I even looked at another woman, she’d probably kill me.”
Something about the way Chris said that made Allison feel uncomfortable, but she chalked it up to a long day’s driving. Probably better that Chris’s girlfriend was out of town anyway; the last thing she needed was a jealous lover when all she wanted was a nice, quiet dinner with an old friend.+++++
Dawn finished decanting her potion into the final vial, then screwed on the top and set it in the rack with the others. What with Last Saturday being tomorrow, everyone had to do their part to make sure the school looked like just that: a private school, mostly for girls but with some boys as well, and nothing supernatural going on whatsoever.
She set the rack in a cabinet, closed the door, and locked it. The vials were visible through the glass front, but given the kind of magic on the lock and key, no one who wasn’t a fully-trained witch would be able to open it.
“That’s the last of it,” Dawn said. She carried the goblet to the sink and ran some water in it, then left it to dry. “Unless you see something else?”
Just like the rest of the Last Saturdays since November. Since Kennedy’s death.
Since the fire had gone from Willow’s heart.
Dawn turned to look at her friend. Far from the vibrant, smiling woman she’d been up until November of last year, Willow looked like she’d been through the wringer every day since then. Where her skin had once been peaches-and-cream, now it was ghostly pale. Where her body had once been slender, now it was thin. Her once-smiling mouth was drawn and tight, her cheeks hollow, her eyes highlighted not by makeup but by dark smudges from lack of sleep.
And Dawn knew she herself was starting to look rough as well. She’d spent six months by Willow’s side, taking care of her, making sure she ate enough and didn’t just mope around the apartment. They were living in Dawn’s; Willow had refused to set foot in her old place now that Kennedy was gone.
Dawn held out her hand to Willow, who slid off the high stool and took it, unresisting, palm cold and dry. She led Willow out of the lab, locking it behind her, and down the steps to the exit. The apartment building was the next structure over, just across the little path that wound through the campus and connected all the buildings. Willow trailed a little behind Dawn, allowing herself to be pulled along.
Dawn tried to talk to her again. “Nice night, isn’t it?”
No response. Oh, Willow talked sometimes, but not in response to simple queries. Occasionally she even participated in magic -- not performing it, but researching it, lending her vast knowledge to the other witches. Her voice, though, remained dull and hoarse. Or silent.
Dawn sighed and guided Willow to the apartment. Willow had been managing to do the basic tasks lately -- showering, brushing her teeth, and so on -- but Dawn was still tucking her in at night, hugging and kissing her, and even leaving the door cracked open a bit.
Tonight, as Dawn waited in the dark for sleep to come, she heard Willow crying.
Tonight... tonight was a bad night.+++++
Xander rolled out of bed, trying not to pull the covers with him. He heard a noise and smiled. “Go back to sleep,” he said softly. “It’s just the door.”
The woman in his bed made a contented sound and did as he’d suggested.
Xander pulled on a t-shirt and yesterday’s jeans and went to the door. It was only a quarter past eleven, but Xander always tried to get to bed early the day before Last Saturday. In the morning, Isabel would glamour him so it looked like he had two functioning eyes instead of just the one -- the patch, he’d learned, gave the parents the wiggins -- but because the injury had been caused by an agent of the First, it took a lot out of her. Better to get up early and get it out of the way.
Dawn was standing on the porch when Xander opened the door. He was going to smile and try to say something funny, but the look on her face forestalled that. Instead, he slipped on a pair of sandals from the Bucket O’ Shoes in the foyer and stepped outside. “What’s up, Dawnie?”
She smiled, but it was weak. “I just...” A sigh. “I just needed to talk.”
“Okay.” He waved outward in general. “Want to take a walk while we do it?”
The response was a half-shrug, but it was enough. Xander touched the code panel beside the door, locking it, and swept his arm toward the path. Dawn nodded and stepped down off the porch. They turned left and started in the direction of the Magic Box. “What’s on your mind?” he asked.
The answer wasn’t a surprise. “Willow.”
Xander nodded. Her condition worried everyone, but it affected him, Buffy, and Dawn the most. “Bad night?”
“Again.” Dawn sighed. “I mean, Xander, what am I supposed to do? What are any of us supposed to do?”
“I don’t know.” He’d spoken to Dr. Frost about it -- not on purpose, but Willow had come up in conversation, and that conversation had turned into an impromptu session. “Is she seeing anyone? I know the doctor recommended someone, but--”
“No.” Dawn was shaking her head. “I went and met with her -- Dr. Greer, that’s her name -- and she seems really nice. She specializes in women’s issues, and she’s gay, so she probably knows how to handle that part of it. But Willow wouldn’t go. And now she won’t even see Dr. Frost.”
“Should we make her?”
“He says not to.”
Xander put his arm around Dawn’s shoulders. He remembered -- inasmuch as implanted memories from a weird sect of monks can make someone remember -- doing the same thing when he’d walked her home from school all those years ago, but she’d been shorter then. Now she was only a few inches shorter than him. It was weird. “Look, Dawnie, I know you’re doing the best you can. We all are.” Well, that wasn’t precisely true; Xander knew he didn’t have enough time to devote to Willow, what with his duties in the command center. “We all love her, but if she doesn’t want to heal, we can’t force her to heal.”
“Yeah, okay, but...” Dawn sniffed, and Xander realized she was crying. “But how long can I keep this up before I... before I lose it?”
“Oh, jeez, Dawn...” Xander pulled her into a hug, and she clutched him like he was the last life raft on the Titanic
. “Dawn, it’ll be okay.”
“B-but what if it’s... what if it’s not?” She sniffed again and pressed her face to his shoulder. “God, Xander, what if she’s like this forever?”
“She won’t be.” He rubbed her back. “Look, Dawn, it’s a tough job. I mean, it took months for her to accept Tara’s death. At least this time she didn’t try to destroy the world, right?”
Dawn pushed gently away from Xander and held out her hand. A ball of purple-black energy formed above it, and the witchlight it cast off illuminated her face.
Her eyes were black.
“Oh, God. Dawnie, what happened to you?”
“When I...” She took a deep, shuddering breath and subsumed the magic back into her hand. Xander saw her eyes shift back to blue. “When I helped turn Willow away from the darkness, I couldn’t purge it all. There’s still some Dark Willow magic left in me.”
That explained a lot, starting with the fact that Dawn was more powerful now than she’d been before the Nega Scott incident. “You’re not going to destroy the world, are you?” he asked, only half-joking.
Dawn shook her head. “I’ll be fine. It only gets like this when Willow has bad days. I’ve been trying to keep her busy, keep her mind off it, but she just keeps turning back to the black thoughts.” She took a few breaths and then started walking again; Xander followed. “I know she misses Kennedy, and, I mean, they were together for six-and-a-half years, but she needs to heal. The doctors can’t do it, Gin can’t do it... so what’s left?”
A long silence, broken only by the sound of their shoes on the path.
“I don’t know, Dawnie,” Xander finally said. “I wish I did.”
“Yeah. Me too.”++++++++++Your reviews are greatly appreciated.NEXT TIME: Someone sees something she shouldn't. Someone else gets her ass kicked. Plus, Ramona returns!