Note: I'm not entirely happy with this chapter, and it's shorter than I'd like, but I had been incredibly slack with this story: this is the first 'new' chapter since last year, and it included some things that needed to be done.
As always, please enjoy, and let me know what you think.Part Nine
Disclaimer: Surprisingly, neither the characters of BtVS or the
themes of 'Scion' belong to me. Instead, they seem to belong to Joss
Wheadon and White Wolf, which seems very unfair to me.
Rating: MA15+(mostly for violence, language and occasional sex)
Spoilers: Beginning of Season Three for BtVS, just background info
Xander stood in front of the mirror, resting his hands on the counter. His reflection looked back: a picture of health, full of youthful vitality. There was nothing wrong, really.
On the outside.
Inside, he felt ... empty. Mostly, in any case. I suppose this is what a gas tank feels like when there’s just a little sloshing about in the bottom,
he mused with a snort.
There was no sign of the vicious beating he had received the day before at the hands of the jotun. The miracle of, well, miraculous healing abilities. The cost, on the other hand was vicious.
His internal reservoir of power was almost empty. Oh, he felt as strong and healthy as ever, but there was a hollowness, a fragility. Last night helped, and I felt a little stronger this morning, but I’m still a long way from full strength. I poured out power like water yesterday, to give me the edge I needed to take down Frosty.
He frowned, then pulled back and squared his shoulders. Right. Won’t be doing that again in a hurry.
A horn from outside drew his attention, and he grinned as he darted into his room, grabbed a shirt from a hanger, and hurried downstairs while shrugging himself into it.
“You’re looking sharp today, Xan,” said Tony, handing his son a piece of toast as he reached into the fridge for a milk carton.
“Sorry, Dad, Cordy’s outside,” he said, cramming the toast into his mouth while pouring a glass of milk, then emptied the glass down his throat in a masterful display of how not to eat in polite society.
“Hey, careful there, kid,” said Tony, laying a gentle hand on his son’s shoulder. “The choking look doesn’t go down too good with the ladies, right?”
Xander paused, and smiled at his father. “Yeah, thanks dad.”
Tony nodded, and moved off to finish his own breakfast.
Still smiling, Xander pushed his way out the front door, and jogged over to where Cordelia’s car was parked. Smoothly hopping in, he found himself locked into a delightful kiss by his beautiful brunette girlfriend. The world went away for a moment as they kissed over the gearstick, but a soft cough drew their attention back to reality. Xander pulled back slightly, and smiled. “Hey Harm. Looking forward to school?”
The blond girl sitting in the backseat flicked her hair in irritation. “Yeah, sure. But it helps if we actually get there, so could you two stop sucking face? Or do I need to drive?”
*** *** ***
"So how did it go last night?" asked Giles, escorting Willow down the library stairs, managing to avoid the uncharacteristic crowd that filled the library. Inwardly, the Watcher was longing for any day other than the first day of the year, when the appearance of a student in his sanctum was either Slayer related, or possibly due to someone frantically searching for the restroom.
"Actually, I think we're getting into the swing of things," confided Willow as Giles made his way around the desk and started to scan her selected volumes. I'm not going to tell him that we were covered last night by a group of immortal warrior women, and spent the night dancing. Vamps got slayed either way.
"I'm not sure how much work Buffy will have when she gets back," she said brightly.
Giles smiled gently at her breezy confidence, but chose not to threaten her certainty. "Yes, well, for God's sake be careful. Um, I mean, I appreciate everything you and the others have done over the summer, helping to keep the vampire numbers down until ... well, until Buffy returns ... but if something should happen to you, were you to be killed, I should take it somewhat amis."
Willow smiled at his British understatement, and the stiff-upper-lip-I-would-rather-die-than-show-emotion-openly thing that he usually struggled to present to the world. "You'd be cranky?" she sweetly joked.
"Hum? Oh, yes. Quite."
"Well, don't worry. We try not to get killed. In fact, that's our mission statement: 'don't get killed.'"
Further conversation was interrupted by a build-up of students behind her, and they made their goodbyes and she moved out into the corridor, only to run into Oz: a most fortuitous happenstance, in her humble opinion.
"Oz! Sweetie, what are you doing here?" she said, linking arms with him. Then her eyes went to the books he was carrying. "Ooh, are those for me?"
The laconic werewolf shook his head. "Actually they're for me."
Willow blinked. "I ... I don't get it."
"Well, it's sort of a funny story," said Oz, leading his girlfriend down the hall. "You remember when I didn't graduate?"
Fighting down panic, Willow answered, "Well, I know you had a lot of incompletes, but, you know, that's what summer school's for, right?"
"Yeah, well, remember when I didn't go?"
The look on Willow's face was a mixture of surprise, confusion and horror. "You didn't go?" she half-shrieked.
But Oz was unmoved, guiding Willow into an alcove, and letting her sit down, he crouched in front of her. "Think about it: over the summer, I spent time with you, practiced with the band, and came along for the slaying. Now when in all that did I have the time to go to summer school?"
Willow opened her mouth, but her response died on her lips. Oz just looked at her levelly. Realising that she wasn't going to win, she smiled. "Then at least we'll be able to spend a lot more time together at school this year!"
Oz smiled back, and helped her to her feet. "I had a feeling you'd see it that way."
*** *** ***
"Um, Cordelia? You do know you have a Harris shaped parasite clinging to you, don't you?" asked Aphrodesia Cooke, one of Cordelia's posse of rich, popular girls. The redhead was fetching in a blue dress cinched by a broad black belt, an outfit more suited to clubbing than school, but that was par for the course for the Cordettes.
Cordelia glanced at the other cheerleader. "You remember me dancing with him all night, right? Or have you recently developed early-onset Alzheimer's?" She smiled nastily. "Oh, dear. Well, I'm sure we'll all visit you in the nursing home, when you can't remember your name or how to feed yourself ..."
Aura elbowed Aphrodesia in the ribs. "Give it up, Aph. Besides, it's not like he's a total loser ... he's dressing better at least."
"Thanks ... I think," responded Xander. The Hero and the Cordettes were standing in the gym near the bleachers, with the girls mostly dressed in their cheerleader uniforms getting ready for an early practice, or sitting on the benches to watch, check each other's makeup and gossip.
Cordelia showing up with Xander in tow was a part of their program ...
"I was serious last night, people," stated Cordelia, "This year is going to be different, and not just because I'm dating Xander ... yes, I'm dating Xander Harris, you've got a problem with that, Gwen?" she shot at the short haired girl, who was whispering to Maria, a pretty Asian girl.
"No Cordy," responded Gwen, blushing in embarrassment. Maria carefully took a step to the side, distancing herself from the other cheerleader.
"Right. Now, I'm going to show you something that's going to blow your tiny little minds. Hold on." She glanced around, and noted that apart from their little group, the gym was deserted. Normally, this was so the cheerleaders could get in their first practice undisturbed, so they could work out the kinks that had developed over summer. This time was a little different.
Seeing that the coast was clear, she bent down to reach into her gym bag, and pulled out a fireplace poker. It was big, heavy, and made of wrought iron, and she had liberated it from the kitchen ... not like it was getting any use since they had a gas stove. Tradition, I suppose.
She held the poker out to Aura. "Take this, and see if you can bend it."
Aura backed up, a look of disgust on her face. "Hell, no! I'm not touching that: I'd get my hands filthy!" But Cordelia's expression, and the iron tool in her hand, didn't waver an inch, and the dark-skinned girl reluctantly reached out and took the poker gingerly. At Cordy's raised eyebrow, she took the poker in both hands and half-heartedly tried to bend it. Needless to say, it failed to even flex.
"Right, pass it around. I want all of you to have a go."
As the curious version of pass-the-parcel continued, Cordelia continued speaking. "We all know Sunnydale is not like other towns. We all know that every year, hundreds of people die here from really freaky reasons. Kids show up dead in lockers, in the change rooms, or in the streets. Hell, a lot of our classmates just plain vanish! It's the same all over town: people die or just plain vanish.
"Plus there are the freaky things, like earthquakes that don't make the state news, weird weather, or the fact that Sunnydale has too many churches for a small town. Seriously: do any of you even to church? Any church?"
By now, the poker had made the rounds, and the Cordettes were left with mystified expressions and dirt-smudged hands. None had even been able to make it budge. Reclaiming the poker, Cordelia waved it like a baton. "I know it, you know it, but we never talk
about it, because then we'd be recognising that our town is a damnded scary place.
"The bad news? It's worse than you ever imagined." The expressions had gone from bemused to downright afraid. "The worse news? As it stands, not many of your are likely to live to see graduation." Okay, now
they were terrified. "The good news? We're going to change that. The best news," she added, passing the poker to Xander, who effortlessly turned it into a pretzel, "Is that we've got some help."
*** *** ***
Joyce looked up from her paperwork as there was a knock at the door. She froze for a moment, then stood up and hurried over to the door. Hope welled up inside her as she pulled the front door open … and her face fell when she realised who it was. “Oh, hello,” she said, somewhat reluctantly.
“Um, hello,” said Rupert Giles, “Ah, may I?” he asked, gesturing towards the doorway. And if I said no?
she asked herself somewhat viciously, but then her years as a mother and a hostess overrode her hostility. “Oh, of course, come on in,” she responded, gesturing for him to enter.
“Thank you,” he said softly, slowly entering, clearly exhausted. He walked into the living room as she closed the door. “I’ve, ah, just come back from Oakland, a friend of mine called with a lead. Stories about someone fighting vampires.” Removing his glasses, he pulled a cloth from his pocket and started to clean them as he turned to face her.
Insanely, a part of Joyce leapt at the thought, but the more rational parts of herself knew that he wasn’t bearing good news.
His next words confirmed this. “It didn’t pan out, I’m afraid.”
She sighed, and nodded in resignation. “No Buffy,” she accepted.
He blinked. “No vampires: a bunch of adolescents in heavy mascara listening to some really silly music,” he corrected, smiling ruefully.
“Well, thank you for going,” she forced herself to say. Crossing her arms beneath her breasts, she sighed again. “I can hardly -” she took a breath. “I can hardly leave the house: I’m just afraid she’ll call, and she’ll need my help. If it wasn’t for Dawn, I don’t know what I’d do.”
Placing his glasses back on his face, Giles moved closer to her. “Buffy is the most capable child I’ve ever known,” he said in a calm and reassuring tone. His educated accent and obvious confidence in her daughter almost made her want to believe that everything would be okay. “I mean, she may be confused, or unhappy, but I honestly believe that she’s in no danger.”
“I just wish I could talk to her,” she said, struggling to keep the anxiety under control. Her face fell. “The last thing we did was fight,” she admitted.
“Joyce, you mustn’t blame yourself for her leaving” he said, and a rush of fury filled her mind.
“I don’t,” she said calmly, and he smiled at her acceptance. “I blame you.”
His eyes widened in shock at her accusation.
“You’ve been this huge influence on her, guiding her … you had this whole relationship with her behind my back … I felt like you’ve taken her away from me!” She was visibly struggling not to explode in anger.
Taken aback by her sudden hostility, Giles spoke slowly and clearly. “I didn’t make Buffy who she is,” he said, clearly trying not to sound defensive.
“And who exactly is she?” she demanded to know.
For a moment, Giles was at a loss for words. Then he removed his glasses again, and rubbed the back of his hand against his forehead. “Extraordinary,” he stated simply. “With the amazing pressures the life of the Chosen have thrust upon her, she manages to have an amazing light about her. A lesser girl - a lesser woman
would have broken: many have, I’ve read the journals. That inner strength, it has nothing to do with any physical trait: it has to come from within. And from you.”
Joyce sank backwards into a chair, suddenly exhausted. He really does care for Buffy,
she realised. I’ve been spending so much energy on disliking him, while he has spent all of his on finding my daughter!
“I … I’m sorry, Mr Giles. I’ve just been so … so …”
He knelt down next to her chair. “It’s quite all right,” he said. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through.”
She laughed, somewhat bitterly. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “You’ve been running yourself ragged trying to find Buffy: I don’t even want to try
to count how many hours you’ve spent on planes this summer, my headache’s bad enough as it is!” May as well say it. Dr Maxwell said it would help to talk about it.
“I went to a doctor this morning,” she said in a hollow tone. “The medical facilities in this town are surprisingly good - or perhaps not so surprising considering what goes on at night. I had a CT scan done.”
“Joyce?” he asked softly.
“I have a … growth. In my brain. Cancer, Dr Maxwell thinks.” And Xander agrees,
“Good Lord,” he breathed.
She took a deep breath, and leant forwards. “But he thinks we’ve caught it early enough, and that my ‘prognoses is excellent,’” she quoted.
Giles was speechless for a moment, then his English reserve kicked in. "Forgive me, I didn't realise. I ... I'm afraid that I have lost more than one friend to that ghastly disease ... but I also know many who have beaten it. And, if I may say so, you are far too much like your daughter to allow a mere collection of rebellious cells to defeat you."
Joyce couldn't help laughing at that image. "Too stubborn?"
Giles smiled back. "Quite. I can imagine her ordering the cancer into remission, complete with a cutting barb concerning it's fashion choices."
"Actually, that sounds just about right.
The two adults sat in companionable silence for a few moments, having silently reached an agreement ... that they both wanted what was best for Buffy, and that they were resolved to make the best of an impossible situation. Then a thought occurred to Giles. "Forgive me, Joyce, I just remembered: Buffy's friends, Willow and Xander, requested that I pass along an invitation for you and Dawn. Apparently Ms Chase is having a dinner at her lodgings this evening, and they would appreciate if you would attend." He paused. "I understand if you would feel uncomfortable surrounded by adolescents, but -"
Joyce cut him off. "No, actually that sounds like a lovely idea. I take it all in attendance are, well, 'in the know' regarding my daughter?" When Giles nodded, she smiled. "Then I would be delighted to come. Xander and Willow have been so supportive this summer, and Dawn virtually worships the boy." Joyce hesitated again, wondering if Giles knew about Xander's nature. "I, um, Xander was actually here the other night. We talked about Buffy, and her Calling, and families in general. He recently made a discovery regarding his family," she added casually. "I wonder how familiar you are with his parentage?"
Giles blinked at the sudden change in topic. A little flustered, he removed his glasses and polished them reflexively. "I ... that is, I know a little. When he and Willow began, well, helping Buffy, I made some enquiries regarding them with the other teachers. So yes, I know about his mother passing ... such a tragedy to lose one's mother so young."
Joyce winced internally. Well, that was close ... glad I didn't spill the beans regarding Xander's secret. Although ... perhaps now Mr Giles will see what it's like to have someone keeping such a large and world-changing secret from HIM for a change ...
*** *** ***
The first day of school had been a shock to the Cordettes: both the added workload of their final year at Sunnydale High, and the revelations about the nature of the universe, and their hometown in particular.
Needless to say, the second issue was far more serious (after all, doing assignments for popular kids was what nerds were for, right?).
Gwen's eyes were fixed on the (mostly) straightened poker, then back up to Willow Rosenberg, who was almost preening. The formerly mousy redhead had arrived at the gym moments before with her boyfriend in tow, and had promptly demonstrated that Xander wasn't the only one with superpowers.
Reprogramming Gwen's cell phone to play the Dr Who theme with a wave of her hand was pretty convincing, too.
"So how long have you been in the loop," asked Aura, her tone accusing.
"Since just before last summer," answered Cordelia, examining her nails. She was sitting on the bleachers, with Xander sitting behind her, his arms around her waist, cradling her against his chest.
"And you didn't tell us ... why?"
Cordy looked up, meeting Aura's gaze. "And would you have believed me? Look, when I first really knew
about all this, these things killed Kevin." That statement drew a lot of attention ... amazingly, the jock had been a genuine good guy, and all the girls had been a little in love with him. "And ... to be honest, I was an idiot." That
drew a lot more than attention.
"I didn't want to admit that it was a serious problem: I treated it like an annoyance, something to distract me from important things, like dating and clothes and how rich Daddy is. The truth is ... I was scared, so I to ignore it." Xander tightened his embrace reassuringly, and she stroked his arm in thanks. "I should have told you ... told you how to protect yourselves, how to be careful. But I didn't want to, because if I admitted it to you ... I'd have to admit it to myself."
The gym was silent for a moment, before Maria spoke up. "Bigger question: why now?"
"Because she doesn't want you dead," said Xander, causing some of the girls to jump: he had been quiet so far. Cordy nodded.
"I can't treat it like an embarrassing hobby, or a zit I can cover up. When those vampires attacked Harmony and me the other night -" That story had shocked the girls earlier "- I realised that you girls need to know what's going on, how serious it is, and how to stay safe."
"Well screw that," said Maria, decisively. "Screw staying safe: I want in!" At the incredulous looks of more than one Cordette, she straightened her spine. "Hey, I like breathing, and I like the world spinning: most of all, I love my family. I'm not going to just walk away and let these things run about town - I'm going to fight!"
Gwen snorted. "What, with your mad kung fu skills?"
The Korean girl flipped Gwen the bird. "Hell no ... and I'm Korean, you bi-ach. But I'm willing to bet that thes guys have a plan," she looked pointedly at the Heroes and their consorts.
Cordelia looked back at Xander, who nodded. "Actually, we do."
"The Aesir are the gods of the Norse," said Xander. "Basically the Vikings ... Odin, Thor, and my mother Sif. Their major opponents are the jotuns, the frost giants. Now, the giants have this nifty trick of feeding their blood to their human slaves," more than one Cordette made a face at that image, "which gives them a boost in strength and endurance, at the cost of brains and slavish obedience. Since this gave the bad guys a hell of an advantage, my mom's family basically stole that trick and improved on it.
"It's called jotunblut
, literally giant's blood. I'm not all that powerful, but I can give you the strength of an Olympic weightlifter on steroids, or the endurance of a Navy SEAL on EPO. Not as strong or as tough as Willow or me, but it would give you a heck of an edge, and one most nasties won't expect."
"It won't let you go toe to toe with vampires," added Willow, "But it could mean the difference between living to see a sunrise and being a vampire's snack. And believe it or not, we would actually like for all of you to survive to see graduation and get the heck out of this town!"
*** *** ***
Night had fallen, and a black limousine pulled up across the road from 1630 Ravello Drive. Inside, Buffy looked out of the window, biting her lip in agitation.
Sitting across from her, her legs folded genteelly, Matriarch Valerie leaned forward and laid a hand on the blond Scion's knee. "I know this must be hard for you," she said softly. "And if you decide you don't want to, we can return to Los Angeles ..."
But Buffy shook her head. "No. I ... the last conversation we had, if you could call
it a conversation ... I can't leave it like that. I can't
!" She looked a the Amazon leader. "I miss my family. I want to go home."
Valerie smiled, and leaned forward to embrace Buffy warmly. "Oh, my dear girl, I know. But you must know that you will always
have a place among us. That will never change. I know things have been ... awkward, since the ritual ..."
Buffy pulled back, but she managed a smile. "Nah, it's okay ... I just guess I needed a wakeup call. I love you guys, I really do ... but I guess I'm too much of a Californian to rock the whole 'animal sacrifice' thing you girls have going on. I ... have enough blood and guts in my life already."
Valerie nodded, and patted Buffy's hand. "Sometimes we forget that although we live in this World, we are not entirely a part of it. But I hope that event will not sour you on the bonds between us: I know that Lilly intends to rejoin you as soon as she may, and Patricia is also curious as to see what hunting on the Hellmouth is like."
Buffy's smile broadened. "And they'd be welcome -" She stole another glance out the window. "- as long as I'm still here ..."
*** *** ***
"Dawn, are you dressed yet?" called Joyce up the stairs. For pitty's sake, that girl would be late to her own funeral ... and then complain that she had nothing to wear!
Joyce froze after that thought, and shook her head. No more thinking about funerals ... this town doesnot need the encouragement.
There was a knock at the door, and she paused to check her reflection in the hall mirror. "Honey? that should be Mr Giles now!"
"Coming, mom," came the whiny reply, and Joyce couldn't help smiling at the plight of the tween daughter exasperated by her mother. You'll learn, kiddo.
She walked over to the door, and pulled it open. "I'm sorry, I thought you were coming at seven thir-"
Standing in front of her was Buffy, wearing a white camisole and black slacks, a packed bag at her feet, and an expression of apprehension on her face.
Joyce couldn't move, couldn't think, as her eldest daughter forced a smile. "Hi mom.