Author’s note: And the next chapter. Many thanks to the inestimable Cordyfan for betaing this. And to Cutiepie, Dreamweaver, Goddessa, jenniireland, kenchoisez and kittenpoker for recommending this story. Chapter 4 Moving
Joyce was wakened the next morning from her first real sleep since she'd been called by a frantic Willow and a seemingly uncaring hospital receptionist by the roar of an engine, a heavy engine. Dragging on her robe, she went to the window to glare at whoever had the audacity to disturb her.
It was a rental van, and the sound cut off just as she reached the window. The cab door opened and Janet jumped out, looking uncertain. She was wearing civilian clothes, jeans, a russet coloured top and on the whole looked quite un-military, except for a pair of Air Force boots.
Joyce stepped back out of sight, but kept her eyes on Janet, who bit her lip, eyed the house with trepidation, took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and marched up to the porch.
Joyce sighed and pulled on a robe, heading downstairs. She waited for the doorbell, but it didn't ring, so she finally opened the door. Janet was sitting on the porch swing, rubbing her hands together and looking for all the world like she was trying not to cry.
She looked up immediately at the sound of the door, gulped and gave Joyce a watery smile. “H-hello.”
“Is something wrong with Xander?” Joyce asked worriedly.
Janet shook his head. “No, he's fine. Still sleeping, but his brainwave activity looks perfectly normal, so we'll dial back on the sedative today and we figure he'll wake up naturally tomorrow morning.”
Joyce let out a breath of relief. “Okay, that's good. But then why are you here?”
Janet pointed at the van with her chin. “I thought you might need some help with moving Willow's things, and I wasn't sure if you had permission to get Xander's.”
“And why so early?” Joyce asked, already guessing at the answer.
“Because that way at least the Rosenbergs' lawyer is unlikely to interfere,” Janet replied. “I doubt she wanted to leave before first light to be here and prevent Willow from collecting her things.”
“If the Rosenbergs even care,” Joyce wrapped her robe around her. She stepped aside silently and Janet winced slightly but stepped inside.
“I'll go get dressed and wake the girls,” Joyce moved to the stairs. “You can fix some coffee if you want to.”
Buffy was standing in the doorway of her room, in her pyjamas, a fierce expression on her face.
“What does she want?”
“Probably to apologise in any way she can,” Joyce gave Buffy a look. “And since I screwed up in quite a big way not that long ago, and she helped me fix that, and she did her utmost to help fix what she messed up herself, I think we ought to give her the chance.”
Buffy frowned. “Oh? I'm not so sure. Not even with the reasons she gave.”
“They were quite good reasons, dear. If half of what they say is true, they had a lot of reason to be worried. Even if their plan was stupid and its execution was flawed,” Joyce pointed out.
“I suppose,” Buffy grudgingly admitted. “Do you think screwing up in major ways is something that runs in the family?”
Joyce smiled ruefully. “Might very well be. Is Willow awake?”
“Hrmflll,” came from the room.
Buffy shook her head. “Not really. She had a very bad night. But I can wake her up, if you like…”
Joyce nodded understandingly. “I heard her cry. But Janet is here with a truck and it might be wise to use it to move Willow's things. I'll call Child Services later and ask if there can be someone at the Harris house to let us in. I'd like to get as much of Xander's as well.”
“Yeah, we can do that,” Buffy nodded. “I'll go wake Willow.”
“Though it's a shame, the poor girl's exhausted and could do with more sleep,” Joyce frowned. “I just hope that we can get everything and then never have anything to do with the Rosenbergs again.”
“I'll go get dressed,” Joyce left and Buffy went back into her room. There was a short silence and then a frightened call.
“Don't warn the tadpoles!”
Janet was sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee. She'd made a large pot and another of tea and had also squeezed some oranges for juice. Joyce was down first, followed by Dawn and then by Buffy and a hollow-eyed Willow.
Willow nodded at Janet quite coldly, much different from the polite and upbeat way she normally behaved. Buffy eyed her with suspicion. Dawn's eyes narrowed, but she seemed to reserve her fire.
“We'll have a quick breakfast and then leave,” Joyce announced. “We'll go by the Gallery to pick up some boxes, I put a load of them in storage from our own move.”
Janet nodded. “Sure.”
“So glad you approve,” Willow sniped.
Janet winced. Buffy gave her friend a worried look. Joyce looked thoughtful and Dawn sat with a spoon of cereal in front of her mouth and a shocked expression on her face.
“Cereal, Willow?” Joyce asked. “Or toast?”
“Toast, please, Ms. Summers,” Willow said after another venomous look at Janet.
After breakfast they got into the truck and Joyce's car. Dawn was the only one to ride with Janet and she sat silently, watching her aunt the entire drive to the Gallery where they loaded the boxes and other packing materials into the back of the truck, before leaving quickly.
Janet followed Joyce's car, casting an occasional glance at the girl beside her, who alternatively studied her and the uninspiring suburban surroundings.
“So... Ummm...” Janet began.
“Willow really hates you, I think. I don't think I ever heard her talk like that to anybody,” Dawn said conversationally. “And if Willow hates you with a good reason, you can be sure that Buffy won't like you any more either.”
Janet opened her mouth, but Dawn didn't wait for her to speak. “Does she have a good reason?”
Janet bit her lip. “Pretty good, yeah. I'd need to talk to her to figure out how good, but I'd say pretty darn good.”
“I heard her cry herself to sleep yesterday. Mom held her for a while,” Dawn added accusingly. “I think she cried more at night as well.”
“I'll see if she wants to talk to me later,” Janet said, subdued.
Dawn's gaze didn't waver from the shrubs, trees and houses passing by. “And here I thought you were gonna be a cool aunt.”
Willow was packing up her clothes, books and other belongings with single minded intensity, as if she couldn't wait to close off the old and start the new. She didn't talk except to say yes, no or maybe when she was asked if something ought to be kept.
She didn't look at or talk to Janet and didn't react to any of her questions, which had to be repeated by Joyce or Buffy. Finally Janet went and made coffee and set herself to carrying filled boxes into the van and stowing them.
Willow's worldly possessions were pitiably few when seen huddled at one end of the truck. An empty fish tank was carried down, as well as clothes, but other than that, most of Willow's things seemed to consist of books, two Trapper keepers, a load of Trappers, and several shelves of old class notes. All of it was in a mess since the Rosenbergs had thrown anything 'suspicious' into boxes when they took Willow to the FBI.
Every time a box with 'Notes, messed up, to be sorted' was carried down by Buffy and handed to her, Janet winced imperceptibly.
The hand writing got angrier and spikier as the boxes increased in number. Apparently most of Willow's belongings had been pawed through and had been messed up, so other boxes appeared with 'Just mess'.
From Buffy's ever more stony expression, Janet gathered that the redhead was not doing well.
“How is she?”
Buffy gave her a look. “Well, if she was in any way violent, I think that all of you would probably be dead.”
“All of us?” Janet asked weakly.
“You, that Carter woman, Colonel O'Neill, those FBI agents and especially her parents and their lawyer. You may not want to get near Willow for the next, oh, seven decades or so?” Buffy told her sweetly. “And since she is my best friend, and gonna live with us? That means not getting near to me, either.”
Janet opened her mouth and Buffy shook her head. “I'll tell you what you seem to think you need to know tonight. It'll sink in better. And then, as far as I'm concerned, you can go take a hike. If mom wants to meet with you, she's your sister and that may be different. But I don't see any need. I'm gonna get the next box.”
She left, leaving Janet to stare at the pile of boxes that represented the destruction she had wrought in the life of a teenage girl.
She accepted the next few boxes in silence. Then the parts of Willow's bed, and a few bookcases, a chair, a desk, were all lifted in by Buffy.
Janet was looking at her niece with more and more interest. She was lifting things that a girl her size ought not to have been able to, and doing so with ease. She also had a far greater equilibrium while carrying unwieldy parts of beds than she should have had. Janet was not much bigger than Buffy and knew her limits quite well.
It seemed to her that most of Willow's property should be packed, unless she was putting a single book in each box. But the redhead still hadn't appeared, nor had Joyce.
Then there were footsteps and then a scrabbling noise and Dawn climbed into the back.
“Mom sent me to take you for a walk around the block,” she said matter of factly.
Janet blinked. “Why?”
“Because Willow is gonna come out soon and if she sees you, she'll most likely deck you,” Dawn explained as if to an idiot.
“Oh. So what do we do?”
Dawn considered. “Well, we've got all the stuff... So we could either take a walk and than come back and drive behind Mom again. Or if you think that you know the way, we could drive home now.”
Janet sighed. “I know the way. Let's go.”
Buffy watched the truck drive away and nodded at Willow and her mother. “They're gone. Let's load up your computers and get out off here, Willow.”
Willow nodded. “Please.”
Buffy quickly carried out the bulky boxes and stowed them in the back of her mother's jeep, while Joyce and Willow swept her computer lair again to make sure that no incriminating evidence remained behind. Then they climbed the steps and Willow cast a last look around the sitting room, stepped outside, waited for Joyce to exit, locked the door and then put her key under a stone by the porch.
Joyce gave her a look. “I assume you have a spare?”
Willow flushed slightly, then nodded. “Mo- Sheila never would have asked that.”
“Sheila obviously doesn’t know you very well,” Joyce replied dryly. “Let’s go home and store this evidence safely, shall we?”
Willow nodded and followed. “The Wild life is over, Rosenberg,” she muttered. But her voice didn't sound unhappy.
Winslow B. Busby Army base, that afternoon
Willow held Xander's hand and whispered words of comfort at him as he lay sleeping. Dawn held the other, while Buffy was in a corner of the room, watching the door as if she thought an enemy might come through. Joyce was listening to Janet and the base's CMO.
“He's recovering quite well, I must admit. Better than I expected,” the CMO eyed Janet. He had seen the boy when he was brought in, briefly, and had personally wondered if he'd wake up at all, let alone recover.
“Yes, remarkable how badly the doctors at Sunnydale General got it wrong. Then again, they did base themselves on the x-rays of a woman,” Janet replied placidly.
She had never been so happy, as a matter of fact she never had been happy at all, at the gross incompetence of any of her fellow physicians.
“Yes, I understand Dr Pierce signed him out himself after finding out. No doubt there’ll be another change of staff there soon,” the CMO shook his head. “If it weren't for Pierce, the place would have fallen apart ages ago.”
“I've no doubt,” Janet agreed. “It seems to be a cesspit into which the very dregs of our profession seep.”
The CMO snorted. “Nicely put. Well, I need to go and see to that young fellow who managed to bayonet his foot.”
“Hopefully it will teach him a lesson,” Janet smiled.
“Him, maybe. The next batch of idiots who'll come after him no doubt will have to learn their very own lessons all over again,” the CMO muttered as he left the room.
Joyce smiled at him as he left, then, just as she was about to close the door gently, she looked over her shoulder and then at Janet. Willow was crying as she held Xander's hand. “Let's go to the cafeteria, shall we? I need some coffee.”
Winslow B. Busby Army base Cafeteria
Jack watched as Janet bought her sister a cup of coffee and a bagel. They were of unexpectedly good quality, Jack had to admit.
Jacob was taking a walk in the countryside, having taken Sam along with him.
Jack had to admit it was probably wiser to give his Second in command something to do, even if walking left her with too much time to think and brood about Willow Rosenberg. Then again, Jacob was now playing host to Selmac and that meant he was in better physical shape than Teal'c, which probably meant Sam was by now a sweaty, whimpering mess.
Especially since Jacob had not been impressed with his daughter's actions and was, therefore, not likely to be inclined to set his pace according to what she could easily keep up with.
He spent a few seconds thinking about Sam all hot and sweaty and then shook the thought out of his head. *She's your subordinate, Jack. No leching on the subordinate!*
Janet was about to sit down, but Joyce shook her head and led her away, clearly wanting a more private table. As in further away from him.
Jack sighed and bent over some of the paperwork Hammond had Walter put into his bag.
“Could I talk to Willow?” Janet asked as she nibbled her bagel.
Joyce gave he a measuring look. “Not any time soon, I think. She's not really gotten to grips about what happened to her yet. And she just about growls every time she sees you. I’ll talk to her, but she’s a very private person and what with the invasion of her computers and her person with that strip search and the whole cavity inspection, well, she isn’t very well disposed to any of you.”
Janet sighed. “I was afraid of that.”
“I'm still not entirely sure still why you didn't just ask,” Joyce admitted. “You're family, you helped find Buffy. We would've told you. Not that we wouldn't have warned you that you didn't want to know, but we’d have told you if you insisted.”
Janet frowned slightly. “You haven't told me anything, yet.”
“That's because it's gonna be show-an'-tell. Trust me, you'll need show and tell to believe what we're going to tell you,” Joyce took a modest bite out of her bagel. “This is pretty good.”
Janet sighed. “I suppose. When will we be shown?”
“Tonight. And no need to look so expectant, you won't be nearly so happy once you know,” Joyce said glumly.
“Yes. Demons. I know,” Janet answered, just refraining from rolling her eyes in disbelief.
1630 Revello Drive
Joyce was helping Willow unpack her boxes and sort through the contents, to put it back into the orderly state that the young redhead preferred her possessions to be.
Buffy was helping by not helping, being about as organised as a hamster.
Dawn was, meanwhile, rifling through a box of Willow’s old toys that had been stored in the attic. Willow had taken all of those as well, and being as organised as she was, had been able to find them in minutes.
“Staying angry at them is not going to help, Willow,” Joyce said after a while.
“Isn’t it? Feels mighty nice!” Willow snapped.
“Oh, I know it does,” Joyce agreed wholeheartedly. “But righteous indignation only goes so far. And the point is, from a legal standpoint, they didn’t do anything wrong. The ones who truly wronged you are your parents.”
“They were the ones who told my parents!” Willow slammed a Trapper into a Keeper with some force.
“Yes. But was what they told your parents true or not?” Joyce reasoned. “They wanted information and to do that they went about it all wrong. But if they’d been after a hacker? Nothing they did was in anyway illegal. Your parents signed away every protection you had. These people came to your rescue as soon as they realised what happened. You’ve got a right to be angry at them, very angry even, but you should give them a chance to apologise.”
“Why?” Willow asked belligerently. “I got hurt and humiliated and locked up and I had to bend over, while a huge woman with a moustache told me to spread my cheeks and let her look at my asshole!”
“And I yelled at Buffy and made her run away. And Buffy didn’t stake Angel, even though she knew people were suffering. We all make mistakes, Willow. And if we don’t talk about it, don’t apologise, it festers. You liked Janet a lot when she was here, and you liked Colonel O'Neill too,” Joyce pointed out.
Willow scowled. “Yeah, okay but I never met that bitch-”
“Willow, language,” Joyce said gently. “And she looked far too upset to be called a female dog.”
Buffy sniggered. “I've heard you use worse.”
Joyce gave her a look, a slight twinkle of amusement in her eyes. “Not the point, Buffy. But you were quite fond of Janet as well, even the short while you knew her. So did you, Dawn. And yes, she made a mistake. But she, and the others, really couldn't know the level your parents would sink to.”
Dawn bit her lip. “She was kinda cool, yeah.”
“The way Captain Carter used my search program was innovative,” Willow admitted grudgingly.
“I'm sure that they'll be open to you yelling at them for a bit, but the longer you put off talking to them, the worse it gets, and they could be very helpful. I'm sure they can get you all sorts of equipment we’d never be able to afford, or legally get. Yes, I know about the rocket launcher,” Joyce raised an eyebrow. “I’ll be having words with Xander about that one.”
“We needed it!” Buffy defended her friend.
“I know, honey. But it does merit some words, especially the way he used Cordelia. And if you say anything about skanky ho's Willow? I remember a girl who I found in her boyfriend’s lap, with his hands under her shirt on my couch?” Joyce gave the mulish looking Willow a look that set the girl blushing.
Buffy goggled. “Wait, you went to second base? You never told me that!”
“After the way Mrs Summers talked to me, I was willing to deny everything anyway,” Willow shuddered.
“You’ll get over it, dear,” Joyce smiled. “But if you want to be emancipated, you need an income and selling your programs to the FBI or the Air Force will sure do that.”
“The FBI?” Willow growled. “They can-”
“Pay a massive premium, where first you would have given it to them,” Joyce told her firmly. “And you can tell them why. If your parents really gave all those permissions, suing them is not going to work. Gouging them might. And you don’t have to let Captain Carter off the hook completely all at once. You might ask to see what they can show you within the NDA you signed. If there are worms that crawl up people’s spines I, for one, would like to know as much as I could.”
Willow shivered. “Yeah. Me too. Okay. I'll talk to Captain Carter,” she grudgingly assented.
Joyce smiled. “Buffy?”
“I'll talk to Aunt Janet and the others. I won't even hit them,” Buffy said with a sigh.
“And I'll go eat ice-cream with Aunt Janet again,” Dawn said hopefully and with some satisfaction.
The others laughed.
*************************** Revello Drive, some hours later
“Okay, I think we've got one. A fledgling rising from his grave. John Gerard,” Willow said.
Buffy came over and read the information and nodded. “Sure looks like it. A late riser. He's been dead three days.”
“Fledgling sire?” Willow asked, as she wrote down the name and location of the grave for Buffy.
“What?” Joyce asked.
“The older or younger a sire, the longer it takes for a fledgling vamp to rise,” Buffy explained. “At least we think so. It's not an exact science. The Master sired Jesse and it took him less than a day to rise.”
“And we don't always know who does the siring. Most young vamps don't have the willpower to hold back at the optimum moment to turn their victims,” Willow pulled up a graph. “And Buffy only noticed it earlier this year, so we haven't been collating data for very long.”
Joyce gave Buffy a look. “You've been helping Willow with this, and your father with his calculations and you still insist that you're dumb?”
Buffy blushed slightly as she looked at Willow, who grinned. “Naah, Buffy just feels she's too cool for the Nerd Grade Crowd.”
“Oh, shut Miss A++ average,” Buffy groused. “Anything more?”
“Ummm... Oh. He was a martial artist. Aikido and Judo,” Willow frowned. “That isn't good.”
“We can hope that he's too hungry to think about using it,” Buffy tapped her mouth with her fingers. “Think it's too dangerous to take newbies?”
“You may need the back-up and I'm not crossbow guy, I'm research girl,” Willow reminded her.
“If they know how to use them and don't automatically go for their guns, or even take it seriously,” Buffy muttered. “We'll give them the short briefing and then see what happens.”
Revello drive, one hour later
“I really am sorry, Buffy. But after the things we've encountered, we’ve rather gotten out of the habit of just asking,” Janet told her niece as they sat together in the kitchen.
Buffy sighed. “You made a mistake, and it ran out of control. I know how that feels. I may not like it, but I know that you didn't mean for what happened to happen.”
“So I'm forgiven?” Janet asked hopefully. “You still want to see me? Maybe meet Cassie?”
Buffy smiled sadly. “After tonight, you may not want to see me, or let her anywhere near me.”
Janet smiled back and patted Buffy's hands. “I don't think so, Buffy. I don't think so at all.”
“A crossbow?” Jack asked, as he handled the rather decrepit one Buffy had handed him.
“Bullets have very little effect, unless you manage to hit just the right places. They can keep going even without most of their brains, even if not very intelligently. You have to shoot them through the heart,” Buffy held up one of her bolts, mostly wood with the thin iron cap to allow it to penetrate the sternum or ribcage.
“A bolt. Even with this,” Jack held the bow up, “Getting hit with one of those will take down practically anybody.”
“You won't be fighting anybody. You'll be fighting something,” Buffy told him. “You want to know what's going on in this town? I'll show you. But I don't think you'll be happy and I don't think you'll want to believe it. But it's still the truth.”
“Vampires,” Jack said disbelievingly.
“Vampires and other demons. Tonight we go and see a vamp. They’re relatively weak, but even the weakest one is physically three or four times as strong as the strongest human. They’re not bound by the laws of physics and the limitations of biology,” Buffy lectured, as effectively as Giles. “Okay, staking, shooting through the heart, fire and beheading, those kill. Crosses or other symbols of faith drive them back, holy water burns them.”
Buffy continued for some time, describing vampirism, and vampires’ weaknesses and strengths.
Jack’s face was unreadable. Sam looked sceptical, while Janet frowned, looking at the wooden stake in her hand. Jacob looked decidedly edgy. ***************************** Sunnydale General Cemetery, later that evening
“Gosh, this is exciting, hanging in a cemetery. Is this what you do for kicks around here?” Jack asked Buffy as he cocked and re-cocked his crossbow, feeling the tension on the string and the sharpness of the tip of the bolt.
“No, for kicks I go dancing. This I have to do,” Buffy said repressively from her perch on top of a gravestone.
“Sitting on gravestones, waiting for vamps to rise,” Jack stated as he looked in disapproval at Carter and Fraiser, who were looking decidedly unhappy to be where they were, though Sam's scepticism was still visible.
Janet clutched her stake in her hand, but Sam had stuffed her weapon in a bag and was looking around, her arms crossed.
Janet shivered. It was one thing to scoff about demons inside a well guarded army base, but at night in a cemetery it was rather more unnerving to think about them.
Jacob was leaning against a tree, his face grave, his pose tense. It was clear that he saw the tree as cover for his back, as much as a place to lean against.
“Waiting for the dead to rise can take a while and I like to get the weight off my feet. Not many benches around here, so I use what I have to,” Buffy jumped off the headstone in a beautiful leap, curving her back and landing lightly beside a newly dug grave.
Jack looked at Janet and Sam, who were eyeing Buffy suspiciously and worriedly and with a certain awe.
Then the pile of dirt moved. A hand thrust out of it and Buffy stepped back. “Exhibit one, a vampire. The body it inhabits is dead and used to belong to a young man called John Gerard. He was drained dry of blood, given a mouthful of the blood of the vamp who killed him and hey presto, between one and three days later it rises as a vamp itself.”
“Impressive effects, I'll give you that. How are you managing to pay for them?” Jack asked cynically.
Buffy gave him a look. “This isn't a joke, these aren't special effects. I wish they were. What's digging itself out of that grave is not John Gerard, but a demon inhabiting his body. It has all of John's knowledge, but none of his morality or love. It feeds on the living and kills for pleasure-”
Janet screamed. Buffy reacted immediately.
She did a backwards jump, pushed off with her toes and with a somersault landed on top of the headstone she'd been sitting on, then dropped within feet of Janet.
A large man dressed in jeans, muscle-t, sneakers and a leather jacket held Janet up by her throat and was shaking her like a dog. Buffy slammed her hand down on the vamp's arm, forcing him to drop Janet, then punched him in the stomach.
“It's the sire! Take care of the fledge!” She barked, as the big vamp threw a punch at her, which she barely dodged.
The fledgling vampire thrust the earth aside and surged out of his grave, its demonic face to the fore and snarling for blood. With a shake, it threw off a lot of the dirt clinging to him. Its face gleamed yellow and white in the moonlight, the forehead ridged and teeth elongated into fangs. It looked around. Then it grinned and charged straight at Carter and Fraiser.
Sam moved between the vamp and the prone Janet, quite sure that she could deal with a single rather scrawny twenty something that Buffy had hired to impress them. She had assumed a defensive stance and stood waiting. The vamp hit at her wildly and she moved her arm to block, expecting to counter quickly with a jab to his face.
Instead, she almost felt the bone in her arm give under a massive blow and the punch she threw was intercepted by an impossibly fast hand.
It grinned at her and squeezed and only Janet's spirited attack stopped the vamp from crushing Sam's hand immediately. It slammed its free hand into Janet, who had shakily risen to her feet only to be thrown back onto the pile of earth the vampire had crawled out of. Then it squeezed again and Sam screamed.
Jack shot his bolt and it pierced the fleshy part of the arm that was squeezing Sam, but the vamp shook didn’t even seem to notice it and was certainly not letting up on Carter, who was now on her knees, screaming and with tears running down her cheeks.
Jack charged, cursing that he’d left his sidearm at Revello Drive at Buffy’s insistence. He jumped on the vampire’s back and threw his arms around its neck, expecting it to fall. It did stagger, but swiftly regained its balance. It let go of Sam’s hand and she collapsed, sobbing, splinters of the bones of her hand sticking out from underneath the skin, blood running down her wrist and arm and wetting her shirt and jacket.
The vampire grabbed Jack by both his arms and threw him over his head, holding on to the man’s arms. Jack screamed as the demon pulled both his arms out of their sockets. It released Jack and turned back to Sam, who had scrambled to her feet. She tried to keep her crushed hand away from it, but it was too fast. The vamp grabbed her hand and slapped her other one away as if it was a fly, then put its hand around her throat and squeezed.
Sam gargled, her eyes wide in fear and pain.
Jack looked around, desperately. He saw Buffy exchange blows with the other, bigger vamp. It was very fast, faster than anything that Jack had ever seen. Buffy was faster. He could also see she was angry and determined. He saw her pause in mid attack, and throw a stake.
It hit the vamp who held Sam and Jack saw it fall to dust, saw Sam fall on top of the dust, sobbing. He saw Buffy take a massive hit in the face, because she had to stand still to throw that stake hard enough and accurately enough to take out the fledgling. Buffy went down, but rolled and was up again before the big vamp could pin her.
He could see the bruise on her cheek forming already and it was huge. He painfully climbed to this knees, unable to use his arms and headed for Sam. Jacob was beside her, stake in his trembling fist, almost as pale as his daughter as she stared in shock at her mangled hand.
The big vamp chuckled. “You’re better than I expected, girlie. Who are you?”
“They call me the Slayer,” Buffy answered coolly, then dodged a lightning fast attack and slammed her fist into his gut and made a short hooking motion with her foot, lightly tripping him.
He kept his balance only by waving his arm and then Buffy was closing in and a stake hit home, deep into his heart. The vampire fell apart with an expression of surprise on its face.
Buffy panted and winced, then made her way over quickly to the grave and knelt by Janet. “Aunt Janet?” she reached out a tremulous hand and felt for a pulse in Janet’s throat. Her shoulders relaxed when she found it.
She checked for obvious injuries, then rose again. “We need to get her to a hospital. I think there’s a few cracked ribs, possible a broken wrist and a break in her lower arm and some damage to the throat.”
She moved towards the others warily, her eyes flicking about.
Jack recognised it as checking for enemies. She’d been badly surprised at the second vampire, that was obvious. He wanted to yell at her. *But she’s seventeen. She’s been fighting guys like these. She isn’t a trained officer, she isn’t even a soldier. She’s just a girl. A freakishly strong girl.*
Buffy looked down at the sobbing Sam and the groaning Jack and winced, then looked over her shoulder to where an unconscious Janet was lying. She knelt down and gently felt around Jack’s shoulders, but it still hurt like hell and he groaned.
“In case you weren’t sure, yes, that was a vampire, one of the more common demons. This was just a fledgling, a newborn if you will. They get stronger with age, better at combat with experience, and they don’t die unless killed. So they can get pretty darn old. This one had some martial arts training, Aikido and Judo, but it didn’t quite know what to do with it yet.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Jack muttered as he felt inhumanly strong fingers probe his muscles for tears and strains that might hinder putting his arms back into their sockets. He knew it was better to do it as soon as possible, before the muscles set into place, but he really wasn’t looking forward to it.
“I’ve fought a few, trust me,” Buffy said with a haunted look. “I think the bigger one was its sire, but I’m not sure. He might just have been hanging about. He had martial arts training too. Jack? This is gonna hurt like a bitch.”
She leaned down, grabbed Jack’s left arm and shoulder and quickly and efficiently popped his arm back in its socket. Then she did the same for his right.
Jack had gritted his teeth together during the operation and let out a breath of relief and pain when it was over, surprised at her skill.
“Does your mother know about that mouth of yours?” he asked with a dry chuckle.
“If you tell her, she’ll get out the soap, so please don’t,” Buffy quipped back. Then she moved to Sam.
Her face was stricken as she saw the extent of the injuries to her hand. “We need to get her to the hospital. Quickly.”
“Janet wasn’t very happy with them,” Jack reminded her.
“We’ll get Doctor Pierce. He worked on Giles’ hand after… After he got hurt. He’s great. I think he knows,” Buffy whispered.
“How did you do that?” Jack asked, as Jacob helped Sam to her feet. She trembled with pain and shock and seemed about ready to faint.
“A long time ago, no one knows how or why, a girl was chosen to protect mankind from monsters like that. She was stronger and faster than almost any demon. And she fought ‘til she died. And then another was called, and another and another and so on, until we get to me,” Buffy leaned down and looked Jack, who was still pale and sweating, straight in the eye. Then she took his hand and helped him to his feet.
“Can you walk? I need to carry Aunt Janet.”
Jack looked at the slender short blonde and nodded. She walked over to Janet and gently picked her up, cradling her in her arms.
“When did it happen? This calling? You told that big… guy, that you were something called a Slayer?”
“The Slayer. There’s only one. Or there was. I was fifteen. Just,” Buffy answered in clipped tones.
“Fifteen?” Jack asked stunned. “You’ve been fighting things like that for two years? Alone.”
Buffy set off, walking as quickly as Sam and Jack could keep up with. “Fighting, yeah, alone, no. First I had Merrick and Pike, then Giles, Willow and Xander. Oz and Cordelia, too.”
“You said the power passes on when the Slayer dies,” Jacob asked after a few minutes silence. “How does that work? How long are you…” he stopped, uncertain about how to phrase what he wanted to know.
Buffy didn’t answer for a minute or so, then just as Jack was about to change the subject, she did, in a strained voice.
“I died when I was sixteen and a girl, Kendra, was called. Xander resuscitated me. So then there were two Slayers. Then, a few weeks ago, Kendra died. You do the math about how long we last. I don’t do this for kicks. I don’t do this because I want to. I do it because it needs to be done, and nobody else can do it.”
Sam looked up from under Jacob’s arm as he guided her stumbling steps. “It’s impossible! Bodies can’t fall to ash like that! There has to be a rational explanation!”
She looked ready to continue, but Buffy’s glare stopped her.
“These aren’t aliens, this isn’t technology. These are demons and magic. This isn’t an ordinary town. There’s a portal under the High School Library, but it doesn’t lead to other planets, it isn’t a Star Gate. It’s a Hellmouth and it leads right to where the name makes you think it does. And I’m here to keep it closed. Or we are, me and my friends. And we don’t have a base or fancy weapons or teams, it’s just Giles, Xander and Willow to help me, without them I would have died long ago, or worse.”
“Worse?” Jack asked.
“Vampire. Or some demon’s toy until I finally died. Oh, and the world would have ended several times, or at best be ruled by demons that make your Goa’uld look like Boy Scouts,” Buffy glared at Sam.
“The word would have ended?” Sam whispered. “And you stopped it?”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah. But…I-I… I messed up, big.”
“Joyce said there were reasons you ran away. You saved the world, but not everyone in it?” Jack asked sympathetically.
Buffy laughed grimly. “I let love blind me to the truth of what was happening. Love and hope. But that was once, I won’t let that happen again. Too many people died.”
“We could help,” Jack offered. “The Air Force, the government.”
Buffy bit her lip. “I thought of that, too. But this, this thing is bigger than nations. This is about the world. I can’t wait for people in an office to make a decision about things they don’t understand. I can’t let loyalty to a country or obedience to a chain of command get in the way, because this is too big a thing. I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I fight supernatural things. My friends fight supernatural things. We’ve saved the world several times, we’ll keep on doing it.”
“I’m sure we can find a way,” Jack tried again.
Buffy sighed. “You noticed Willow wasn’t out here? She knows she’s not much good in a fight. There are demons much worse than the one you just faced, that was a really teeny one and he just kicked your butts. I am the thing that demons fear.”
Jack was about to speak when Jacob interrupted. “Jack. Shut up. We need to get to the hospital and after we get home, then we can discuss how we can help them. But she’s right. This is not our fight, because we’ve got no idea how to win it. The best we can do is offer aid when they ask for it.”
Jack nodded, then grinned slyly at Buffy. “Like if you need another AT4 rocket launcher? I thought you needed stakes or fire, not an anti-tank weapon?”
“The Judge. He couldn’t be killed by any weapon forged by man. He literally burned emotions out of people. The last time it took a whole army - ten thousand - to defeat him and cut him up into pieces. Of course that was thousands of years ago. Modern arms are often created without a single person touching them and failing that, we hoped the high explosives would work,” Buffy said absently, as Janet stirred in her arms.
“We need to call Mom and tell her what happened. She’s really not gonna be happy at me.”
“After that doctor of yours has operated on Sam, I can use the same device I used on Xander to heal her,” Jacob assured her. “I’ll work on Jack and Janet before that.”
“So she’ll play the piano again?” Buffy smirked.
Jacob winced. “God I hope not! I got so very tired of Chopsticks. My Sam is a very bright girl, but not very good at music.”
“Dad!” Sam objected.
Jack sniggered. “I just love these insights into your youth, Carter.”
They reached the car and Buffy put Janet on the back seat as gently as possible. Then she straightened.
“Okay, that fight set off about every alarm on my Slaydar, so I need to go and hit the pavement and talk to some people too.”
“People? I thought you said you and your friends were it?” Jack asked.
“Plenty of people want to keep the world as it is, but are too frightened or weak to fight,” Buffy answered. “And I use ‘people’ in the broadest possible sense of the word. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have patrolling to do and you have a hospital to get to. Don’t forget to call Mom and Willow, please!”
“Wait!” Jacob called out and reached into a pocket. He drew out a mobile and handed it to Buffy. “Take that with you. It would make me feel better.”
Buffy smiled and tucked the phone away. “Thanks. I’ll call if I need to, and in an hour to check in.”
Jacob nodded. Then he saluted, as crisply as he’d ever done for any senior officer and with a lot more respect than he had often felt for them.
Sunnydale General Hospital
Janet blinked awake painfully, then shut her eyes tightly again against the over bright light. Her head hurt, her back hurt, her arms hurt, and her knees hurt. She felt like one big bruise.
“Heya Doc. Jacob will be with you shortly, but he had to get quite vocal and insistent to get Doctor Pierce for Sam,” a familiar voice said from nearby.
Janet managed to open her eyes sufficiently to see that Jack was lying on the bed next to hers, looking about as battered as she felt.
Then she realised who was missing. “Buffy?” she asked anxiously, trying to lever herself up on her elbows and failing.
“Still out there, fighting the good fight,” Jack reassured her.
Janet relaxed marginally. “Joyce?”
“On her way here, but stopping to get me a cup of hot chocolate that’s palatable,” Jack grimaced. “I wish I could say I couldn’t feel my arms.”
“What happened?” Janet frowned painfully, closing her eyes again. “The last thing I remember is that guy picking me up as if I was nothing.”
“What happened is that we were shown quite convincingly that Buffy was telling the truth and I’ve been a jackass and not just a Jack,” Jack answered. “We got trounced by a single… opponent, just as she described.”
“She didn’t interfere?” Janet sounded confused and hurt.
“She stopped its daddy from killing you, and it from killing us. Took a blow that would’ve killed you or me, I think, if that guy punched as hard as the one we were fighting,” Jack sighed. “Damn thing dislocated both my shoulders.”
“Ouch, that hurts,” a commiserating voice said. “And wow, that’s gonna be a major shiner!”
“Gee, thanks Miss Rosenberg,” Jack said sarcastically.
“So what did happen?” Joyce asked briskly, but in a soft voice.
Janet heard Jack murmur his thanks. Apparently her sister had indeed brought the requested chocolate.
“Buffy wasn’t very clear, just that things didn’t go as suspected and she needed to know if that was a coincidence or something bigger.”
“She said she thought the sire was there too. Both knew martial arts. We.. well I at any rate, didn’t believe her, so we did everything wrong and got our asses handed to us,” Jack admitted ruefully.
“The sire was there?” Willow sounded startled. “That’s unusual.”
She took off her backpack and took out her notebook. “Do you remember what he looked like? It was a he?”
“Yeah. Or if it was a woman she was an East German athlete,” Jack joked.
“All I have is big and not too fond of hygiene, sorry,” Janet apologized.
“Considering Doctor Pierce thinks you have a concussion, that's not all that strange,” Joyce said as she tucked the blankets around her younger sister. “Try and get some sleep. I'm sorry you can't be in a room on your own, but Doctor Pierce won't let anyone involved in Buffy's business in a room by themselves.”
“Interesting man. We'll have to talk some more...” Janet yawned and fell asleep as Willow questioned Jack and filled her database.
Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce removed his mask as he walked out of the prep room.
The young officer's father was waiting, looking anxious but not as anxious as the injuries ought to have made him, so unless he was an idiot, which Hawkeye doubted, he knew something that Hawkeye didn't. Hawkeye hadn't seen or spoken to him before the operation, but he knew it had to do with the supernatural. He just hoped the man wasn't involved in dark rituals.
“Yes?” Carter looked up. “Dr Pierce?”
“Mind if I sit? Not as young as I used to be,” Hawkeye murmured.
“Please,” Jacob moved slightly and Hawkeye sat down.
“Your daughter is in recovery,” Hawkeye said. “And I fear that even with the best physical therapy, the chances of her using that hand fully again are slim.”
“I see. Is everything back in place?”
“I put all the fragments back where they should be, and immobilized them with splints. We can’t put a cast on her because of the open wounds,” Hawkeye gave the younger man a look. “You aren’t worried enough. What aren’t you telling me?”
Jacob hesitated. “It involves things to do with Miss Summers and her friends. Janet, that’s Dr Fraiser, is Miss Summers’ aunt. It isn’t something that the general public can know about.”
“Is this what was used on Xander Harris?” Pierce asked.
Jacob nodded. “It is.”
Hawkeye sighed. “Dammit. Here I was hoping someone had invented a miracle cure to heal battle damage. That would’ve been nice to have in Korea.”
“Vietnam too,” Carter admitted. “Maybe in a couple of years something can be done.”
“Not something generally used on civilians?” Hawkeye pursed his lips.
“It has something to do with Miss Summers, but not quite her line of work,” Carter assured him. “But we owed Mr Harris-”
“Xander. Mr Harris is his father, from whom he’ll no doubt want to distance himself even further,” Hawkeye said with a scowl.
“Xander then. We owed him, and then we got involved in a little of what Miss Summers did…” Jacob shrugged. “We’ll be taking Sam, Jack and Janet to the Base. But…” he looked over the old Doctor. “I think at the very least we can show you the results.”
Hawkeye tilted his head. “I would like that, yes. Not the treatment?”
“No, I can’t allow that,” Jacob said regretfully. “Though once it does go public, I’ll try to make sure you get a demonstration, and maybe hear about it before others.”
“That would be nice. Well, I did want to see Xander before he was discharged…” Hawkeye frowned. “Your daughter is under full anaesthesia, she won’t leave her on her own volition.”
“Colonel O’Neill can sign her out,” Jacob argued.
“She’ll still need an ambulance. She can’t travel sitting up, not under anaesthesia,” Hawkeye insisted.
“Then I’ll arrange for an ambulance,” Jacob shrugged. “I still have some rank to pull.”
Hawkeye sighed. “I hate working with Generals. They only think with their stars.”
Jacob grinned. “I’ve been waiting for years for someone to say that to my face. Do you know that there was a doctor in Korea who used it to no less than five generals at the same time?”
“Twelve stars in total, seventeen if you count the ones they thought with,” Hawkeye nodded.
Jacob’s eyes widened. Then his grin became wider. “Damn. Wait until I tell Jack that one.”
Winslow B. Busby Army base
Xander felt heavy and tired and when he opened his eyes, it seemed his lids were crusted together.
“Wait,” a soft voice said and then he felt a cloth, wet, move over his eyes. “Try it now.”
It was a motherly type of gesture, but he had learned not to expect that sort of behaviour from his mother. So it was probably a nurse. It smelled like a hospital in here. But the voice seemed very familiar and she certainly felt like a mother. He frowned and tried to open his eyes again. This time bright light blinded him.
“XANDER!” an excited, very familiar voice squealed.
Then a familiar warmth was in his arms. “Ooowww,” he groaned.
“Oh, god, Xander, I’m so sorry!” the warmth disentangled itself again and an apologetic hand held his.
“Willow,” Xander smiled slightly. “Did you get the number of the tank that hit me?”
“He’s in jail,” the soothing voice said. “No Dawn, one person hugging him like that is enough.”
“Sorry Ms Summers,” Willow said sheepishly.
“In jail…” Xander frowned, his eyes still closed.
“It was your father, Xander,” Joyce said gently.
“Oh. Yeah,” Xander sighed. “Well at least he’ll have something to be angry about when he beats me up next time,” he muttered tiredly.
“That will be a trifle difficult,” Joyce said firmly. “Since he will have to come through me, Willow and Buffy.”
“And me!” a young voice piped up.
Xander smiled at the irrepressible youthful exuberance of Dawn, but didn’t open his eyes. “Yeah. You won’t be there though.”
“No, and neither will you. Your parents have been removed from custody.”
“And guess who’s our new foster mom!” Willow chirped happily.
Xander’s eyes flew open. “Our? Ow. Ow. Ow,ow,ow. Can I say ow?”
Willow’s happiness evaporated, replaced by firm resolve and as much anger as Xander had ever seen on her face. “The Rosenbergs handed me over to the FBI. For hacking.”
“Hacking?” Xander’s eyes moved to Joyce.
“Whatever things Willow may have wanted to do to the school website does not merit the way she was treated by the FBI or her parents,” Joyce stated. Then she firmly fluffed up Xander’s pillow and pinned him with a glare. “Nor can I ever imagine you stealing a missile launcher!”
“Rocket launcher,” Xander corrected automatically, too shocked by what he had just heard to guard his tongue. “The AT-4 is…”
He saw Joyce’s fond, exasperated and slightly amused look and groaned. “Oh. Oh. OW! The light, my eyes!”
Joyce patted his arm. “Oh dear? Does it hurt? Why don’t you go back to sleep for a bit, and when you wake up again we’ll get you a lot of food and we’ll take you home and you’ll be safe. No rocket launchers need ever be mentioned.”
Xander smiled slightly, then he yawned.
Joyce ushered her daughters out of the room and was confronted by a pale and stubbly-cheeked Jacob, who smiled slightly. “How is he?”
“Still tired, still sore, probably hungry, but since he fell asleep again, not that hungry,” Joyce said fondly.
“A teenager who isn’t hungry? Amazing,” Jacob’s smile widened. Then he sobered. “George called, that’s General Hammond.”
“Oh?” Joyce tried for airy, but her very slight blush the sniggers from Buffy and Dawn and the inquisitive ‘What?’ that Willow directed at her foster sisters ruined it.
“He was very pleased how things turned out, very apologetic and wanted to ask me if he could risk calling you, or if he should keep his distance,” Jacob’s smile was decidedly amused.
Buffy hooted with laughter. “It’s like passing notes in class, to get the attention of the cheerleading queen!”
“Which would explain your grade point average, honey,” Joyce countered. “And you know very well I was never much into cheerleading.”
Jacob’s eyes involuntarily closed as Selmac inquired after cheerleading and then imposed a uniform Jacob remembered on Joyce. *Interesting,*
the symbiont murmured. *I thought you preferred males?*
Jacob’s interest was piqued, despite his own personal misgivings about Selmac’s preferred choice of partner. *I have no real preference. I’m old enough to have learned to appreciate both. Ms Summers is… quite attractive. A pity General Hammond has already shown an interest.*
*Wait, you mean you’ve been looking at guy’s butts all this time…
* *I believe the term is ‘Gotcha’?*
Selmac said slyly.
“Talking to Sally?” Buffy asked.
Selmac sighed internally while Jacob repressed a grin. “Yes, just explaining a few Terran cultural subtleties.”
“About cheerleading Moms?” Buffy smirked. Then realised what she’d said and her face twisted in comic dismay. “Oh, eeuuwww!!!”
Jacob smiled at Joyce. “Can I tell him I passed the note and got a positive answer?”
Joyce sighed. “I suppose you can.”
Jacob turned serious. “George is a very good man, Ms Summers. He made a mistake here, but he doesn’t make many.”
Then he smiled again. “I look forward to describing some other cultural subtleties to Selmac soon.”
Buffy hesitated and then stepped forward and hugged him. “Thanks for what you did for Xander and Aunt Janet.”
Jacob smiled down at her. “I rarely get to do things like that. And Selmac seemed very certain we owed you. We do want to talk to you and your Watcher sometime. I think Selmac…”
“Selmac feels a bit like a demon, but not really. Just different,” she wrinkled her nose. “I think we should talk too. Soon.”
Jacob nodded, then leaned in. “I understood from Dr Pierce that your friend Mr Giles had his hand injured? I think it would be a fair repayment for your time if I looked him over…”
Buffy blinked twice, then smiled broadly and hugged him again. “Ummm… Willow was injured in the last fight in the library too… She still complains about headaches…”
“Janet looked her over. I’ll look at what I can do after you return this afternoon for Xander,” Jacob promised.
Xander smiled slightly at the irascible old Doctor, who’d probably done more to hone his humour than anyone else in his life since he’d first stumbled into the man’s presence at age twelve.
“Well, I know you were much more badly injured and now you’re not,” Hawkeye said with a sigh.
“Yeah, that should happen more often in hospitals,” Xander quipped.
Hawkeye grinned slightly. “I understand that you’ll be moving in with Ms Summers?”
“Yeah, Willow and I will be moving into the basement. I’ll be helping to build two bedrooms there,” Xander shrugged slightly. “It won’t be as comfortable for Willow as at home, but it’ll be a lot better than it was, if you get my drift.”
Hawkeye nodded and patted Xander’s knee under his blanket. “I get it, kid. I get it.”