The Other Half::celeste::Chapter 5Be Ready
Sirius Black was an unmitigated prig. Grinding his teeth together in frustration, it was all Severus could do to keep from reaching out and throttling the spirit. Given what had happened the last time he’d made contact, it wouldn’t be the best of ideas, however. Unfortunately, that meant Severus had no escape from the aggrieving Black who was driving him to the point of insanity with his blasé attitude towards what amounted to the loss of everything he’d ever known.
“…so, your magic works- it just works differently.”
Willing himself not to do anything stupid, such as waste effort and endanger himself by punching Black square in his face, Severus turned to him with cold eyes. “How comforting
“Now Snape,” Black admonished, “I understand your frustration-“
Severus’ glare was one to rival a basilisk. “You have no concept of my frustration.”
“Actually, I do. Given that I feel what you feel, remember?” he pointed out. “But try to see the bigger picture here, Sev.”
”Seh-veh-rus,” Severus forced between clenched teeth while pointedly stressing each syllable.
After flashing another dazzling smile, Black went on. “Getting a few kinks in your magic is a small price to pay for eternal bliss as opposed to eternal misery. I mean, it’s not like you’re a Squib, is it? You’re still a Wizard, you just have to learn how to work the mojo a bit differently now.”
The sliding door had been opened, and the two sat on a terrace overlooking the glinting skyline of the city with a shimmering blue lake in the background. The sun was bright, and although it was a bit chilly, Severus was used to Northern European weather and was quite comfortable in a fleece sweater that hung a bit off his lean frame. The black color absorbed the sun’s warmth, and insulated him against the slight wind that kicked up on occasion from these heights.
Below, traffic moved at a frantic pace as commuters rushed off to work. Severus would gaze over the railing from his place on the wooden chair surrounded by a typical American’s idea of breakfast and watch the tiny glinting automobiles zoom by. The Muggle world was fast and loud, always in a rush, and never truly took the time to enjoy the magic all around them. And if Black was right, which he’d recently developed an infuriating tendency to be (though he was connected to the higher powers so Severus hardly counted it in his favor); magic was literally all around him.
In his world, magic was within one’s self, and that was what drove it all. The wand focused that will to bend the laws of nature, and so it was. In this world, however, he was going to have to pull magic from the air, the earth: simply said, from everything around him. Although Black did state some of his old magic resided within Severus still, and that was why it would be important not to try anything too big. Apparently, in this place, magic was anything but an exact science, and things could go wrong if he wasn’t careful with what he was doing- horribly wrong.
Double the possibility of calamity when the fact he was on a Hellmouth was added to it. It was the first thing he demanded Black explain to him, while he guzzled down his morning coffee. Apparently his ‘soul mate’ had decided to move onto a place that drew evil like some sort of paranormal magnet. Mystical energies converged, and it spat everything out of it, from Vampires to dimensional portals leading to Hell. How lovely, he’d thought, a real vacation spot.
Severus nibbled on his buttered toast, still gazing down at the street below as he absorbed all Black had told him. Sorting this, cataloging that, examining here and there- nothing escaped dissection by the sharp scalpel that was his intellect. He was coming up with a few theories to work with, and knew Black was right there with him whenever a new thought or idea emerged from the endless sea that was his mind.
He knew someone had pulled his ‘soul mate’ from the After. Since it was not the Powers’ doing, that left someone well acquainted with very strong magic. Severus didn’t know if magic was policed here the same way it was in his world, but the only type strong enough to reanimate the dead was Necromancy. Necromancy of course being the Darkest of the Dark Arts, for a variety of reasons he’d really rather not dwell on it this early in the morning. He glanced at Black, seeing the spirit’s chin propped on his hand as he watched and ‘listened’ to his thoughts, but when he made no move to correct Severus’ flow of ideas he assumed Necromancy could be practiced in this world as well.
It would’ve been a very advanced level of that particular branch of magic. Causing a body to rise out of the grave was fairly simple, though it involved distasteful methods, but putting the soul back into it was significantly harder. It was like comparing watching Wolfsbane being brewed, to brewing it one’s self. Easier said than done. There were only a handful of Potion Masters who could concoct a successful batch of Wolfsbane, and there were only a handful of Necromancers who could raise the dead with soul in tact-- the Dark Lord being one of those few, and he suspected Albus Dumbledore as well (should he choose- which he never would).
“It’s just as rare here,” Black stated after cocking his head in that ‘incoming message’ way he did whenever he communicated with the Powers. “A powerful caster is needed, a complicated series of incantations, and a rare list of items. Not to mention a lot of brass.”
“Which leaves out all but a few witches or wizards in this world, does it not?” Severus asked before sipping again from his cup of tongue-scraping black coffee.
“I’d assume. They’re very silent on giving away any more,” Black answered. “Which means we’re on the right track.”
“So. We need to find someone powerful enough to cast that sort of spell.”
“Find the caster, find the girl,” Black returned with a satisfied nod.
A tiny smirk grew on Severus’ face as he tapped his finger against the side of his cup. “Sounds as if we’ll have to make a sojourn, as it were, back into the mystical.”
“The worlds aren’t separate here, Snape,” Black stated. “They overlap. We’ll have to find the magical within the normal. There’s no Ministry of Magic, no Aurors, no Diagon Alley, and no Hogwarts. Witches and Sorcerers are self-taught, more often than not. Unless they form covens or get together online.”
“Online?” Severus asked, blinking.
“Internet. World Wide Web.” At Severus’ continual blank look, Black let out a long sigh. “Purebloods.”
Thinking that was rather rich coming from Sirius Black, Severus narrowed his eyes contemptuously at the hypocrite. “You are
a Pureblood, you mangy beast.”
“A Pureblood with Muggle-Born and Half-Blood friends,” Black pointed out with that crooked grin of his that bespoke confidence. “And, yes, access to infinite knowledge and wisdom.” He waved the last off with a dismissive and entirely too-casual shrug. “Either way.”
Scowling, Severus returned to his coffee, mind working around the problem of getting his hands on one of these ‘Internets’.
Severus had to admit, albeit grudgingly, that Muggles truly were fascinating creatures. Their imaginations were astounding, given the sorts of inventions they dreamed up. It turned out this ‘Internet’ was something only to be found on a computer, and it was a vast network of information that was accessible to anyone’s fingertips as long as they had said computer.
So he had been forced to go once more into the bowels of a store and pick up what Black called a ‘laptop’. Apparently it was mobile, and for Black this was definitely an attractive feature.
Instead of returning to his suite, Black had led Snape to a coffeehouse, with the same statement of being around people once again instead of ‘hermiting yourself in a hotel room’ as Black put it. Severus hadn’t been given much choice, in anything really, and so complied with only a bit of grumbling. It really was pointless trying to fight his mischievous spirit.
With another tall styrofoam cup of frappuccino, Severus was busy perusing the instruction manual to his new laptop while Black hovered over-shoulder. Mentally snapping at the guide had done no good; so Severus simply bit the bullet and tried not to let Black’s hovering disturb him as he flipped from one page to the next in a quiet rustle of paper. Every so often his hand would snake out and capture his drink, and took a nearly sadistic glee in the brief flashes of longing that overcame Black’s handsome face as he caught a whiff of the Muggle concoction.
When the frappuccino was nearly drained, Severus finally managed to get the damn thing powered on. Now he stared at an obscenely blazing blue screen, squinting, and directing his little arrow over various small symbols. He was no closer to getting ‘plugged in’ to the ‘net’ (as a nasally voiced clerk had called it), but he was infinitely nearer to loosing his infamous temper.
“Hm, registration card should have you in right away,” Black muttered to himself. He cast a quick glance in every direction to make sure no one was watching. There was no cause for worry as the entire place seemed involved in their books or companions, so it was safe for him as he reached over and moved the bit of glossy paper proclaiming Severus’ new wireless account information. It had cost a pretty amount, along with the satellite modem, but Black had assured him it was well worth it.
Severus himself still focused on the screen, tapping his finger on the smooth black pad twice in order to call up yet another registration box. He typed in the information again, along with a series of numbers, unable to move from the oddness of the soft clicking of the keys. It was poor substitute for a quill, though he admitted privately that not having to periodically re-dip anything was more convenient.
Finally, he heard a soft series of beeps, and was left with his scowl growing deeper as one series of boxes after another popped up requesting more of the same information. For not the first time, Severus felt at a lost in this strange world in which noise declared war upon the ears with roaring traffic and blasting music just beyond the storefront window. Where everyone seemed to have a device of some sort pressed to the sides of their heads and constantly spoke. Muggles went this way and that in a flurry, they purchased more and more to make convenience, and where metal and plastic controlled their fates.
What he wouldn’t give for a wand.
“You’ll get used to it,” Black suddenly stated.
Severus narrowed his eyes at the computer but didn’t bother replying, mentally or otherwise. Black couldn’t understand. He was not human anymore, had said as much himself, and couldn’t fathom the fear of being unable to return to the familiar way of life Severus had known all the days before his death. In fact, the longer he went between his re-awakening, the more of what memories he’d awakened with seemed to fade. All but that damned persistent longing. A longing he could not identify, and could easily attribute to homesickness though he knew better.
A triumphant crow from Black snapped him from his thoughts when a finger was thrust nearly before his nose. “There! We’re in!”
Severus was left staring at some garishly-colored display labeled in bold black letters as ‘PMaster’s Personal Home Page’. Below this obscene type were pictures and a variety of text displaying local news and weather information.
Black seemed absurdly pleased, and began yapping in a manner that would have made any small pup proud. “Here, that’s your e-mail box, sort of electronic owl mail. There’s your account information that you can change if you need to. Hm. We’ll need to get access to a search engine.”
What followed was more excited chatter as Black directed him to one ‘site’ after another. By the time his third frappuccino had arrived (with two bathroom breaks between) Severus and Black had finally stumbled onto a Wicca Message Board. Severus and Black went through countless entries, reading everything from the correct way to summon the four corners to making one’s protection pouches smell better. Severus felt a growing sense of horror at the amount of work involved in order to do what had only taken him a word or two in Latin before. Why involve any deities in his casting? What would they want to do with a mortal such as himself anyway?
He nearly threw the laptop across the room in frustration when he saw one of the potions.
“Absurd,” he mumbled furiously. “Eye of newt and two rat spleens for a beauty salve? Complete idiocy, Black. The spleens would counteract any good of the newt eye- and neither are used in,” Severus’ lip curled with disdain, “beauty elixirs. They’re backward!”
“Well, it looks like a home recipe,” Black placated. “Anything on raising the dead?”
“Only a bunch of flippant warnings about three fold,” Severus replied spitefully. Is that all they knew of Dark Arts? What you do comes back to bite you in the arse like some sort of karmic guard dog? He snorted, thinking they had no concept of the true nature of the Dark Arts, and continued searching for anything involving Necromancy.
His search took him from the message board to more web sites. He finally located one with the first spell he’d seen that did not look like codswallop. “This has potential,” he whispered to Black.
Black gazed at the incantation involved, eyes narrowing at sections before saying, “dangerous.”
“But effective,” Snape replied. He continued scrolling down the document, comparing his knowledge to what was written.
Uneasy with the continued verbal discussion, Severus turned the dialog inward. More unnecessary invocation, but the overall gist is the same as what I’ve seen
“So it is
possible.” Black looked torn between being glad at their success, and revulsion at the implications of such a spell. “But the soul?”
Severus shrugged so slightly anyone aside from Black would have missed the small movement. Uncertain
“Here,” Black pointed to one of the items on the list, “Urn of Osiris. That’d be one limited edition collectible, Snape.”Is it
? Severus peered at it suspiciously.
Black’s answering nod exuded an air of absolute reliance to his statement. “Oh yeah. Didn’t you ever pay attention in History of Magic? Ancient Cults 101. Osiris’ priests smashed everything when Hatshepsut came to power; afraid she’d tried to raise-“ he cut off at the bored disinterest on Severus’ face. “Long story short, all but a few blessed items in the temples were destroyed- very few. And that was thousands of years ago.” Black gazed at the screen again.How could you possibly remember something like that? Powers again
? Snape questioned. He remembered the way Professor Binns, resident ghostly instructor at Hogwarts, made his lectures only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry.
“Not the Powers. Egyptian and Grecian cultures were covered second year. Before Lily let us copy her notes, so we actually had to pay attention,” Black turned speculative, lost in memories for a moment. “Though, we took turns. Guess it’s just lucky it was me that day.”Can you be certain the same event occurred here
? Severus reasonably queried. After all, as you’ve pointed out so many times, this is a different dimension. The Wizarding World doesn’t even exist here.
“Events trickle down through the Infinity, from one dimension to the next. They can be altered slightly, but the echo remains intrinsically the same,” Black replied, sounding more intellectual dead then he’d ever managed alive. “Take the Muggles, same inventions, same cities, same overall history- though the players change from time to time. What’s real to us- Merlin for example- is regarded as myth here. The Powers put us where they need us.” Sirius tapped the name of Osiris. “The gods never change, though. No, the urns are still rare in this space. They contain too much power to be common trade.”What should I do
“Search for any reference to the urns you can find,” Black advised. “Sooner or later, we’ll hit something.”
With a long-lasting sigh usually spouted by someone who’d rather have their teeth pulled without the use of any numbing agent, Severus went back to the search engine to start combing through all again.
She had no recollection of how she came to be on the grassy knoll. It rose above a landscape of rolling hills that stretched into the horizon no matter where she looked. It was something out of a postcard, pristine and perfect, the sort of thing you’d like to send home to friends and let them know where you were was spectacular. The grass was uncut and untouched by modern civilization, growing taller than any suburban lawn, just as it had and always would. Each blade sang in its own soft way as the warm breeze that bespoke of summer afternoons conducted the peaceful sonnet of nature.
Though it was mid-day and the skies a cloudless cerulean blue above, the stars were out and scattered across the heavens like a million diamonds adrift in fate’s embrace. Each sparkled, each was tender, and every single one called with a familiar light that was warmer than the sun but not nearly so painful to gaze into for hours on end. Beneath them all, admiring them with a child-like wonder, was Buffy who lay stretched out on her back atop the long grass of the emerald hills.
Time passed oddly, at once lasting a second and an eternity. It was in this space of infinite time, below these stars, that she felt a peace that had been lost for too long. Here, on the hill where it all began, she was free to remember.
“How did it feel on that platform?”
Buffy did not know when she had been joined, or if she had joined her, but she became aware of a young woman lying next to her. Strands of red hair a deeper sunset auburn than Willow’s spilled over the grass in lengthy waves that curled slightly at their ends in hooked tendrils. Her face was the sort that you could easily miss passing by, her features nondescript in their simplicity. At least, all but the brilliant green eyes that held an omniscience wrapped with a maternal care that could very well have birthed the world. Her pale limbs, decorated with a few patches of freckles, poking out from the short-sleeved scoop-necked blouse that was the twin to the one Buffy wore, were arranged in a pose imitating Buffy’s right down to the bent elbow that pillowed her head.
Feeling all at once as if she had both met her before, and yet never had, Buffy gazed at her in confusion. “Sorry?”
“The platform,” the woman repeated with a sort of patience that was unforced but natural. “When the portal was open?”
“Oh.” Buffy turned away from the red haired woman and returned her sights to the sky. Her mind recalled that event with perfect serenity, reliving it again as an abject observer. The shimmering light that would end the world, born of Dawn’s blood, tearing the air just below the long platform. A sight terrifying to behold, and yet beautiful in its own right. “It felt- clear.”
“You are a lucky one,” the woman replied in a soft English accent. It was not a scathing or envious remark, simply a quiet observation. Buffy wouldn’t have ordinarily thought of herself as lucky by any description, but she believed that in this woman’s eyes she’d had a stroke of fortune. “How did it feel after?”
“After?” Buffy asked in return, partly distracted by the way a few of the stars seemed to be swirling around in a sort of dance.
“When you came back,” the woman clarified.
Again, the memories surged through her even while the stars kept their tranquil light beaming at her when the emotions came with. “Wrong,” Buffy finally decided. “It all felt wrong… and painful. It was hard to breathe sometimes, cause I’d lost that happiness.”
It was strange how detached her answer was, but on this lovely hill and with the heavens above her it also seemed so right.
“Now,” she shrugged, the grass tickling her ear as she did so, “now it’s life and everything with it. Pay the bills, fight evil, raise my sister, help my friends—help the world.”
“Life,” the woman echoed. There was a tinge of sadness in her voice that momentarily cut through the peace. Buffy turned her head to look over and realized, really realized, that she was chatting with someone she’d never met in a place that couldn’t possibly exist except in a dream.
Still she wasn’t afraid, only curious. “Where are we? Who are you?”
If the woman sensed the change she was unbothered by it. “You’re at home, napping on the couch, and I’m Lily Potter.”
“Napping on the couch,” Buffy echoed. She propped herself up on one elbow and regarded the woman named Lily. “So, what, is this a dream?”
“Yes,” Lily replied calmly with endless eyes gazing back. “They have a message for you.”
Buffy frowned, suddenly annoyed, before stating flatly, “The Powers.”
The smile gracing Lily’s face grew. “Mhm,” she hummed. “They want to tell you to try and see clearly again. Try and feel through the pain, and remember despite it.”
“What?” Buffy had no idea what Lily was speaking of, or even why she’d come in the first place. Which, she had to admit, was on par with The Powers. “Don’t they usually send these messages through the First Slayer?”
“This has nothing to do with that,” Lily returned evenly. “This is beyond that. As to why me—well—they thought we’d have something in common.”
Lily’s eyes dimmed, and instantly seemed more human. “The Gift, Buffy.”
Suddenly the hillside didn’t seem quite as warm and inviting as it had before now that she wasn’t hypnotized on the skies, causing Buffy to sit up straighter. In fact, the longer she kept herself from looking at the stars the more she felt common sense returning. And there could only be one Gift, and it sent a chill through her to think of it. “Death?”
The answering smile was reminiscent of Buffy’s mother. The patient sort of smile Buffy got when she was having trouble understanding something as a little kid. One that somehow expressed an absolute certainty that she would, when she was ready, see all of it. “No. Not precisely. The Gift is about love. Pure love that transcends all things and offers life in return for death.” Her eyes sparkled then with a twinkle to match the stars overhead. “That’s really just a very pretty way of saying we were sacrificial lambs to the greater good, but I like to look at that silver lining.”
While Buffy smiled at her words, lulled into serenity once again, Lily gazed back up to the sky. “Love is a powerful thing. More powerful than any other force, you know. Strong enough to let us face the end of life with peace if those we care about are safe. Strong enough to light the After in its glow and protect us from the darkness.” She returned her eyes, once again filled with an unearthly aura, to a baffled Buffy. “Strong enough to make you whole again, if you’ll just listen to your heart and not your head.”
“Huh?” Buffy returned, completely perplexed.
Lily gazed at her indulgently. “Never mind. You’ll figure it all out. We have faith in you.” She pointed up to the sky, and Buffy’s eyes automatically followed. She saw the stars shining brighter than they had before, shining right down on her. “You were taken from us, and put on this hill away from our light. Cut off from us in your mortal shell, but we remember all we’ve ever touched for Eternity- even when we can’t reach out again. I know you both, and I believe in you both.” Lily’s voice lulled Buffy like a song she knew but had forgotten the words to. “But our light wanes and dims in the darkness that has grown since you left.”
Indeed, the stars did seem to flicker briefly then, and Buffy was inexplicably saddened by it.
“The only protection we can offer now is advice, Buffy. Your Gift will be needed again. Be ready to give it.”
Then Lily was gone, as unexpectedly as she had been there with her. Buffy was left once more to gaze from afar and alone.
“Bother? No bother. House looks like Swiss cheese, but hey- everyone likes a few holes in the wall and ceiling. Character—that’s what it adds. All the rage this season.”
With the litany of far-too-casual banter flowing from somewhere ahead of her, Buffy’s eyes fluttered open and spied Xander standing in the middle of the living room with a tool belt slung around his hips, dragging his jeans down just a hair. He didn’t seem to know what to focus on first, and with a cursory glance at the jagged holes in the plaster and the splinters in the floorboards peeking through the carpet; Buffy could understand his frustration with the damage.
Buffy supposed she should’ve been more bothered with it, but somehow wasn’t. The dream was still too fresh in her mind, and so she watched Xander quietly while the message echoed in her thoughts. Be ready to give it
The handyman, still unaware Buffy was no longer napping behind him, bent down and opened the large toolbox settled on the floor in one of the few untouched patches that seemed more like an island in a sea of destruction. The lid was lifted, and Xander began rifling through the contents. “Whatever happened to the good old days when it was the library that got the whammy, or even the cafeteria? No one liked the colors in there anyway. And they hired other people to fix evil’s carnage.”
He emerged with a crowbar and carried it over to the far wall. Buffy wondered how in the world that was supposed to help fix the plaster, and then settled back to watch as it became clear Xander was ripping up the carpet first. Not for the first time, she was glad beyond words she had Xander as a friend. Apart from his comforting presence, his steadfast loyalty, and his ability to make even the most dangerous of situations lighter- he was really good with all that home improvement junk. When you were a Slayer and prime target for evil, a handyman was a very… handy thing to have around. Especially when she couldn’t even hammer in a nail without slipping and making a huge hole in the wall.
She wished she could do ordinary stuff like that, useful stuff. Instead, she was destined to give the gift that kept on giving.
With that thought, Buffy closed her eyes and rested her head back on the arm of the couch. The house was quiet, which meant Robin had taken the Slayerettes and Dawn off to school. It left time for reflection, and she had to wonder if The Powers had delivered some bad news. The sort that said she wouldn’t have much time to live. Twenty-three and her borrowed time was running short, and she wasn’t sure what was more frightening about that. The fact there may only be a matter of days left, or how calm she was about the idea of death taking her again.
“Shouldn’t you remove the, ah, furniture first?”
Giles’ voice was soft, likely since he thought she was still asleep. Oddly, she didn’t want them to know she was awake just yet. She felt the need to simply listen when they thought she wouldn’t hear. She should probably be more inclined to hop up and beg them both to see a movie with her, make a nice lunch where they could all sit around and enjoy each other’s company. Maybe she would later, but right now she only wanted to listen to her closest friends as if she’d be gone in the next minute and would need some reminder to take with her.
The ripping stopped momentarily, “I’m not replacing it. I’m just going to cut around everything, and then remove the damaged beams and cover them. When this is over I’ll redo the floors. No point in fixing what could be smashed to pieces again.”
“Mm,” Giles murmured in agreement before cautious steps took the Watcher towards the bookcase. “There is the hole in the hallway upstairs.”
“I’m not even sure what to do about that,” Xander admitted quietly. “Probably fix it with a plywood patch. It won’t look pretty, but it’ll keep anyone from falling through.” There was more tugging and the accompanying heavy rip. “Too bad Buffy didn’t pick that fixer upper. Then the damage wouldn’t matter, but inspection will have to be told about all this repair work on a new house. Might make the value go down.”
“I think that’s the least of our worries,” Giles replied.
“Someone has to think of the practical,” Xander returned. “Being mundane guy, that leaves the job up to me.”
“You’re not mundane.”
The quiet that accompanied her statement told Buffy the jig was up. After berating herself for speaking, she finally opened her eyes again to find Giles and Xander regarding her apologetically. “You didn’t wake me,” she assured them and watched with amusement at the relief that greeted that statement.
“You didn’t get a lot of sleep last night,” Xander said before taking his box cutter back to the carpet around the entertainment center. Buffy watched without expressionless as he began to slice holes into her living room. It seemed a silly thing to get worked up about considering the rest of the damage. “What with the patrol and then Bogeymen jumping through the window.”
“Yes,” Giles added. “Perhaps you should try to get a bit more rest, Buffy. We’ll need you alert tonight.”
Buffy found she didn’t really feel like dozing off. “I got enough,” she returned after seeing she’d been napping for about an hour at a quick glance towards the clock on the wall. She stretched her arms out, twisted her neck to work that kink out, and then pulled her legs up to wind her arms around her knees as she regarded Giles. “Willow awake?”
“Not yet,” he told her. “Kennedy came down momentarily for breakfast before heading back upstairs.” Giles sighed and removed his glasses, picking up the untucked corner of his shirt to begin cleaning the lenses. “If she doesn’t awaken soon, we may need to take her to the hospital. She’ll need fluids,” he paused momentarily, “IVs.”
Xander paused in his work, a grim crease in his forehead as he stared at the cut he was making. “Okay. I don’t want to be practical anymore. Can I switch and go with hopeful?”
With her own answering frown, Buffy stood and worked her way around the remnants of the coffee table that was now little more than a pile of pretty polished kindling, and crossed the room. As she passed the stairway, she glanced up and then forced herself to move on into the kitchen.
Broken plates and glasses had been swept into a pile of shiny pieces in the corner with the cupboards emptied. The table remained unscathed but for the slight scratches in the grain at the far edge, but it was right side up again. Last time she had walked in here it had looked as if a cyclone had passed through. Cupboard doors slanted opened, the dining table on its side with chairs tossed all around as the Slayerettes had attacked every dark corner. Xander must have straightened it out before the girls left for school, the cast iron still on the stove with remnants of scrambled eggs along with paper cups and plates saying they’d been fed.
Buffy’s eyes immediately found the coffee pot, mercifully left untouched, and headed over to it. She took one of the styrofoam cups stacked next to it, and went to work making her morning coffee with lots of sugar and powdered creamer. Once she had her own steaming wake-up call, she wandered over to gaze out the window above the sink, taking cautious sips as she peered at autumn’s late morning beauty.Be ready to give it.
How did it feel on that platform?
The Gift is about love.
Strong enough to let us face the end of life with peace…
But our light wanes and dims in the darkness…
Your Gift will be needed again.
“Is everything alright?”
The concern from Giles’ coaxed Buffy from her thoughts. She turned to him, taking in the tired expression on his face and the worry shining in his eyes. He was entirely too perceptive sometimes, and Buffy wondered when he’d begun being able to read her like an open book. “Fine.” At his disbelieving lift of the brow, she cast about for something more. “Worried about Willow.”
He accepted that, and the scrutiny in his gaze disappeared. “We all are.”
“Yeah,” Buffy agreed absently, glad he’d bought it, and turned to gaze out the window again. It left her with a great view of the neighbor’s house. The sheer white curtains drawn closed left her with a somewhat clouded view of a pristine sort of kitchen. A normal sort, where there was probably a big cookie jar with a matching lid fashioned into a funny head like a big cat or dog. Buffy took another sip of her coffee and wondered why she never thought to get one of those. Then again, it would only have been destroyed along with everything else. “Dawn sent off to school okay?”
“Appeared so. She had to hunt for her chemistry text, I’m afraid she nearly took Gartok’s Grimoire with her instead.” He sounded pretty amused about Dawn nearly sneaking away with one of his precious books, and nearly proud.
“A Grimoire?” Grimoires, if she was remembering enforced late-night Scooby sessions correctly, were the how’s how for black magic. A guide used to call demons and spirits of the Ephygon variety. “Is that safe? For her to read, I mean.”
Giles dismissed it with a slight nod and went over to the coffee pot, plucking a cup from the top of the stack and pouring some into it. “She’s far more aware of the danger than I was at her age, and I was reading Grimoires and other Black Books in primary school.” While he casually stirred in his own teaspoon of sugar, Buffy frowned and wondered if that wasn’t Ripper talking for Giles. She dismissed the notion as silly a moment before Giles continued. “I believe out of everyone, Dawn is most up to task to assist me. Even eager. I keep the most dangerous of tomes hidden in my room, in any case. It’s quite safe, Buffy. I’m watching her.”
“Still,” Buffy turned from the window, “I want to see her doing normal things. Maybe I should take her to a movie or shopping. You know, sisterly stuff.”
“I think that’s a very good idea,” Giles returned. “But I also believe she has the potential to be an excellent Watcher. What more, it seems to be a path that interests her.”
There was no way to keep the frown on her face from deepening, and Buffy had to hide it behind her cup. Why couldn’t Dawn be interested in acting or being a superstar like normal teenage girls? She trusted Giles to look out for her, but Giles wouldn’t always be there, and Watcher was a hazardous occupation.
She turned back to the window, thinking she had so much to do and feeling foolish for wasting borrowed time.
At noon, Xander and Buffy left home and traveled across town to the construction lot for the newest super center. Since Xander oversaw the project during weekends, the pair was free to roam around as long as they kept their hardhats on. Buffy would normally make feeble protests about helmet hair, but didn’t have the spirit since the words from her prophetic dream still rang through her mind at every breath.
Like Giles, Xander seemed concerned about her sudden turn for the introspective. The deep thinking and solemn silence caused his good eye to flick towards her every so often. Unlike Giles, he did not stop at her explanation of Willow. Buffy was oblivious for the most part to the eye that closely watched her, but then again, her mind was on other matters.
The pair lifted the heavy light fixtures used to illuminate the site during night, huge spotlights that normally took four sets of muscled arms the size of Buffy’s thigh to move, and carried them back to the truck with the company’s logo blazed across it. No one commented on it, though Xander had an excuse ready if anyone did. The wiring was trickier, but eventually they found places to fit the huge cables into the truck bed.
Buffy studied them for a moment, frowning. “I don’t think those just plug into the wall sockets, Xander.”
“Few extension cords and a bit of duct tape, and all will be right as rain,” he joked as he slung another coil that looked like a wound up black garden hose in with the last one. After wiping his hands on his shirt, Xander moved a bit to the side and pointed to a large humming generator several feet away. “I’ll need to set one of those up in the backyard. It’ll be noisy, and definitely an eyesore next to the daisies, but it’ll power the lights.”
“Are they going to let us just walk off with one of those?” Buffy asked skeptically.
“No,” Xander admitted with a twitching grin, “that’s why we’re coming back after everyone clocks out.”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re not going to be able to set that up tonight?”
“Because you’re a smart girl,” Xander said before hopping out of the truck. He turned and grabbed hold of the door to the bed, and then slammed it closed- yanking it a few times to make sure of it’s security. “I’ll need to see what I’m doing, and I’m not big with the electronic wiring thing. Definitely going to need the manual, and we’re not talking ten pages flip through for the store-brand stereo. We’re talking big binding five inches thick.”
“Ugh.” Buffy’s eyes nearly crossed just thinking about that much heavy—boring technical jargon. She pulled the hardhat off her head and tossed it into the back, mindful of the glass, to banish the notion. “That means we can’t run the plan.”
“Nope. We’ll have to be on guard again tonight,” Xander answered as they both went to their respective sides of the cab. Once they’d both climbed in, Buffy settled back and waited while Xander started the truck and began weaving his way back out of the work zone.
“It’s still a really good idea,” Buffy remarked into the silence hoping to keep distracted and not begin gazing out the window.
“Thanks,” Xander replied. “Just figured the Bogeyman wouldn’t have any beds or shadows to crawl into. Gives us an advantage of seeing it.”
Giles still hadn’t identified the demon, and for lack of anything better to call it- Bogeyman stuck. Though Giles stuttered the name out with a very distasteful grimace on his face. As Buffy had recalled to him what she’d observed of it, Xander came up with a pretty good plan of attack.
Well, more like self-defense, really. The next time one popped in for a visit, they’d move everyone into the empty room in the basement where all the huge thousand watt lights would be shining. Without any shadows to crawl in, the demon, they hoped, would be forced to walk in through the door with no place to hide. It would then be up to Buffy and the Slayerettes to hack it apart. Giles was busy getting enough earplugs for everyone to wear so they wouldn’t be disabled again.
But it looked like the set up wouldn’t be ready by nightfall after all, and Buffy would have to make sure the house was on full alert. There would be no patrolling, and Faith would have to be brought in to help. She was confident that with twelve Slayers on hand, a Watcher, a mini-Watcher, and a handyman with his crossbow they could deal with the Bogeymen. What concerned Buffy was the fact the one she’d faced the night before seemed to be following orders, as it didn’t seem all that clever on its own. Thus it was the thing giving the orders that worried her.
When she added up Willow’s trance and then sudden Sleeping Beauty imitation, the Powers trying to warn her, and a nasty demon Giles’ could find no reference for- Buffy could smell a Big Bad in the mix. Given the way these things usually worked, it would be stronger than anything she’d faced before. It seemed every time evil came knocking, they sent a bigger representative—sort of like the bill collectors.
Caleb and The First had forced them to destroy Boca Del Inferno entirely. What would this new Hellmouth cough up for revenge, and what would it take to defeat it? Her Gift?
“We need more information,” Buffy finally told Xander. “I don’t like being in the dark like this.”
“Giles is working on it,” Xander replied with his eye still on the sparse traffic as they neared the residential section Slayer Central was at.
Buffy shook her head. “He’s not finding anything. Giles always finds something.”
“Give him more time.”
“We don’t have time,” Buffy remarked. When her voice came across sharper than she’d intended, she forced herself to pause and take another calming breath. It did not take away from the feeling that she was running out of time, or the anxiety and likewise anger that sparked in her.
Xander was quiet for nearly two blocks, before his eye finally drifted to peer at her. “What are you thinking Buff?”
“I’m thinking it’s time to make the rounds,” she replied, glaring out the window. “I’m sick of waiting for everything to come at us. I’m thinking we should go on the offensive this time. Do recon.”
“That sounds like Riley,” Xander said lightly.
”Riley had a few good ideas,” Buffy returned, slightly defensive. “We’ll set up the lights for now, get the generator. As soon as Faith shows up, we’re going clubbing.”
It was a good thing they’d stopped at a red light, because Xander’s head swirled to gaze at her with shock. “Huh? We’re facing down demons, and you want to go party?”
“No,” Buffy clarified. “I want to go talk to someone with their finger on the Hellmouth’s pulse.”
A look of near pain fell over Xander’s face, “oh boy, not After Dusk, Buffy.”
“Yep,” Buffy replied, voice still steel in its resolve. “I know you don’t like it there-“
“I nearly became Trail Mix for the Undead!”
“--but we’ve got to go talk to Boris.”
At her dismissal, Xander’s eye glared out to the road, and he hit the accelerator harder than necessary as the light turned green. It wasn’t until a loud clunk sounded from the back that he bothered to slow down. When all was smooth sailing, or as smooth as it could be in the jittery truck, he spoke again, “I hate that place.”
“Well, this time you’ll know not to dance with anyone,” Buffy pointed out with a small teasing smile.
Xander glared at her before clutching the wheel harder. “What’s a single guy to do in a town like this?”
Her smile grew a bit, before her eyes went back past the window. She was going to find out what else was crawling out of the shadows before she’d have to learn the hard way. Time to get proactive.
It was a few more minutes until they pulled up into the driveway. Buffy and Xander climbed out of the truck and headed to the back, Xander pulling the door back down and Buffy ready to climb in and grab the first huge cylinder when the front door burst open with Giles hurrying towards them with ginger steps on his bad foot. “Willow’s awake!”
Xander and Buffy froze for a moment, her hands braced on the side of the truck bed to vault in, but when Xander began jogging to meet Giles on the porch it spurred Buffy into action.
“Is she okay?” Xander asked before passing, assuming the pair would follow him up the porch.
Giles followed as quickly as he could, Buffy passing him a moment later. “Yes. Yes, she’s fine.”
When she passed through the door, she and Xander stopped in the archway. There on the couch was Willow, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a ravenous hunger, pausing only to gulp down water from a plastic bottle. Buffy noticed she looked a little paler than usual. Her eyes seemed bright, however, and they smiled at Xander as she spotted him. The witch gave a little wave with one hand, cheek bulging in a way reminiscent of squirrels as she continued chewing, her sandwich still held in the other.
Kennedy sat next to her, and Buffy could feel the relief rolling off her in waves. Her deep brown eyes were focused exclusively on Willow as if drinking in the sight of her up and about. The Slayer had been the most troubled of them all, though she had put on a brave front by saying, in no uncertain terms, Willow would be fine because if she wasn’t she’d be forced to take drastic measures possibly involving a fit and lots of flying lamps.
“Hey Will,” Xander stated as he rushed over, taking in the sandwich with a smirk. “Hungry?”
“Mhmph,” she managed with her mouth full. After several in rapid succession, she managed to swallow it down and take another drink of her bottled water before smiling brightly. “Starving.”
“She doesn’t remember much,” Kennedy cut in suddenly, speaking directly to Buffy. “Just something about being an antenna.”
Buffy furrowed her brows together in confusion. “What?”
“Like an antenna,” Willow clarified. Her green eyes locked with Buffy’s and her lips curved into a soft frown that was nearly a pout. “You’re not going to like this.”
“Tell me something new,” Buffy replied with a shake of her head. She sighed, and then crossed carefully over to sit beside Willow on the couch. “So, what am I not liking?”
When Willow took a deep breath through her nose. Buffy braced herself against the onslaught she knew from being friends with the witch for eight years was about to come rushing out, and Willow didn’t disappoint. “Well,” she began, “it’s all pretty confusing. One moment, normal little me- hi, nothing to see here- and the next thing I know I’m being tapped. Not as in, tink tink, I have an announcement to make. More like BOOM BOOM
open up or we’re charging in and raiding the place! You know, very pushy.”
She gave a little nod, agreeing with herself, before moving on in the same rapid-fire speech. “It was like that power I told you about when I used the scythe to do that worldwide wake up call? That- whoa- kinda floaty feeling? Except it wasn’t floaty, it was all panic and oh boy we’re screwed! Then I just zonked out ‘cause there was this overwhelming need that zapped straight through everything, and I mean everything, and- it sort of made me all wonky.”
The last was said apologetically, Willow’s eyes rounded in guilt. Buffy tried to interpret the Rosenberg babble, watching Kennedy reach over to grasp Willow’s hand and give a comforting squeeze of support. Willow responded with a happy sigh, turning towards Kennedy and locking her gaze with her. As soon as their faces leaned forward, obviously in for a long kiss, Buffy politely averted her gaze from the couple beside her.
“I love this house,” Xander declared, eye entranced with the scene on the couch. Then he blinked as it occurred to him what he’d heard. “I said that out loud, didn’t I? Private thoughts, private happy places…”
Buffy was too intent on what Willow had said to mention anything the rudeness of staring to Xander. It likely wouldn’t have done any good even if she had. “So who did the tapping?”
When Willow didn’t immediately respond or even acknowledge life outside of Kennedy, and the sucking noises continued- Buffy exchanged an amused glance with Xander before reaching over and tapping her shoulder.
The witch startled, body twisting to gaze at Buffy with startled eyes. “Huh?”
“Earth to Willow,” Buffy called sing song, “come in, please.”
Willow’s expression turned sheepish again. Buffy couldn’t help but think of kicked puppies, and felt bad for interrupting. “Sorry. I’ve been-“ Willow paused for a moment, “really weird since waking up.”
“Weird?” Giles asked, peering up from his cursory examination over Xander’s new patch job on the floor.
“Yeah,” Willow nervously ran a hand down her thigh, as if wiping away clammy palms, “I don’t want Kennedy to leave.” She explained softly. “But, no matter how close she is, I just need to be closer.” She sat in a silent struggle before continuing. “Its that spring feeling? When all the birds get together to make little nests and stuff, and the animals are frolicking—“ she cut off at the incredulous expressions on everyone’s face. “I don’t think it’s me so much as the world. Like the cycle of nature has just gone wacky.”
“So the birds and the bees are in the mood for Barry White?” Xander asked.
“Um, not exactly. Not in the ‘Wanna feel you baby’ sort of way.” She exhaled sharply. “I don’t really know how to say it.”
“It needs?” Giles asked gently.
Willow blinked and then slowly nodded her agreement. “Yeah, it does.”
“Okay- again- who tapped and who needs?”
Regarding Buffy with a dead serious expression on her face, Willow answered, “every thing you can’t see, or hear, or feel tapped. And I don’t know what needs, but I know that whatever it is, it needs you.”
“Me?” Buffy repeated, the weighted dread that had been resting in her stomach since last night getting even heavier.
“Yeah. It wants you back.” Willow blinked, then her eyes seemed to grow distant, and saw something no one else could. “I took you, and it wants you back.”
As Willow sat stock-still on the sofa, body tensed and eyes unfocused, everyone else in the room frowned with the implication. Everyone but Buffy, whose own attention was lost as the dream flooded through her mind again, pushing all else to the side.You were taken from us.
Your Gift will be needed again.
Be ready to give it.