More Strange VisitorsAuthor: Robert Cox (firstname.lastname@example.org)Rating: PG (Australian system)Summary: Follw-up to 'Walking With Skeletons'. Just when Buffy thought the Hellmouth couldn't get any wierder...Disclaimer: I own none of this. Buffy belongs to Joss and his Winged Crack-Monkey minions. The Discworld belongs to Terry Pratchett. The Sandman belongs to Neil Gaiman and friends.****
Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, wasn't daydreaming - not exactly, anyway.
Apart from the technical detail that it was actually night
-time, she had simply wired the input from her eyes and ears directly into what Xander had labelled her 'Spidey-sense', allowing the higher-function areas of her brain to freewheel. Ever since her and Xander's unexpected meeting with Death - fortunately, not
in a professional capacity - and discovering that, as Anthropomorphic Personifications went, he wasn't all that
bad a sort, she had been thinking a lot about one night in particular.
The night when she died at the hands of the Master.
She'd never told anyone this - not Giles, or even Xander - but in the brief time between when she drowned and when she was revived, she was willing to swear
that's she'd seen someone watching her. A young woman, to be exact, dressed in the Goth get-up that she'd seen both in Sunnydale and back in Los Angeles, just standing there, looking down at her with an interested expression.
The woman had made no move of any kind, but had simply mouthed two words. Or possibly said them aloud, and Buffy had simply been in no condition to hear them, being dead and all.'Not yet.'What did she mean by that?
Buffy wondered as she wandered among the headstones of one of Sunnydale's cemeteries. And why didn't she even try to help?
Any further thought on the subject was interrupted when she sensed the presence of someone else beside her. "Well, it's about time, Xander. What took you so... long?" she finished weakly as she turned around to face...
... someone who wasn't
Xander. Or even human, going by appearance. "Gah!" Buffy exclaimed. Sure, the figure was mostly
human - from the neck down, anyway - but the head was weird
Then she saw, below what she had assumed to be an eye, another
eye, and she realised that the figure was wearing a helmet of some sort. He proved that by removing it to reveal tousled blue-black hair, dark deep-set eyes, and gaunt, almost sunken features, which were pale enough to almost set off her suspicions. But he couldn't
be a vampire - he wasn't showing up to her senses. And apart from anything else, he hadn't attacked her on sight.
"Good evening, Miss Summers," he said, and his voice was rich and smooth, completely at odds with his appearance. It also seemed to hold the tiniest hint of an English accent.
"Erm... good evening," she managed in reply. "But, how do you know who I am?"
The man smiled slightly. "Oh, you've become quite famous in certain circles," he replied. "And, apart from that, you could say that knowing everyone's name is part of my job description."
Buffy studied him more carefully. Wearing jeans, T-shirt, a black leather jacket and what looked like Doc Marten boots, he appeared
normal. But this was
Sunnydale, home of the weird. And even if he didn't register as a vampire to her senses, he still registered as something not-entirely human. "Well, since you seem to know who I am, do you mind if I ask who you
"Not at all," the man replied.
Buffy waited for a few moments, but he didn't say anything. Running the last sentence through her head, she groaned. She hadn't thought that there were other people with a sense of humour like Xander's around. "What. Is. Your. Name?" she asked, pronouncing each word with an almost exaggerated patience.
The man grinned again, almost as if he knew what was going through her mind at that time. "Well, since you asked, my name is -"
He was interrupted by another new arrival. "Sorry I'm late, Buff," Xander said, slightly out of breath, as he jogged up. "But..." his voice cut off and he made a strangled noise as he saw and apparently recognised the man standing next to Buffy.
"What's the matter, Xander?" Buffy asked, somewhat concerned. There didn't seem
to be any danger in the situation, but to risk belabouring the point, weird things happened a lot in Sunnydale.
"Hello, Xander," the man said in greeting, causing Buffy to send him a sharp look. How did he know Xander, job description or not?
"Hi, Dream," Xander replied.
? Your name is Dream
?" Buffy asked in disbelieving tones. Sure, California was home to a lot of strange and unusual names - and 'Buffy' wasn't exactly completely normal, either - but that was kind-of pushing things.
"Not so much name as name and job title rolled into one," Xander replied, not taking his eyes off the other man - Dream, if Xander was right, and Buffy couldn't find any real reason to doubt him.
"You might know me by one of my other names," Dream added. "Say, The Sandman?"
"The Sandman?" Buffy asked in a somewhat disbelieving tone. "But that's just... a myth..." she trailed off as her ears reported what she was saying to her brain.
"Like, oh, I don't know, demons and vampires?" Dream pointed out politely, and Buffy could only acknowledge the point.
"So, what you're saying is that Neil Gaiman was basically writing a non-fiction work with the 'Sandman' comics," Xander said carefully.
"That's right," Dream said cheerfully, before shrugging. "I'm still not sure how it happened, though. I
wasn't responsible, and none of the others will admit it. It's somewhat puzzling, but there's not a lot I can do about it now."
Xander nodded. Buffy shrugged. "That's nice and everything, but who are
you? Really?" she asked.
Xander and Dream exchanged brief glances. "I think you should handle this," Xander said.
"Of course," Dream replied, and as they found somewhere to sit, he talked about his siblings, Death, Desire, Delirium, Destiny, Despair and Destruction - the Endless - and their areas of responsibility, and how Destruction had relinquished his responsibilities over three hundred years ago, before leaving this plane altogether less than a decade ago. Xander listened politely, as did Buffy... up to a point, anyway.
"Hang on," Buffy interrupted. "Are you trying to tell me that Death is your sister
? We've met
Death, and I think it's fairly safe to say that it was hard to tell what
gender was involved, being a skeleton and all."
"Errr, Buffy..." Xander started.
"I think Dream was talking about her
," he replied, pointing over her shoulder. Buffy looked around to see a woman dressed entirely in black; jeans, top and boots, with black hair, black lipstick and an interesting pattern - in black, of course - around her eyes. The only bit of colour in the entire ensemble was a golden ankh hung around her neck on a gold chain. The whole effect reminded Buffy of some of the girls she'd seen both here in Sunnydale and back in Los Angeles who'd done the Goth thing... but on her it worked
in a way it hadn't on those other girls.
Not to mention that the other Goth-wannabes she'd encountered were angsty types, and she seemed... perky, for lack of a better word. "Hi!" she said, waving cheerfully. "I think you know who I am, and you've met my brother, obviously."
"Yeah," Xander replied, not taking his eyes off Death.
Buffy didn't reply, as she was listening to a small part of her brain that was in full 'nag' mode. "I think I've met you before - last year, in fact - when I drowned..."
Death nodded. "Yep, that was me," she replied. "I didn't... well, 'collect' you, since Xander was on his way to give you the kiss of life. I hope you thanked him for it, since it would've been rude not to."
Buffy coloured slightly. "Well, you see..."
"Yep, she did," Xander cut in, coming to her rescue once again, even if this time it was only from embarrassment, rather than death. Embarrassment at the hands of Death
, Buffy thought, somewhat dazedly. Giles is
so not going to believe me when I tell him about this.
"I'm curious about something, though," Xander continued. "If you're Death for this world, why'd Tall, Dark and Bony show up last week?"
Death looked perplexed for a moment. "Tall, dark and bony?"
I BELIEVE HE IS REFERRING TO ME.
"Oh. It's a fitting description, you must admit."
IT IS CERTAINLY ACCURATE. BUT IT LACKS... DIGNITY, I SUPPOSE.
"True enough. But then again, you've never been one to stand on dignity before. Unless you've changed since the last time I saw you, which I gotta admit, was
a while ago."
YES, IT HAS BEEN. HOW ARE YOU KEEPING?
"Trying to keep my layabout brother out of trouble, more like," Death replied with a sigh. "And it ain't easy, let me tell you. If I wasn't an Anthropomorphic Personification, the job would take some real
Dream was starting to look uncomfortable, so Xander leaned a little closer and whispered, "What's she talking about?"
"Something that happened a long time ago," Dream replied in an equally low voice. "And didn't even involve me in the first place."
He'd whispered, but Death - both of them - had heard. "I think he's trying to weasel out of it, don't you agree, Mort?"
YOUR PREDECESSOR, YOU, IT MATTERS NOT, Mort - as both Buffy and Xander decided to call him in an order to be able to tell the two Deaths apart - agreed. YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME BEING, AS YOU ARE THE RESULT OF TRANSFERRING THE 'OLD' DREAM'S MEMORIES AND EXPERIENCES INTO A NEW BODY AFTER THE BATTLE WITH THE FURIES... DANIEL.
"Daniel?" Buffy asked, totally confused.
"Long story, Buffy. I'll explain later," Xander replied.
YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS? DO YOU REMEMBER THE WAKE? Mort asked, turning to face Buffy and Xander.
"Probably not," Dream intervened. "An author named Neil Gaiman produced a series of illustrated novels about my siblings and myself, a series that was incredibly accurate. My sister and I are still trying to work out how."
"Don't get cocky, Mort," Death cautioned. "Another human author has written a series of novels about your world, too - and you're one of the major characters."
REALLY? Mort asked, the glow in his eye sockets brightening for a moment.
"Sure," Xander replied. "Unless there are other worlds out there that are flat and are carried on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle."
NO, THAT IS INDEED THE DISC. BUT I WAS INTERESTED TO LEARN THAT THAT IS ALSO A MYTH OF THIS WORLD.
"I guess it just goes to show that, somewhere, all of the myths and legends are true," Death replied with a shrug. "For any given value of 'true', of course. But we've drifted somewhat."
"Not until a moment ago," Xander said in reply to Mort's question. "It seemed like a dream - which I suppose it was
, in a way - in which I was in a huge room, full of people, and none of us knew why we were there. I was wandering around, when I bumped into a girl who was about my age, who looked a lot like..." his voice trailed off, and he turned to stare incredulously at Buffy. "Buffy?"
Buffy's expression was also amazed. "I remember that, too," she said in a near-whisper.*Flashback - The Wake*
Xander didn't know where he was.
He was in a room, but that was all he knew. As he wandered through the crowd of people, trying to work out what was going on, he asked various people if they knew where 'here' was. None of them knew. A lot of them didn't seem to understand English. After the latest failed attempt, as he was roaming at random, looking around the room, he wasn't watching where he was going, and he collided with someone.
"Sorry about that," Xander said as he helped the girl to her feet. "I guess I should have been watching where I was going."
"Yeah, you should have," the girl replied, rubbing her elbow.
"Oh, good, you speak English," Xander said, relieved.
"Why shouldn't I?"
"You'd be amazed at the number of people I've run in to here that don't. My name's Xander, by the way."
"Buffy. Buffy Summers."
"Well, Buffy, do you
have any idea where we are?"*End Flashback*
"That would explain why I ran into a railing when I saw you on the first day of school last year."
"It'd probably also explain why I was so willing to trust you."
"This is very interesting," Death interrupted. "But I feel I should point out that you have business headed your way, Buffy," she added, pointing to the two vampires that were approaching.
"What?" Buffy replied, drawing a stake. Beside her, Xander did the same.
"Oh, goody," one of the vampires said with a smile. "I like group meals like this. It's the whole variety of flavours in one go."
"Yeah, but unless you can knock them all out, some of them become fast food," the other vampire objected. "Normally, that can be fun, but I'm feeling lazy tonight."
"'Group meal'?" Dream asked curiously. "Do you think they're referring to us?"
"Probably, l'il bro'," Death replied with a grin.
"Boy, are they
in for a surprise, then."
The two vampires had paused in puzzlemnt. Normally, food didn't act this way. Then they paid attention to a couple of small details... such as the robed and hooded skeleton holding a scythe. It wasn't too hard to work out who that
was. And they could sense the sheer power eminating fro two of the others. Compared to that, the fact that the Slayer was part of the little group seemed an insignificant detail by comparison.
They took it rather well - they simply stood there while their demons gibbered in shock, allowing Buffy and Xander to stake them before it fully registered.
"Well, that was interesting," Xander remarked as he watched the dust settle. "Now what?"
WHO SHOULD DO THE HONOURS?
"One each, I think," Death replied. Mort nodded, and swung his scythe. For a moment, Buffy and Xander fancied they caught a glimpse of something that had more heads, eyes, mouths, limbs and teeth than any creature should, outlined in pale blue, and connected by an equally pale blue line to one of the dust piles. There was a brief flash, and the blue outline vanished. At the same time, there was a brief sound that resembled the world's largest pair of wings beating, and Death vanished for a moment before reappearing.
"Okay, what just happened?" Buffy asked.
"We did our jobs," Death replied.
"So that thing with all of the eyes and teeth was the real form of a demon?"
"I'm impressed that you actually saw it," Dream remarked. "Not many people want to see things like that."
"Neither did I, to be honest," Xander replied while Buffy nodded. "But I guess I couldn't help it."
YOU CAN SEE THE THINGS THAT ARE REALLY THERE, Mort pointed out. A WITCH I KNOW CALLS THAT 'FIRST SIGHT'.
"Don't you mean 'second sight'?" Xander asked.
NO. SECOND SIGHT IS WHEN YOU SEE ONLY THE THINGS THAT YOU THINK SHOULD BE PRESENT. NEEDLESS TO SAY, MOST PEOPLE HAVE SECOND SIGHT.
Both Buffy and Xander thought about that. Certainly, most of the population of Sunnydale seemed only to see the things they wanted to see - and that didn't include the nasties that roamed the night in this town. It was unfortunate, but there wasn't a great deal that either of them could do about it, since most of the population seemed bound and determined to never
AND ON THAT NOTE, I SHALL BID YOU FAREWELL, Mort said, breaking their trains of thought. THERE IS AN INTERESTING WAR BREWING IN BOROGRAVIA, WHICH I FEEL NEEDS MY ATTENTION.
"We'll be off, too," Death added. "This has been interesting, though. Maybe we'll drop by the library for a cup of tea one day."
Both Buffy and Xander imagined Giles' reaction to having two of the Endless drop by for a social visit.
Both of them grinned.
"I can see you're liking the idea already," Death continued. "Well, ta-ta," she concluded with a smile and a cheery wave as she and Dream vanished.
"Call it a night?" Xander suggested.
"Yeah, my wierdness quota has definitely
been achieved for one night."
"So ,who gets to tell Giles?"
"Flip a coin? You can call."
"Thanks. Heads." There was a brief pause while a coin was produced, flipped, caught, and the results examined. "Damn."