Master Plots and Plans 9-13
Willow made her way home, checking the mailbox to bring in anything that was there. Hopefully, there would be a letter from Erik inside. Something to take her mind off of old vampire rituals and abandoned buildings. Shuffling the many envelopes, she cataloged them bill, bill, trash, credit card application - throw that away, bill, box holder sales flyer, Yes! A letter from Erik and hmm a letter from Chris. Wonder what that was prompted by, I'll have to read it.
She heard Vic calling the pizza delivery guy, ordering a huge meat lover's pizza for himself, and a small one with peppers and mushrooms for her, and an order of bread sticks, which they would end up splitting between them. She passed him the remote for the television, not entirely surprised when he put it on a wrestling program, the sort that had to be carefully scripted and planned. How else could the guys come back, week after week, having been 'thrown' over the ropes and out of the ring, 'beaten' with metal chairs and sledgehammers?
"You know that has to be faked, right? How would they be able to fight again in a few days after that? I'm usually sore for a week after some scary guy tosses me to the ground." Willow couldn't resist asking as she settled into the chair to read her letters.
Vic just smiled, showing sharp teeth. "It's still fun to watch. And if I ever need some of those moves, mine won't be faked."
With a smile, Willow tossed of a comment to Vic as she opened her letter from Erik. "You know you have violent tendencies, right?"
Erik's letter rambled a bit, but it did a great deal to make Willow feel better. He was feeling much better after the operation. No more odd twinges in his legs, and his appetite and color were better. He'd even had a visit from Charles, who had thought that he looked vastly improved.
"Erik's feeling a lot better, he wrote that his legs aren't hurting anymore."
Apparently, Charles and his people had detected some power flickers with his Cerebro machine, which had been created in an earlier form by a joint effort of the two of them, hoping to be able to locate mutants. The flickers had come from her area, and Charles had felt a bit concerned. He thought that perhaps Charles was worried about Willow's ethics and her views on human-mutant relations.
On a somewhat brighter note, he had managed to get permission to have books in his cell. It had been decided that some scientific publications, especially those concerning genetics or mutants might be a bit questionable to arrange permission for, but he would be able to read assorted historical and fiction works. He was eagerly looking forward to it.
Willow was feeling better after reading Erik's letter. He was recovering; his health was improving. Not only that, but he'd finally gotten permission to have something to do while in his boring glass and plastic cell. It was no wonder that he had been bored silly. Life was looking up for him, which was good.
She opened the letter from Chris, wondering exactly what had prompted her cousin to send an actual letter instead of an email. She found the page inside, and it had several blotches from droplets of something falling onto the dark blue ink, possibly tears, blurring some of the words near the bottom.
Hope things haven't been too boring in that small town of yours. If you have time, why don't you come back to San Diego and visit with us over Labor Day? Grandpa Dane will be here, and he'd love to meet you. Aunt Diane will be away visiting her husband's family, Aunt Bernie's still away being all newly wed. We'd love to have you come visit. Please, come out and save us from Grandpa's talks about biology and genetics. : (
Zack says to tell you 'hey red, how's life'. He said he's thinking about getting a tattoo to go with all his piercings. Some weird girl with a southern accent's been hanging out watching him, I've been telling him that he's finally got an admirer. There was another rally by those hate-mongers, but we all managed to avoid them this time around. No skinned knees, bruises or groundings. : ) < - yay us.
Remember Brian? Lili's boyfriend? Yeah, the cute one with those dark puppy eyes. He asked her to marry him, and he had a ring and everything, and we thought that everything was going to be so perfect. Then his family wanted Lili to get herself tested - not for any sort of sexual disease or something, but to get gene tested, in case she had some sort of hidden mutation. Seem's Mamma and Pappa Alveda don't want their boy to marry a mutant. Which irked Mom a bit, because it isn't Mamma or Pappa Alveda getting married, (blotch) ould be Brian and Lili, except that her test came up positive for gene(blotch) abnormalities and now his parents (blotch) want him spending time with us anymore. I guess the (blotch) met Zack before, or else they would have flipped.
So Lili's a mutant, which (blotch) I might be one as well. Rumor got out, and some of the people from Ballet aren't talking to (blotch).
Does it scare you? To know that one of your cousins is a mutant, and that I might be as well? Does it make you (blotch) what's hiding in your genes? I never had to worry about having the wrong DNA before. Most of the gang's been pretty supportive, and Zack's been great.
No idea if Lili has any cool nifty abilities (blotch) to go with her gene scan. She's been so busy crying about Brian not talking to her anymore to try to find out. I think his parents have been keeping him under lock and key so he doesn't 'go see that mutant girl'. I've never been one of a 'them' before, and it's scary. We don't even know where it came from. Is this something that's been lurking in the family tree, passing itself down through generations? Is this something new and scary and all (blotch)?
Come visit. We could use some moral support and cheer.
end part 9.
Willow stared at the letter for a long time, her own eyes blurring and burning with tears. Chris and Lili were running into the same prejudice issues that she was. They weren't certain what to do about it. They felt confused and angry and afraid, and wanted someone to let them know that they were still loved. She could feel something flickering, just at the edge of her awareness, and decided not to try to email her cousins... or anything else with sensitive electronics right now.
Pulling out a sheet of paper, Willow began her letter. She offered words of support, promising to visit over labor day weekend, and telling Chris and Lili that, actually, she had recently discovered her own mutant status. The news that Lili was a mutant and Chris might be was not a problem for her. Her own friends were not dealing very well with things. It would be good to have a break, and she could give some more details in person. If she could help them, she would, although she really didn't know what she could do.
She was not in a good mood that night when she retired, and sleep was slow in coming that night. She dreamed of vampires, of the Master rising up and devouring Buffy, of her cousins burned for being mutants, and an angry mob coming for her, waking up in a cold sweat, tangled in her bedcovers. It was not a restful night.
Things didn't improve very much over breakfast, although she was reassured by Vic's presence. He had showed up early with bagels and coffee, making Willow smile in gratitude. He wouldn't let an angry mob burn her, or hang her, or whatever modern mobs did to people. She had her very own protector. That reassurance might have been the only thing that gave her the courage to go on to school.
She made her way to school, no longer surprised at the number of people that had ignored her last year that flinched at the sight of her. The fact that she had an area of personal space around her, that nobody bumped into her in the halls, accidentally or on purpose, was something else that she was starting to get used to. She didn't like it, and it hurt that everyone was so afraid of her, but she was not as surprised any more. She had been revealed as "Different." She was the unexplainable, unpredictable ... "other." She was no longer simply "Willow the Bookworm" or "Willow the Tutor."
Nobody wanted to get too close to "Willow the Mutant."
Cordelia offered her an almost cheerful 'Good morning." The shock of it nearly made Willow stumble, and she had a moment's concern that she had woken up in the twilight zone. Cordelia was talking to her? "Ahh... morning, Cordelia."
Buffy was still distant that day, and even stranger, she was looking through a book from Giles' private collection, one of the Watcher's Journals. Willow got little more than an absent 'morning Wills' from her. Xander wasn't speaking to her, and his deliberate silence was almost frosty. Willow felt something inside of her crack, as if somewhere inside, she had begun to bleed. Once, she had thought that Xander and Jesse would always be her friends. Then, Jesse had died, and she had only Xander, and then Buffy as well. Now, upon learning that she was a mutant related to Magneto, Xander was gone. Not physically, but... he wasn't acting much like a friend. It seemed that there was a limit to his friendship.
'Nothing lasts forever, especially not the good parts.' Willow was trying to convince herself. She had always thought that Xander would be there, but now... she would have to learn without him as her friend. Learn to live with him emotionally removed, distanced from her. Growing up sucked sometimes.
She found herself sitting alone at lunch, under a big tree. Glancing off the school grounds, she could see Vic, waiting, just in case there was some sort of physical danger to her. She gave a small wave in his direction. Then, a shadow fell over her, and she looked up, trying to determine who would actually be willing to approach her, who would talk to her now.
Cordelia stood there, with her own packed lunch, in a more expensive small cooler, and gave a tentative almost smile before settling herself carefully on the ground near Willow. "Hey. I was thinking that maybe we could... talk a bit."
Willow was now certain that she had been transported into the Twilight Zone. Cordelia was talking to her, Xander wasn't. It was just too strange. "Sure. We haven't really done much of that... ever. Didn't he hit your cheek... oh, make-up. I hope it doesn't hurt too much."
Cordelia gave a small chuckle. "Yeah, make-up. I know how to cover a bruise. I got to thinking, last night. You saved me, and I know that you didn't have to. You could have just left me there, most people would have, if they were the one that had... but you didn't. You helped me, even though I've been... not very nice to you in the past. I guess... I owe you an apology for about... the past ten years?"
Willow was certain now. Either she had fallen into the Twilight Zone in which Cordelia was possessed, or she was still asleep. But still ... what if this was real? Was this that-much stranger than discovering that she was related to Magneto? That she was a mutant? That vampires were real? "I think ... I can forgive you, Cordelia. And that's about the top of the list of things I never thought I'd hear myself say... umm, so, do we, sort of... start over?"
Cordelia smiled, her eyes filled with amusement. "Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of I'd like to try to be friends. You... you're this impossibly nice person. Not to say that you haven't done a few things... but... you really care about people, even the ones that don't like you. I think I'd like to try to be friends with you. And in no way did that sound..."
Smothering her giggle, Willow offered a suggestion for Cordelia. "Twilight Zone-ish? I've been getting that feeling as well. Then, I sort of decided to go for it."
Cordelia pulled out a sandwich from her cooler, looking thoughtful. "Yeah, that sounds about like things lately. Everything's turned upside down. Things that I thought weren't real are real enough to kill, and then you turn out to be a mutant, and that was completely unexpected. Much better cloths lately, by the way."
They sat there over lunch break, discussing homework assignments as they contemplated the change in things between them. Cordelia had never been Willow's friend before, but... everything was changing now. Demons and vampires were real. Xander wasn't talking to her. She had a bodyguard. And now Cordelia wanted to be her friend. Life was strange.
End part 10.
Willow was actually in a good mood by the end of school. She had talked with Cordelia over lunch, and thought that maybe the two of them could become friends. She had aced her chemistry test, and thought that she had done well on her math test that she had taken that day. School was, well, things were looking up if she had someone that would talk to her. She had made a few minor upgrades in the library computer, and had talked with Giles, who was getting some translation on the possible rituals that could be done with the Master's bones. The good news was that none of the rituals would cause the opening of the Hellmouth.
Unfortunately, Willow's parents had come back home from their latest trip. Ira and Sheila Rosenberg had decided to have a 'family bonding session' tonight, and Willow would have to be there for dinner. Allegedly, her parents also wanted to talk about what was going on in her life right now. Giles had thought that that would be a good thing. Cordelia had asked if there was a reason why Willow seemed so skeptical that they would want to know. She had then explained the long history of trips, including trips that had caused them to miss significant events in Willow's life. Such as her second grade dance recital and the surgery to remove her tonsils that had happened during fifth grade. Cordelia and Giles had both been shocked and appalled.
That evening, Willow went home, to have diner with her parents. She was actually a bit curious what sort of 'family bonding' her parents would come up with. Would they react to her as if she was still the small girl whose dance recital they had missed for a trip to Denver or the elusive 'statistically average teenager' that she had never been, or would the treat her as an adult? Would they actually talk to her instead of at her? Would they listen to her answers or simply fill in the spaces between their own words with the things they expected a 'normal beginning junior in high school' to say? She sighed, certain that normal people didn't worry this much about something as simple as a meal with their parents. But then, normal teens saw their parents more often.
Dinner started out tediously. Her parents asked her about her classes at school, and if she had started considering which college she wanted to apply to after her graduation. Those were simple enough, and it was only slightly more difficult to explain to her mother that no, she was not dating 'that Harris boy', she was getting over her crush on him, and he had a girlfriend that went to another school. Yes, she was still talking to 'that Bunny girl'. She was a student assistant Librarian, and had ended up on the yearbook committee this year, mainly because after the computer upgrade, she was the only student that seemed to be able to get the printing programs to do all their tricks properly. Yes, she was getting good grades in her classes. She was then mainly ignored except for the occasional 'Willow, can you pass the...' comments until desert started.
The talk turned to mutants, and the effect that they were having on clinical and counseling psychology. An increasing number of people were attempting to use genetic mutation - theirs or the victims, as an excuse for violent crimes. "It was okay to kill him, he was a mutant clogging the gene-pool" or "I'm a mutant, I'm expected to be violent and anti-social" or "I had to kill them, I could hear how they thought about me ... you would have killed them too" or "But I needed to eat the gold, I have specialized digestive needs" or "He's just a mutant, he didn't need to have that anyhow" .... Her father had just wondered what would happen if a mutant were to turn up in their own home town.
"Marcy Clarke was a mutant. She could turn invisible and used that ability to beat up all the people that had spent the last ten years making fun of her. Some people from the government came and took her away." Willow's words dropped into the thoughtful silence like a stone into still water.
Her father looked at her, his expression serious. "There was a mutant in your school? Beating people up? But... who exactly took her away, and what did they intend to do with her?"
Her mother frowned. "Beating people up is actually the sort of violent actions that are becoming part of the typical reactive techniques of mutants."
"They didn't give the students much information, just that they would 'handle her.' I don't know what they intended, but ... it gives me a bad feeling. Her parents haven't heard anything from her, so whatever is going on, she isn't in touch with her family. And as for her violent tendencies ... she was having issues even before she went invisible ... stuck invisible. Not like, 'Ooh! I can turn invisible when I want to' but 'nobody can see me anymore.' She figured that since nobody had cared about the way she had been treated, she would have to do something herself."
Frowning, her father looked as if he were calculating numbers. "According to some of the more recent projections, it would be likely to have another mutant or two in Sunnydale, given the population total and recent statistics on the growing number of mutations."
Willow gave a small smile, figuring that her gift for numbers must have come from her father. "Ummm ... do either of you remember the project I had on family trees last spring? I found a relative ... one that's become a bit ... recognizable."
"Who is that, and on which side is this person related?" Her mother looked curious.
"Well ... the relation is through Opa Rosenberg. His oldest daughter had a son, Erik Lenscherr." Willow wasn't certain how her parents would react to this discovery. If possible, she would try to keep the news of her own mutation secret as long as possible, especially if they took this poorly. Recent events didn't lend weight to the hope that her parents would deal well with the news.
"Erik Lenscherr... not that Magneto person!" Her mother's shocked words ran into her father's own exclamation. "I have a cousin in Federal prison for terrorism?!?"
"Ummm ... yeah, Erik Lenscherr as in Magneto, currently in prison of several counts of terrorism and property destruction." She wasn't certain what they would do.
The next hour provided for a lively discussion about mutant abilities as restricted by law, what you were and weren't responsible, and a few proposals concerning mutants. Topics morphed from the Mutant Registration act to one suggesting all known mutant criminals be listed, and another requiring mutants to carry special insurance against accidentally injuring someone with their powers.
What Willow didn't know was that as she discussed the potential pitfalls of various forms of mutant registration, vampire minions were abducting Cordelia and Giles from the library. The mortals were being carried away for a secret and powerful ritual: a ritual that was intended to feature their sacrificial deaths to enable the resurrection of the Master.
End part 11.
Things had actually gone far better with her parents than Willow had hoped. While there had been some dismay over the relationship to Erik, she wasn't quite certain if that was because he was a mutant, or because he was in prison. She was hoping to keep her own mutation secret until she had a better idea of how they would react. After all, if they completely flipped and threw her out, where would she go?
Finally, the conversation had wound down, and she had pretended to retire for the night, going to her room and turning out the light. But something didn't feel right, so she slipped out her bedroom door and moved quietly into the night.
"Where are we going?" Vic's raspy voice emerged from the darkness.
"I'm not sure. Something isn't... I keep thinking something's wrong. Maybe we should start by checking with Giles?" Willow couldn't put words to her feeling, or explain how she was so certain that something was wrong, and would only get worse if they let it.
He simply nodded, enjoying the patrols too much to question the idea of going out based on a 'feeling'. Besides, from what he had seen so far, there was always something bad trying to happen in this town.
They made their way towards the school, Willow firmly holding her metal wrapped staff. As they approached, Vic growled a bit, and they saw the figure of Buffy headed in towards the library. "There's been a lot of vampires here, none of them Angel. It's probably trouble... but I don't smell death inside."
The library was a mess. Several shelves had been dropped onto their sides, spilling books across the floor, and there were loose papers over the floor as well, possibly loose-leaf, or printouts. The table had been upended, the chairs had been tossed about the room, one clearly broken, and there was a small pile of grey dust on the floor near one sharp portion of the arm. Giles' teacup had fallen to the floor, remarkably unshattered, it's contents spread across the floor in imitation of a bloodstain. Buffy was simply standing there, her whole posture radiating surprise and shock and denial.
"Oh merciful God..." Willow's whisper echoed through the room, or at least, it seemed like it did. She was staring at the mess in shock, her mind spinning wildly as she tried to understand what had happened.
"They took the librarian, and the girl, Cordelia. They weren't trying to hurt them." Vic's low voice was almost reassuring, except for the implications of his words.
"Why? He's not after them... why would they take Giles? I thought he was after me... I killed him after all." Buffy's voice was filled with confusion, and hurt.
The feeling of something wrong increased, as if icy tendrils had crept up Willow's spine. This was very bad. "Buffy? Who took them, who did you kill?"
"The Master. But... he's dead, he couldn't have taken them, he's dead... he can't be here, I killed him." Buffy sounded as if she was in shock, and she looked oddly pale.
Suddenly, it all clicked for Willow. Everything made horrible, awful sense, and for a moment, everything seemed to spin. "They took the Master's bones the other night, so they could prepare for their resurrection ritual. Then, they needed the people closes to him when he died... as in proximity, not emotion. Whoever stood the closest, and Giles said the ritual would have a sacrificial component. Oh, they're going to kill them to raise the Master!"
"Not if I get there first." Buffy's voice was flat, as if she had turned off her emotions. As the blonde moved across the library and picked up a sword, Willow noted that her movements seemed slightly off, almost stiff.
"You aren't going after them alone. We're going too." Willow's voice was firm, allowing for no argument.
Vic led the way, following the scent of the vampires and the scent of Cordelia's fear. As they traveled, Angel joined the group, his expression grim. He had a sword almost concealed under his billowing coat, Willow could feel it in her mind, a much higher quality steel then the cable around her staff.
"They aren't just going to stop and let them go because you don't like it." Angel's voice was low, a caution that the upcoming confrontation would not be simple.
"Then we kill the bad guys, rescue Giles and Cordelia... and we all go home. Sounds good." Buffy's voice was still harsh and empty.
Willow looked at Angel, seeing his surprise at the sound of Buffy's voice. "I think there's something else going on with her. We can try to figure it out later. Maybe you can concentrate on getting Giles and Cordelia out?"
Angel nodded, and there was no more time for planning or discussion. The scent had led them to a warehouse, the windows boarded over, and the large doors welded shut. Willow could feel the masses of equipment still inside, large quantities of refined steel, although she couldn't tell what the equipment had been for, other than the presence of several lengths of chain hanging from a metal rail towards the ceiling. She heard growls from Angel and Vic, slightly different in tone. Buffy kicked in the small door, and went inside, her posture one of cold determination. They followed her, Willow muttering something about a concept called subtle, or stealth, and Vic simply snarling, eager to fight.
There had to have been dozens of vampires, although it felt more like hundreds, trying to attack them. Willow rapidly lost track of Buffy, and had only a slight idea of Angel's progress as he moved towards the landing to get Cordelia, Giles, and Miss Calender. They were easily visible, hanging upside down from a chain, the cable not wanting to move as Angel tried to pull on it. When she had a moment to spare, she gave a mental push, causing the chain to move towards Angel with a shriek of protest. The noise went almost unnoticed amidst the growling, the snarled threats, and the sounds of flesh hitting flesh, of claws tearing flesh, and the odd almost popping noise that she felt/heard every time she impaled one of the vampires on her staff. It was an utterly confusing mess, and she could only pray that everything would turn out all right.
End part 12
Finally, the snarling and confusion died away, leaving the floor covered with blood and the grittiness of vampire ashes. Willow glanced around, trying to figure out where everyone was, if they were still alive. She could feel the dull ache of bruises forming over her body, and dozens of scrapes and small cuts that she didn't remember getting burned on her flesh.
Buffy stood panting next to a slab of stone with a skeleton carefully placed on it, a stone podium with a clay tablet beside her. She was panting, her hair fallen in disarray wound her shoulders, her shirt torn and smeared with ashes and blood, a bruise forming over one eye, her lip split near the corner, but she looked alive again. With a look of determination, Buffy picked up a large hammer and began to smash the bones to little pieces, continuing until there wasn't a single fragment larger than a finger joint.
Angel was still on the platform, helping Cordelia to her feet. Giles and Miss Calender were standing there now, looking as if they were leaning on each other for support. The now freed captives looked unharmed.
She saw Vic, standing over to her right, his clothing ripped in so many places, and red with blood. It was impossible to determine if it was his blood, or blood from the vampires that he'd fought, and there was a ring of damp ashes around him, resembling a miniature broad volcano. He looked positively gleeful, as if he'd had the most amazingly fun time, and Willow felt herself teetering on the edge of a headlong view into his bloody and violent past. She shook her head slightly, reminding herself that whatever he had been before, he was now her friend and protector.
"If everyone is okay... umm, Buffy? Have you finished grinding his bones to powder yet? 'Cuz I think the rest of us are ready to go now."
It wasn't until the next day, with the group gathered in the library, that Willow learned about the unsettling visions that Buffy had been having. All those times when Buffy had appeared to zone out were horrifying visions of the Master, normally killing her. It actually explained some of why she had been so distant and cold lately, unexpectedly seeing the Master returned to kill her, and her best friends not even trying to stop him in her visions.
Cordelia had seemed extremely grateful to Vic for rescuing her, almost as if he'd accomplished it all by himself. Willow wondered if there was the beginning of a crush there, and found the idea oddly unsettling. Cordelia and Vic ... together?
Now, it looked like there would be no trouble with having a little trip to San Diego to try to help Chris and Lily out with their troubles.
end part 13.
End Family Tree 11: Master Plots and Plans.