In the past, I've always given a brief synopsis of what went on before. At this point in time, I think if you haven't read the previous four books (614 pages in the printed paperback), you might be a little lost, so I won't even attempt to catch you up. You should check out The Death Brings Clarity Trilogy to bring yourself up to speed. For everyone else, welcome back to the world that exists inside my head when I should be thinking about work. ORIGINALLY POSTED: October 31, 2002
AUTHOR: JK Philips
SUMMARY: Sequel to the Death Brings Clarity saga, now nearly ten years after The Fine Art of Blackmail. Giles wanted to prevent his daughter from inheriting her mother’s destiny. He wanted to give his son the choice he never had. He wanted Buffy to live a lifetime beside him. Fate had other plans...
SPOILERS: Everything up to “The Gift”
DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters; they are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & Fox. I simply am doing this for fun, and non-profit use.
EMAIL: . Feedback makes me giddy and my mother proud.
MY WEBSITE: www.jkphilips.com
---------------------------------------------------- Part 1: We Don’t Always Get What We Want Giles stood at the foot of her hospital bed, the hissing of the respirator and the beeping of the heart monitor the only sounds in the room. He didn’t touch her. He didn’t speak to her. She wouldn’t know he was there anyway. So he just stood and watched the machines breathe for her, the precise rise and fall of her chest with each mechanical breath. The door opened behind him as one of the nurses entered. They were accustomed to his presence and usually worked silently around him. This one paused beside him, studying the woman in the bed with a sympathetic expression, and then she actually spoke to him. “She has no hope of recovery.” The voice was subdued and kind, but yet firm. She wanted to leave him with no illusions. “I know.” “The machines are the only thing keeping her alive. In every way that matters, she’s dead.” “I know.” How could he not know? He had watched her slowly dying a little more each day. Slayer strength would not be enough, and the time would come when even the machines would not be enough. “Let her go,” the nurse encouraged him gently. “She wouldn’t have wanted this.” “We don’t always get what we want.” His voice was bitter, hollow in his own ears, and the nurse hurried to finish her duties. He ignored her, and soon she was gone. Giles approached the side of the bed and murmured it again for the benefit of the woman lying there, no matter that she couldn’t hear him. “No, we don’t always get what we want. Forgive me for keeping you like this. I know I should have let you die a long time ago, but…” He drew a shaking breath and brushed his hand over the slayer’s brow. Her battle scars had nearly healed, leaving only thin, pink-rimmed lines across her pale skin. Deeper, angrier cuts were hidden beneath the hospital sheets, wounds still laced closed with strips of thick, black surgeon’s stitching. One long scar curved from temple to chin, the most visible reminder of the battle which had taken her life more than a month ago, though she had yet to actually die. He sighed and withdrew his hand. “I am so sorry.” He turned and walked out of Faith’s hospital room. *** “You’re still dropping your shoulder. Let’s try it again.” “I’m tired.” “Robin, you’ve another fifteen minutes left of today’s training. Can we please make use of it?” “I suck with a quarterstaff.” “Hence, the training and practice.” Wesley Wyndam-Pryce adopted a defensive stance and raised his own staff. “Again.” With a petulant sigh, Robin flipped her protective face mask down and held her own staff at the ready. He made a practiced feint towards her knees, which she always fell for, leaving him an easy opening for a strike to her shoulder. He held back, as he always did, ever mindful of the fact that beneath the protective padding, she was still just a child of thirteen, not yet possessing the slayer strength that would eventually make her more than an even match for a grown man. Even so, tears sprang into her eyes after he’d landed his blow. Not because he’d hurt her in the slightest, but because he’d slipped past her defenses once again and shaken her confidence. He sighed and shook his head. Dealing with a little girl’s tears during weapons training had never been in the watcher’s manual. “Now, there’s no need to weep over one missed block. In any battle, you can’t expect to avoid every attack. The secret is in how you rebound and launch your own offensive.” He touched her shoulder again with his staff, as if pausing their fight at that moment. “You just fell for my feint, I knocked you in the shoulder, now what? Show me.” “I can’t do this,” she sniffled. “Yes, you can. Turn my move against me. You know this. Show me.” She moved quickly then, in a temper, lashing out at him. Whatever motivated her in her training, Wesley wasn’t going to complain or second guess, even if that motivation happened to stem from anger at him. After all, hadn’t he resented his own handlers during his watcher’s training? Their staffs clacked together with the full force of her rage, although Wesley understood on some level that only the smallest part of that rage was for him, the greater part reserved for the burden of a destiny she didn’t want. He was the only available target, however, and she made full use of him. “Good,” he murmured again and again as he blocked each of her strikes. He didn’t attempt any counterstrikes, just allowed her to tire herself out in her assault. Later they would have a discussion about conservation of energy, but for now, he would wait out her anger. He missed a crucial block, his staff glancing off hers at an awkward angle and the momentum of hers carrying the wood forward to knock hard against his knuckles. He yelped in pain and dropped his staff to the ground. “I’m sorry!” she cried, her own weapon clattering to the ground, her previous temper dissipated and replaced with concern. She covered her mouth with her hands, bouncing on her feet as she hovered beside him, waiting for him to assess the damage. “Well, that’s one way to dodge out of the last ten minutes of your training,” he joked, trying to settle her agitation. He cradled his sore fingers to his chest as he checked to see if any were broken. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, her eyes again filling with tears. Her hands were trembling against her lips. “Robin,” he said sharply, waiting until she had lifted her eyes before speaking to her. “That is the point of your training: to hurt your opponent before they can hurt you. Don’t apologize for it. And never hold back. Never.” She nodded solemnly, and he smiled encouragement. She needed all of that she could get. Wesley felt the pressure of time running out. She would be Called all too soon, and she wasn’t ready for it. Lately he had begun to doubt if she would ever be ready for it. She didn’t seem to be molded from the same mettle as the other slayers he had studied. She lacked Faith’s fearlessness, Kendra’s blind faith, or Buffy’s confidence. In her heart, Robin was fragile as glass, her courage and resolve ready to shatter beneath the slightest weight. And a slayer must carry the weight of the world on her shoulders without breaking. And a watcher must prepare her for the task. Wesley turned his back on her to allow her to dry her tears and regain her composure. He was not her father to offer her comfort. He was not his own father, either, to deny it to her. He was her watcher, and that meant he offered her whatever would make her stronger. For now, that meant he gave her silence as he busied himself with wrapping his fingers. Thankfully bruised and not broken, he thought. He would be careful with them, and in a few days they would be fine. He slowly began stripping off his protective gear with his good hand, dropping them in a pile against the wall. In a few minutes, some of Robin’s gear was added to the stack, and he felt her presence behind him. He waited a few more minutes before he turned around and looked at her. Her tears had dried, but her eyes were still full of emotion. Long strands of blonde hair were plastered down the sides of her face and along her neck. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead. “Are you all right?” he asked her. She shrugged. “I guess,” which, through years of experience, he translated as “Yes.” If she hadn’t been alright, she would have said, “I dunno.” It must dismay Giles no end that his children refused to speak proper English. Wesley nodded towards the shower room in the back. “Get cleaned up. Your father will be here in fifteen minutes to take you home. I think we can forgo training tomorrow, give us both a chance to rest.” His dismissal didn’t move her, but she loitered in the training room instead. He wanted to ask her what was bothering her, as something clearly was, but he knew that pressing the issue would only shut her down. So he busied himself with cleaning up after their training session instead and allowed her the space she needed to sort her emotions. She followed him into the weapons room as he replaced the quarterstaffs. The closed space of the tiny room created an echo, so that when she finally spoke, her soft words sounded much louder. “Does it hurt?” He touched his wrapped fingers briefly, and then shrugged off her concern. “A little ice, and I should be fine.” “No, I meant… Does it hurt becoming the Slayer?” He met her eyes, so frightened, so desperate for him to say what she wanted to hear. He stopped what he was doing, giving her his complete attention. “I shouldn’t think so. Your mother didn’t even know she was Called until after the fact.” She nodded, and he pursed his lips, troubled by her pensive expression. “You know, Robin, I am your Watcher. That means more than just the physical training. I’m also meant to be an adviser, a counselor. You can talk with me about anything you wish, and it would remain between us. Not even your father would need know.” “Between you, me, and your diary,” she muttered. “Watchers don’t record every conversation they have with their slayers or prospective slayers.” A finger under her chin tilted her face up, forcing her to meet his eyes. “It’s alright if you’re frightened, Robin. You’re allowed to have misgivings.” He watched the decision play out across her face until she finally broke down and confided in him, “I don’t want to be the Slayer!” “It is terribly unfair,” he agreed. “I’m not scared, not like you think. What if… what if I’m not any good?” “Robin…” She brushed off his comforting touch and turned away from him. “My whole life people have been waiting for me to become the Slayer. Father hates the whole idea, I know. But everyone else looks at me like… like… especially since… but what if I’m not better than her? What if I’m nothing special, and I just disappoint everyone?” “You’re not in competition with your mother. All anyone expects of you is your best.” “What if my best isn’t good enough?” Again, only the tinny echo of the weapons room made her soft words audible. He sighed. This wasn’t the easiest conversation to have with her back. “You have the rest of us to help you. Plus, you have a few years of practice yet before your father will let you patrol as the slayer. And-” “Yeah, so everyone else can get killed doing my job.” He gently tugged on her forearm and forced her to turn around and face him. He had promised himself many years ago that he would not lie to her, not even the innocent white lies told to comfort children. “You are important to this world, Robin, and yes, people may die to protect you. I would die to protect you. But you cannot take the blame for those deaths.” Her eyes flickered to the side, a flash of pain washing across her face. He knew she was already cataloging the list of those who had died to protect her thus far. He placed his hand against her cheek and turned her face towards him. “When the time comes for you to fight the good fight, you will do fine. Remember, you will have something your mother didn’t have, something no slayer has ever had.” “What?” “Magic.” Her forehead creased as she puzzled that out. “Magic?” And suddenly Wesley realized that Giles had never told his daughter about the power he and Willow had warded away. *** Alex focused intently on the papers in front of him. A cancelled check he’d stolen from his father’s filing cabinet, a couple sheets of tracing paper ripped from his art book, and one less than stellar report card. He worked quickly, with the practiced ease of experience. His skills at forgery had improved by leaps and bounds over the last few months, and he’d finished nearly the entire semester with his father none the wiser. His bedroom door slammed shut, and his startled jerk nearly ruined his masterpiece with one ill-placed scribble. “You’re not finished yet?” “Jeeze, Robin, could you try sneaking up on me again? I don’t think you’ve mastered the art yet.” “Father will be up in a minute. You have to hurry. You should have done it right away after school.” “I just got home. Got detention again. That’s another note I have to fake.” He quickly tidied his work in progress and stashed it in a desk drawer. “He remembered about the report cards today. He’ll want to see yours straight off.” Alex swiveled in his chair and offered out the report card he had prepared for his father. “Well?” She glanced over it thoughtfully. “You copied it on cardstock. It looks pretty much the same as mine. The coffee on the edges… nice touch. It wouldn’t be from Ms. Kitch if it didn’t have something spilled on it. But he’ll never believe it.” “Why not?” He took back the paper and studied it. He’d skipped sixth period to run across the street and make copies. You couldn’t even see the lines where he’d cut and pasted the new grades. “All A’s and two B’s?” “You think I should make one of them a C?” “Yeah. And throw in some minuses and pluses with the A’s and B’s.” They heard their father knock on the door, and Alex begged his sister in a cold panic, “Stall!” She was a master at stalling tactics and an expert at alibi fabrication. Robin always covered for him, ever since they were little. He would gladly return the favor if she ever broke any rules, but even if she someday did, he doubted that he could as easily sway their father. Giles hardly ever said no to Robin, and Alex had no such luck. She headed him off before he came in, the two of them standing in the hallway. Alex could hear their voices drifting in to him, the door still partially open. Robin was trying to convince their father that she was starving after her training and needed a snack right now. Their father insisted she could wait a whole hour for dinner. And depending on the report cards they showed him, they might go out somewhere nice to celebrate. No time to make a B into a C, Alex would have to make do with a couple pluses and minuses to even out his grades. He heard the door creak open behind him and grabbed for a textbook to make himself look otherwise occupied. “Alex?” He swiveled in his chair to face the door. His father seemed to be leaning on his cane a bit more today. The other watchers had probably kept him on his feet all day. “Yeah, Dad?” “How was school today?” Alex shrugged. “Okay, I guess.” Giles arched one brow. “You guess? Does that mean school was okay, and you don’t remember it, or that school was okay, and you weren’t there?” “I was there!” Alex protested. Giles held out his hand. “Then let’s see your report card. You, too, Robin.” His sister left to fetch hers, and Alex meekly handed his over. Please don’t touch the wet ink, he mentally prayed as he watched his father read through his grades. Maybe he should have left it the way it was rather than mess with adding the pluses and minuses. A ghost of a smile lifted the corners of his father’s mouth. “A B+ in History? Well done, son. You’ve really improved this term.” Standing behind him, Robin mouthed, “B+?” Alex mouthed back, “Shut up!” And then the smile faded from Giles’ mouth, replaced with a scowl. “Unsatisfactory attendance? Eighteen absences this term? And just where have you been when you weren’t in school?” Alex squirmed in his seat. He’d been so wrapped up in altering his grades, he’d forgotten totally about the attendance information on the card. His sister jumped in to save him. “But look, Father, Alex got an A in Science this time. And one in Math, too.” Her finger darted out to point at the grades, knocking against the card in her enthusiasm. She realized it at the same moment as Alex: she’d smudged the minus after his English grade. But Giles wasn’t looking at the card when it happened, and if Alex could get it signed quickly enough, maybe he wouldn’t notice. He quickly brought his father a pen. “I’m sorry about missing school. But some of those days were for watcher school stuff you wanted me to go to.” “Some of those days, not eighteen of them,” Giles answered darkly. He limped over to his son’s desk and lowered himself into the chair. Alex crossed his fingers and continued to silently pray that the smudged minus wouldn’t be noticed. Thankfully, his father’s hand rested over the incriminating evidence as he put pen to paper and signed off on the phony report card. Tomorrow Alex would return his real report card with his father’s forged signature, and he would hopefully avoid whatever punishment he probably deserved. “Robin,” Giles called, holding his hand out for her report card as the other hand absently rubbed at his lame leg. Alex retrieved his own as quickly as wouldn’t be suspicious and stuffed it into his backpack. He breathed a sigh of relief. Close call. A horrible fate narrowly avoided. Robin’s grades were the same as the last time: mostly B’s and a few A’s. Giles smiled, praised her, and signed off. “Now, where would you like to go out tonight?” “Pizza,” they both chorused together. They could always agree on that. Giles groaned and shook his head. “Very well. You both did extremely well this term, so the night is yours. Dinner and whatever else your hearts’ desire.” He pulled himself stiffly to his feet, leaning heavily on his cane. Alex watched silently, knowing his father must have done a lot of walking today for his leg to bother him so much. Some days the limp was barely noticeable and the cane was nothing more than an accessory. “Did you go to LA today?” “I had some errands to run,” Giles answered, looping his free arm around his son’s shoulders. “You should let some of the other watchers do it sometimes,” Alex scolded. “You shouldn’t do so much walking in one day.” “And you shouldn’t be skipping school. We’ll have a talk about that tomorrow, shall we?” Alex sighed. “Yes, Father.” *** “Really, I don’t know what to do with him.” Giles tried to relax as Buffy combed through his hair, as her fingertips rubbed at his temple and tried to massage away his growing headache. At least she refrained from commenting on how gray it had gotten. They rested beneath the shade of a large oak tree, she with her back pressed against its gnarled trunk and he reclining with his head in her lap. The setting should have been idyllic, but he couldn’t let go of his lingering frustration. “He skipped all those days, and I’ve no idea where he was or what he was doing.” “Did you try asking him?” “I did. He said he was researching in the Council Libraries.” Her fingers stopped fussing over him, and he shifted slightly to look up at her, his head still comfortably in her lap. She was frowning down on him. “You think he was lying to you?” “I know he was. The Library has an electronic lock that records everyone’s comings and goings.” Giles sighed and pulled himself to a sitting position. The grass beneath his hands was soft and new, the sky above bright and clear. He should be enjoying this time with her, and yet all he could think about was what awaited him at home: a daughter he couldn’t prevent from being Called, a son he could no longer seem to connect with, and an ever expanding network of watchers he was responsible for. He took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, so very weary. “What worries me more than the lying is that it came so easily to him. Our son happens to excel at lying. It appears to be all he excels at lately.” She batted at his shoulder in mock annoyance. “Play fair, now! You said he got better grades this time.” “So it would seem. Still, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be getting straight A’s. He’s so smart, Buffy, but he doesn’t apply himself.” “What’re you going to do?” Their eyes met, a long silence between them. He could discuss the situation with her as much as he liked, but in the end, it always came down to his decision. “Ground him for the truancies.” He shared a mischievous half grin with her. “Since he enjoys researching at the Library so much, it would seem extra lessons at the Council are in order.” She didn’t smile back, but instead looked down, her lashes veiling her eyes. “Maybe you should go easy on him this time. Maybe you shouldn’t push him so hard.” “I push him, because I know the kind of world he will have to live in.” She jumped to her feet and started walking away from him, out of the shade, into the clearing, into the sun. Giles struggled to his own feet and rushed to catch up. His heart was in his throat, panic making his movements clumsy. He stumbled to one knee, his hand reaching out for her. “Buffy, wait!” He wasn’t ready for her to go yet. She spun around, her hair whipping against her cheeks, tears glistening in her eyes. “You promised, Giles! You promised me that he’d have a choice.” “He will.” He reached her side in the next moment, his arms wrapping around her waist and pulling her towards him. He bent his head to rest his forehead against hers. “He’ll have the choice when he’s old enough to make it.” She nodded and closed her eyes, one lone tear sneaking past her lashes to trail down her cheek. He kissed it away. She tipped her chin up so he could kiss her properly, and he did. A deep, searching kiss that only left him wanting more. “I’ve missed you.” He touched his hand to the side of her face. “I keep having the other dreams lately.” “Yeah, the other dreams suck. You should stop having those.” He laughed at her blunt advice. “Believe me, I’d like to. I think they must come from watching Faith’s condition slowly deteriorate. I just keep thinking-” “Stop.” She shushed him with a finger to his mouth. “Stop thinking.” She tugged on his hand and led him down the slope of the meadow, the grass growing taller as they descended. “Time for action.” “Where are we going?” He held fast to her hand, their pace steadily increasing as they went down the hill. The grass was tall enough now to brush against his knees, and the sky was clouding over, threatening rain. “Faith will be here soon. You can’t stop that. You can’t hold her there. But there’s time still to help Robin.” He tightened his grip on her hand, feeling her fingers begin to slip from his as she started skipping faster down the incline. “Slow down, Buffy, I can’t keep up.” “You’re not supposed to keep up. I’m supposed to go ahead of you. Slayers first.” He did lose hold of her hand then, and she ran down the hill without looking back. He sprinted after her, feeling only the slightest echo of pain through his left leg. The grass was waist high now, slowing him down, and he felt as if he were swimming against the current to catch up to her. He tripped on a stray root or something, falling down beneath the grass. He swore, pulled himself up, and dusted himself off. But as soon as his head cleared the top of the grass, he realized he could no longer see Buffy just in front of him. “Buffy?” He turned in place, his eyes scanning the surrounding meadow, but all he saw was a wide sea of tall, green grass, gently blowing in the breeze as storm clouds rolled in overhead. She was gone. “Please don’t do this,” he begged softly, still spinning in place and searching for her. “Don’t leave me again.” He grunted as something knocked into him from behind and tackled him to the ground. He could hear her laughing as she crawled up his body, and he rolled over beneath her, running his hands along the hips that straddled him. “Tag, you’re it,” she teased, leaning over to kiss him on the nose. He grabbed her wrists to hold her in place. She didn’t fight him, but neither did she seem pleased that he’d ended their game. In fact, she gave him a fairly impressive pout. “You said it’s not too late for Robin,” he reminded her. “How do we stop her from being Chosen?” The grass sheltered them, arching over them to cloak the sky and hold back the outside world. The light that filtered through between the blades was uneven, stripes and dots of light and dark flickering across her face. “You don’t want to stop that, Giles. You think you do, but trust me on this: you really, really don’t. But you can still stop her from making a terrible mistake.” “How?” “Just be her father. She has a Watcher. Be her father.” The grass began to rustle around them, long blades dipping down and rising back up, fat drops of rain landing on the ground around them, the grass not shelter enough against the sudden shower. Buffy lifted her face up to the sky and spread her hands out to catch the rain. “You notice how we never manage to make it out of this meadow?” She leaned down over him again, nose to nose. “You know what’s waiting for you, don’t you?” “I know.” He did know. Or rather he suspected. The ominous rain clouds, the grass growing taller and taller, as tall and thick as he remembered. Sinking, falling, pulled down, down, deeper and deeper, down into the earth itself. It was either the one or the other waiting for him, and neither was good. Buffy, of all people, should understand his reluctance, but she only wagged her finger at him and chided, “Then get your butt in gear and get it over with, Watcher-mine.” He shook his head emphatically. “I can’t. I can’t go back there.” She touched his cheek softly, brushed a few raindrops from his brow. Her expression was tender, understanding, but resolved. “Sometimes you have to look back before you can look forward.” She rose and offered him a hand up. They stood facing each other, the rain still falling. “Until you do, you’ll just be stuck here. And there’s nothing here for you.” She stretched up on her toes and kissed him. He closed his eyes and leaned into her touch. She whispered it against his cheek, “Not even me.” He opened his eyes, and she was gone. He stood alone in a field of grass that shivered beneath the spring rainfall. “Buffy?” He sank down to his knees, his head bowed. “Come back,” he murmured. A crack of thunder boomed around him, and he startled awake, the blankets twisted at his feet and his alarm clock beeping beside him. He quickly switched the alarm off, knocking it from the nightstand in his haste. For a split second he looked for her, his arm reaching out towards her side of the bed, before he remembered that he slept alone. He had slept alone for quite some time now. *** Willow parked in front of the school, a few minutes early yet, and busied herself with the newest issue of Archeology Today. She skimmed through several articles, looking for names she didn’t recognize. Up and comers. She wanted the brightest, the most talented, the most driven. The lines of watchers were all but gone, and they needed fresh blood. Willow served as the Council’s chief head hunter, slowly filling its ranks with those blessed with both an aptitude for academics and a potential for magic. She had traveled the world collecting them, every country she had ever wanted to visit and many that she hadn’t. Some had arrived practically at her doorstep, drawn to UC Sunnydale’s prestigious Classics Department like demons were drawn to the Hellmouth. She taught Ancient Mythology and first year Greek there, would have likely been heading up the whole department by now if her attention weren’t divided by the introductory magic classes she also taught at the Council and her constant scouting for future watchers. As it was, her professorship gave her access to incoming freshman and the chance to observe and evaluate them over the course of a semester. Literally half her finds over the past seven years had been culled from her own classes. The school bell rang, and she set aside her reading, scanning the throng of exiting students for familiar faces. She spotted them walking out together, a few girls chatting with Robin, a few boys laughing with Alex. Their friends never mingled, still split into the strict boy/girl groups of that age, but that didn’t curtail Alex and Robin from their seemingly inseparable tendencies. Willow always wondered at that. They fought, sure, on occasion, but for the most part they constantly sought out each other’s company, an anomaly in her limited experience of siblings. In high school, Buffy used to complain loudly if Dawn tagged along. Actually, she did that in college, too. And Xander’s boys often fought to the point that they were all sent to separate rooms. For Alex and Robin, forced separation could probably be considered punishment. Maybe it was a twin thing. Willow honked the horn several times in succession, trying to make a clever tune out of it. They spotted her immediately. None of the other parents were quite so obnoxious. Last time she’d picked them up, she’d honked them a message in Morse code. They waved goodbye to their friends and dashed over to the car, both hopping into the back seat. Xander’s boys always fought over who would get to ride shotgun, but Alex and Robin never did. They always sat together. “So did ya have fun at school today? Learn anything cool?” “I learned that Cassie Ellman is a big baby,” Alex announced. “She started crying and told Ms. Kitch that I called her an ‘ex hara producte.’” “And did you?” Willow countered patiently as she maneuvered out of the school parking lot. “Yeah, but she didn’t know what it meant. She couldn’t even say it right. I told her it meant she was pretty, but she tattled on me anyway.” Willow adjusted the rear view mirror so she could see Alex in the backseat. “I’m guessing something in your tone of voice clued her into the fact that you called her a pig. Although extra credit for creative insults. Right declension and everything.” “Are you going to tell Dad I got in trouble?” Willow sighed, her forehead scrunched up, and a sad little frown on her lips. It really wasn’t her place, and yet she desperately wanted to smooth things over for Alex. He’d had it rough the past couple years, and Giles was still too wrapped up in his own stuff to really notice. This was just one more thing they didn’t need between them. Punishment would accomplish nothing here except to push Alex farther away. What the boy was fishing for was attention. And yet, here she was again, picking up the kids from school because Giles was tied up in Council meetings, a common enough occurrence apparently, since neither of them asked after him. “Are you going to do it again?” She aimed a stern glare in his direction via the rear view mirror. Alex shook his head back and forth in exaggerated and enthusiastic movements. “Will you sign my note?” “You got a note for that?” “Yeah, Ms. Kitch likes to send notes home for everything.” “Alright, but this is a one time deal, Mister. Next time, I tell your dad.” Robin leaned over and whispered something in her brother’s ear. The pair held a quiet consultation for several minutes before Robin finally asked, “Where are we going?” “Well, I’m told you get to skip training today, so I’m guessing I should drop you both off to hang with Anya and kids ’til your dad finishes up at headquarters.” More whispering between the two of them, their heads bent close together. They came to some sort of decision, and Robin leaned forward to ask politely, “May we please go with you, Aunt Willow?” “I don’t know; I have office hours now. Students might drop in for help. Of course exams are a ways off, so it’ll probably be just me and my books for a couple hours… which I was actually kinda looking forward to.” “We’ll be good if anyone comes in,” Robin promised. “Real quiet,” Alex seconded. “You just don’t want to spend time with the boys.” “They’re mean,” Robin grumbled. “They have their mother’s sense of tact,” Willow corrected. “And you can come with me for now, but that only buys you a couple hours reprieve. We all agreed to have dinner at their house tonight.” The twins groaned, and Willow drove past the turn off for Xander and Anya’s house and continued on to the UC Sunnydale campus. They behaved, as promised, although she only had one student stop in. Alex amused himself by sitting beside the office window and sketching the courtyard below in his notebook. He had a talent for artwork, and some of his more recent portrait attempts were actually recognizable. Robin shadowed Willow around as she sorted and shelved her newest shipment of books. The girl had grown more subdued and reflective since Faith’s final battle, and Willow suspected that the waiting was weighing her down. She was mighty tempted to have a confrontation with Giles about it. He couldn’t keep Faith on life support forever, at least not long enough to save Robin, and it would be better to let the Slayer die now than to string his daughter along any longer. The poor child’s nerves frayed more every day, ripped apart by anticipation and dread. This keeping the world on pause thing was doing no one any favors. “Aunt Willow?” Robin asked softly. “Yeah?” “In training yesterday… Wesley said I have magic. He said that you and Father locked it away.” Willow’s breath caught. This was an unexpected line of questioning and a conversation the girl should be having with Giles. “You were too young to control it. I think… I think you should talk to your father about this, Robin.” “But I do have magic?” “Yes.” “Like yours?” Willow smiled softly and tucked a lock of hair behind Robin’s ear. She looked so much like Buffy, in the way the tears welled up in her eyes before falling and in the way her chin worked to maintain control over her emotions. Willow ached for her friend sometimes when she looked at her daughter. “No, honey. Your magic’s like yours. Everybody’s is different.” “But I can learn to do spells and stuff?” “Someday.” “When?” Willow frowned and fidgeted with peeling the shipping label off the side of the box they were unpacking. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Alex had set aside his sketching and was avidly listening to their conversation. “When you’re older. When you’re ready.” “I’m ready now,” Robin protested. “That’s for your father to say.” “Why? If I’m old enough to be the Slayer, I should be old enough to have magic.” “That argument’s been tried before: if you’re old enough to vote and get drafted, you should be old enough to drink. Didn’t really work then, either.” Robin was staring at her blankly, and Willow shook her head. “Never mind. The point is this: it’s not up to me to decide.” “But you helped Father cast the spell, so you can break it.” “Anyone can break it, Robin, but that’s beside the point. Your father gets to say when you’re ready for magic… and when you’re ready to date, and what time your curfew is, and if you can have friends over on a Friday night. Right now he gets to be the boss of you, not me.” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why do you want the magic so badly?” Robin crossed her arms, her own eyes narrowing with a bit of Buffy’s spitfire defiance. “Because it’s mine.” Willow laughed and held her hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. Give your father some of that attitude, and maybe he’ll cave.” She stood and picked up the half-empty box, the remaining books not belonging to her. “You guys stay put while I run the rest of these over to Professor Clark. I’ll just be gone a minute.” She ducked out of her office, hoping the topic would be forgotten by the time she returned. Her only consolation in this particular situation was that Wesley would be on the receiving end of Giles’ ire and not her. She hadn’t been the one to spill the beans. *** Robin watched at the doorway until Willow had turned the corner, and then dashed over to the office desk. She opened and closed various drawers, pawing through the contents, searching for something helpful. Alex hopped down from his window seat and joined her. “What are you looking for?” “Names, numbers, something, anything.” “Aunt Willow keeps everything on her computer.” Robin sighed and tried the bottom drawer. “Yeah, but that’s password protected.” She stopped rifling through the drawers as her eyes landed on a promising item. “Ah-ha! PDA. I bet she has her address book in it.” She removed the small electronic device, and just as she had hoped, it wasn’t password protected. She skimmed through the address entries, waiting for something to jump out at her. Alex tugged on her sleeve. “What’re you looking for?” “She said anyone could break the spell. She won’t. Father won’t. I’m gonna find someone who will.” “Why?” Robin smiled then, a wide, triumphant smile, because she had just found what she needed. “’Cause I’m gonna do a spell. A spell to not be the Slayer. And I bet he helps me.” She turned the screen to show her brother. “Ethan Rayne? Dad’s old friend?” “Willow’s too.” Alex shook his head. “Boy, are you gonna get in trouble for this.” *** Back Home Next: Part 2: One Birth, One Death, and Two Twists of Fate
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