ORIGINALLY POSTED: April 8, 2008
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.
. Feedback motivates me to write faster.
MY WEBSITE: www.jkphilips.com
Part 5: Slayer Dreams
Previously in Unchosen… Faith is dying, only her life support preventing Robin from being Called as the next slayer. Alex has been weaving a web of lies to cloak his failing grades and school truancies. And Giles, absorbed in the work of rebuilding the Council of Watchers and still grieving for Buffy, is blind to Robin’s doubts and Alex’s delinquency. Robin, desperate to avoid becoming the slayer, asks Ethan Rayne for a spell to prevent it from happening. He delivers, removing the wards to her magic in the process. When Faith dies, apparently no slayer follows. After Alex gets into a fight at school, Giles learns of his poor grades and truancies, but Alex doesn’t want to be a watcher. It’s Robin who figures out that Alex has become the Slayer in her place. Ethan skips town before his role is discovered, warning Willow to watch out for Giles’ second hand man, Stein. Alex tries out his new slayer skills, with Robin following as his watcher, and stakes a drained vampire. Willow has also discovered drained vampires, a sure sign that whatever killed Buffy is back. Through it all, Buffy has been visiting Giles in his dreams. She tells him a story of a tree that is first strong and tall, then sapling, then seed, then waiting in the branches of its mighty parent. She needs him to remember and to understand, so he will be prepared for what awaits…
Wesley’s forgetfulness could be forgiven for three reasons: One, the disturbing meeting he had just finished concerning drained vampires completely monopolized his focus. Two, Giles’ insistence that Robin was “finished” with her training would seem to require some kind of discussion before they could resume their schedule. And three, Robin’s own distaste for slayer training seemed to suggest she would take advantage of any excuse to skip out.
So it was with mild surprise that he accepted his secretary’s reminder that he was late for training and his slayer was waiting for him in their practice room.
She didn’t face him, but he noticed their practice equipment already laid out and waiting.
“Has your father given permission for you to resume training?”
She shrugged. “I didn’t ask. He’s busy.” She strapped on the protective vest and padding.
“Is your hand well enough?” He noticed the bandage and knew that without slayer healing, the slice she’d made across her palm would still be sore and too easily reopened.
“I’ll be careful.” She tossed him a wooden sword and chose one for herself, forgoing the quarterstaff lessons they’d been working on. “I’ll just use the one hand.”
When he made no move to begin their lesson, she finally met his eyes, and he could see that she was terrified. “Unless… Well, maybe since I’m obviously not gonna be the Slayer… maybe you’re not gonna be my watcher anymore.”
He held her eyes and replied with conviction, “You still have the potential, and I am still your watcher.” He strapped on his own protective gear as if to punctuate that statement.
He didn’t question where her sudden desire for training was coming from. If he were completely honest with himself, his mind was still on the drained vampire, so lifeless on the med table, not even a full blood transfusion enough to wake it from its comatose state.
Distracted as he was, Robin managed to disarm him in barely three moves. His eyes widened in surprise. Obviously, she had been paying more attention in their past training than he had given her credit. And as his wooden practice sword clattered to the ground, Robin smiled, really smiled from ear to ear, arms raised in victory. Wesley shook his head in astonishment, and shook off his preoccupation with the drained vampire, bringing all of his attention to the girl in front of him. He retrieved his sword and came at her, testing her balance, her reflexes, her defenses, all while deflecting her own advancing blows.
He grinned back at her, praising each success. She had a fire that had been lacking since her mother’s death. No longer approaching their training as a dreaded burden, she had turned their sparring into a game, the terrible weight of the past lifted from her shoulders. She moved lightly on her feet now, almost as if dancing. Concentration furrowed her brow, her teeth worried at her lower lip, and she met each of his advances with fierce determination. A grin would split that intense focus each time she scored a hit, and for once the smile lit her eyes as well.
In the end, though, she was still just a child of thirteen, lacking slayer stamina and adult lung capacity. The lines of sweat down her face and the hitch in her breath told him clearly that she had reached her limit. He raised one hand to signal the end of the lesson, and with the other he grabbed for her practice sword. She held firm.
And now the same uncertainty from before was back, her eyes darting away as if hiding some secret from his gaze.
He tugged on the sword, and she tugged back. “Robin?”
“Umm…” She was fidgeting as if ants were crawling up and down her legs. She flipped her blond hair over her shoulder. “I thought maybe… if maybe I could… I mean, I haven’t really been trying, and well… I should get more practice, and so maybe I could take some practice stuff home, and maybe Alex and I could practice in the basement, ’cause he’s supposed to be training to be a watcher and maybe it would help both of us if we did some extra practice together.” Her eyes flashed up, hopeful, beseeching. “Please?”
He let go of the wooden sword, scratched the back of his neck as he thought, and finally shook his head no. “I really don’t think it would be a good idea, Robin. Alex doesn’t have any idea how to train you, and it could set you back in your lessons. It’s much harder to unlearn bad habits than to avoid them in the first place.”
“Pleeease,” she begged. “Please, please, please? We won’t train, just practice. All the drills you’ve already showed me, and then I’ll still come here everyday and we’ll train together, and you’ll see… Really, it will help. It will. I promise, just drills, no sparring. You’ll see, no bad habits, I promise.”
She was bouncing on her feet, those wide puppy dog eyes pleading with him, every ounce of girly wiles she possessed focused on breaking his resolve.
He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and said it between clenched teeth, “Fine.” She claimed him in a crushing hug, and he laughed darkly as he returned it. This would be why Giles had allowed his slayer a longer leash than the old Council traditions demanded and gotten himself fired.
He pushed her back to arms length and tipped her chin up to meet his gaze. “On a probationary basis. We’ll see how this week goes. And Alex will attend one of your training sessions, so I know he is doing the drills properly too.”
A flash of fear in her eyes, but she had buried her head against his chest once more before he could read anything else in the expression. “Okay.”
Wesley wrapped his arms around his potential slayer and sighed. Not nearly as cut and dried as his initial watcher’s training led him to believe all those years ago.
Dinner at Giles’ house: the inner circle of the Council, plus the twins. An awkward silence fell between the forced spurts of small talk. Willow knew they each had their reasons for the uncomfortable silence. Giles was worrying on the spell they planned to do, what it might mean for Alex to lift the magic wards and allow him to dream. That he agreed at all only showed how troubled he was that they had yet to find the next slayer. He probably assumed the rest were quieted by the same concerns.
Willow knew better. She, Wesley, and Stein had their own secret they were keeping from Giles, something even more troubling than not finding the next slayer. One drained vampire, locked up in the Council computer labs, somewhere Giles would be unlikely to stumble onto it. They traded glances over Giles’ head, their shared secret a heavy weight in the air.
The twins… well, Willow figured they were still quiet beneath the shadow of Alex’s suspension and lousy grades. Walking on eggshells to avoid stirring their father’s anger.
Giles made another bid at easing the tension. “So, Willow, Lizzy couldn’t join us again, I see.”
“She’s in surgery.” Willow rolled her eyes at Giles’ slight smirk. “Don’t you dare give Xander anymore ammunition. He’s already got his boys calling her the Phantom of the Opera-ting room.”
They shared a wry chuckle at that, and then the silence was back. Plates nearly empty, they couldn’t put off the true purpose of the evening much longer.
The children tried next, perhaps eager to escape the oppressive gloom. “Can we go?” in unison, and then separately, “—homework.” “—test on Monday.”
Giles dismissed Robin, but motioned Alex to his side. The boy’s head was bowed, perhaps fearing another tongue-lashing. Giles reached for his shoulder to offer comfort, but instantly pulled back when his son only flinched at his touch.
“Alex,” Giles’ voice was severe, no wonder the poor boy was braced for more recriminations. “Today in your lessons with Wesley—”
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” Alex interrupted, the words tumbling out. “I was just so tired, and history’s so boring, and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Shhh, enough of that.” Giles cupped his son’s chin and forced their eyes to meet. “This has nothing to do with school. This is about the dreams you used to have. Remember talking with Wesley about the dreams?”
Alex relaxed slightly, as if he’d been holding his breath. “I haven’t had them since you and Willow set the wards.”
This time it was Giles who flinched, then spared a glare for Wesley as he said the next, “I would have told you when you were a bit older. I never meant for you and Robin to find out that way.”
Wesley, to his credit, looked suitably shamefaced for spilling the beans. “Well, what’s done is done. Point is it’s out in the open now. And Alex’s dreams might point the way to the Slayer.”
The boy’s eyes lit up, promise of an adventure. “You’re going to take the wards off? I’ll have magic?”
Giles frowned. “We’re not certain you have magic. We know Robin did. You may just have dreams… or not. You may have magic, or it may come to you when you’re a bit older. But yes, we’ll take the wards off for now, and with any luck, you might have a dream that will help us find the Slayer.”
Alex’s gaze dropped to the floor at that last hopeful statement from his father. His murmured, “Okay,” was barely audible.
Willow wrapped one arm around the child, offering him the comfort Giles failed to. “It’ll be okay, Alex. Totally safe. Your dad and I will be looking out for you the whole time. If the dreams get bad, we’ll wake you up. And we can always redo the wards in a pinch. Okay?” The boy leaned into her touch, nodding against her shoulder. She gave Giles an encouraging smile, but he just turned away and headed into the living room to set up the spell.
Too much space in the house. Between Giles and his children. Between them and the rest of the world. Even the boy Willow held in her arms remained at a slight distance to her, holding some secret behind his eyes and between his words. Space and silence surrounded everyone who walked into this house. Like the ghost of Buffy stood between her family and anyone who tried to reach out to them. No, that wasn’t fair. Willow knew that wasn’t who Buffy was, wasn’t what she would have wanted. And yet, the space and the silence remained. And Willow was failing horribly in her promise to Buffy.
Willow and Giles performed the spell. Alex obediently followed their instructions. Stein watched, always trying to expand his knowledge of magic, always trying to find the scientific framework that might explain it. Wesley sat near the bottom of the staircase beside a curious Robin, arm wrapped around her shoulders to hold her back out of sight and keep her out of trouble. She curled against his side automatically. His head rested against the crown of hers almost accidentally, as he tipped his head to get a better view of the casting. He whispered explanations and translated the incantations for her. When the spell finished, he lifted her to her feet and sent her upstairs to her room before she could be seen.
Wesley and Stein returned to Council Headquarters, sharing a significant glance with Willow as they passed. A drained vampire awaited them. Let Giles think they were researching slayer succession. He had enough to worry about. Willow and Giles led Alex upstairs to his room, intending to stand vigil as he slept, hoping for a clue in a dream. Though they never said it out loud, they all knew they were grasping at straws.
The Council Headquarters were empty as a tomb. Every room, every corridor, abandoned. Alex shivered. No matter the time of day or night, there was always life in these buildings. Late night research and conversation, students cramming for tests, patrols coming or going. But now the books stood open and forgotten where they lay. It felt like the apocalypse had come and gone and he was the sole survivor.
“Hello?” His voice echoed back to him. He glanced at the tables of open books as he passed. Nothing but blank pages, empty as the building around him.
The lights flickered for a moment, and then a flash of lightening lit the skylight above him, almost as bright as daylight.
He caught movement at the edge of his vision in that brilliant flash, like a strobe effect: there one moment, gone the next. Fearless, reckless, inquisitive, headstrong, he’d been accused of all these before, and so without hesitation he set off in the direction of that movement.
He passed between the stacks, the tall shelves of books like a long hallway. It didn’t escape his notice that the spines were all blank. No titles. No authors.
The stacks opened into his kitchen at home, as normal as if he’d always wandered through the Council Library on the way down for breakfast. He heard soft humming to his left, behind the open fridge door.
“Mom?” Softer, hopeful: “Mommy?”
The door closed with a bang, and it was Faith’s grin waiting behind it. Faith: dark hair, dark eyes, black top, black pants, eyes rimmed in black, her red lips the only color. “Hey, short stuff, got a project for you.” She dumped an armful of veggies on the center island and handed him a carving knife. She busied herself paging through a cookbook, every page blank, until she found just the right blank page. “Yep, here it is.” A jerk of the chin in the direction of the blade she’d given him. “Whatcha waiting for?”
“Won’t work for me. I’m left-handed.” He tipped the carving knife back and forth experimentally. The balance seemed off. And the grip of the handle… “Doesn’t fit right,” he elaborated.
Rolling her eyes, Faith bounced over to stand behind him, framing his body with her own. Placing her hand over his, she worked the knife through him, leading him through the motions of chopping carrots. Slow. Methodical. Thunk. Thunk. The blade rose and fell against the cutting board in a steady rhythm beneath his fingers. Thunk. Thunk. He felt like a puppet on strings.
“Might not fit perfect. Only borrowed, after all.” Thunk. Thunk. The breath of her words was warm against his neck. “But here’s a little secret for you, kiddo—” Thunk. Thunk. “—it’s all borrowed power in the end.”
Faith slipped an apron over her head, with ruffles along the edges and a perky sunflower on the chest. As she tied the strings behind her, the world suddenly went black and white and grey, all the color faded away. And strangely, Faith’s pitch-black hair was suddenly bouncing in perfect ringlets. His father walked in: suit, tie, vest, hair smoothed back slick with gel, and smoking a long pipe. He held the pipe to one side as he gave Faith a perfunctory peck on the cheek. He blew a few smoke rings as he eyed Alex up and down. He held out an empty cup, and Faith neatly filled it with coffee for him, returning the routine peck on the cheek.
Giles crossed his arms over his chest, still lazily puffing on the pipe, and looked down his nose at Alex. “You shouldn’t be here, son, this is women’s work.”
Faith was pulling things from cupboards and cabinets and drawers: stew pots, spatulas, jumper cables, a trowel. She kept double-checking the blank cookbook.
“Don’t blame him. Robin’s off playing badminton.” She said the last in a stage whisper, sharing a significant glance with Giles, both nodding knowingly.
Giles slipped a newspaper under his armpit and raised his coffee mug in farewell. “Well, I’m off to do terribly important things. I’m expecting a call on my red phone today. And Spike promised to teach me how to ski.”
He leaned close and whispered it in Alex’s ear as he passed, scolding, “Really, son, you could at least read the instructions.”
“But, Dad, the book is blank!”
Another shared look between his father and Faith, this time long-suffering. “Obstinate, just like his mother. He’ll die like his mother, too.” Giles sighed, as if he’d reached the end of his patience. Addressing Faith, “I can only blame myself really. I always wished he were a girl.” And then to Alex, grudgingly, “Get it out of your system if you must. Don’t come crying to me when your classmates tease.” And with that, he slipped out the back door.
“Eggs!” Faith cried, panicked. “Nearly forgot the eggs!” She whipped off the apron, and color flooded back into the world, like Dorothy opening her eyes to Oz. She grabbed him roughly by the elbow and steered him to the back door, shoving him onto the back porch. “Hurry-up, short stuff, and find me some eggs! Purple eggs, if you can.”
The door slammed behind him, and he was left alone in the pouring rain. “Where am I gonna find purple eggs?” he mumbled to himself, as his eyes scanned the backyard for shelter from the rain.
“C’mere,” a familiar voice called. Spike poked his head out from inside Leaky’s old doghouse and motioned him over.
Alex hurried towards that slight refuge, following his vampire uncle through the small dog door, and finding himself immediately dry as if he’d never gotten wet.
He’d played in Leaky’s doghouse often enough when he was younger, but he didn’t remember it being quite so big on the inside. Or carpeted. With canvas sides. And a wood cherry ceiling. In fact, the inside of Leaky’s kennel was looking suspiciously like the underside of Aunt Anya’s massive dining table, with blankets draped over to transform it into a fort.
Spike sat cross-legged, leather jacket pooled around his legs, face vamped-out, eyes yellow and glittering. “He’s coming.” His uncle’s voice trembled. Fear that Alex had never heard in that voice before. Fear in those yellow eyes that were never meant to hold fear. A monster’s face that was meant to make others tremble and quake. And yet, Alex had never feared his uncle, no matter which face he showed him. He liked to think that made him brave. Spike said it made him foolish. Even Dawn feared him a little. Redemption was not guaranteed, was a choice he made everyday, and anyone with a lick of sense should still fear his fangs. That’s what his uncle told him. Alex always suspected the warning was aimed more for Angel, whose soul was more at risk than Spike’s promise of morality could be.
But now, Alex saw what terror could look like on a vampire’s face.
“He’s coming,” Spike repeated, inching backwards.
A shadow fell across the canvas sides of the fort. Spike grabbed his arm, grip bruising. His reply was a harsh exhale, no sound, only breath, “Him!”
And then an arm plunged through the flap of fabric at the entrance. Alex shrieked as long fingers locked around his ankle. He felt less than brave. Spike cowered behind him, pleading, “Don’t let him take me.”
The hand was dragging him from his shelter by one leg. He clung to his uncle, but Spike wasn’t strong enough.
He was slipping out into the rain, kicking his legs, desperate to wrench himself free…
Alex bolted upright in his bed, panting and trembling. In the darkness, the figure beside him was only shadow, but the soothing fingers through his hair were feminine. Willow, then.
Gentle hands urged him to lie back, and the bed dipped as she sat beside him. Her touch was a lullaby across his skin, a familiar rhythm of circles and spirals that echoed his oldest memories of comfort. Ghosting across his forehead and cheeks, smoothing along his chest, dancing up and down his arms. A melody made with a mother’s hands. In the darkness, she could still be taken for Willow, except for her touch.
“Mom?” He choked on the word as the tears came, stinging his eyes, burning his chest. Hot, fat tears rolled down the sides of his face, wetting his pillow.
Her lips brushed across his brow, and then pressed a tender kiss over each closed eye. The bed shifted as she lay beside him. He curled into her embrace and felt like he was three years old again, an only child, chasing away his nightmares in his parents’ bed. Sobs shook his body, and she hugged him tighter, rocked him in her strong slayer arms.
“Shhh, little Rabbit.” Barely a whisper, but it was her voice, his mother’s voice, and that made him cry all the harder with the absolute certainty that he was still dreaming and that she would be gone when he woke.
“What are you doing here, baby?” She rubbed soothing circles over his back. “You shouldn’t be having slayer dreams.”
“Dad— and— Willow— did a— spell so— I could.” He forced the words out between each hiccupping sob.
“Figures. Last chance to get into his dreams, and he pulls an all-nighter. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect he’s avoiding me.”
She pushed him back slightly, cupping his face in her hands and resting her forehead against his. “Look at me, Alex. Breathe. Again. Slowly. You’re getting yourself so worked up; you’re gonna wake yourself up. But first, I need to give you a message. You need to tell your father. Wolfram and Hart have the book. Look for—”
Alex bolted upright in his bed, panting and trembling. The lamp on his nightstand snapped on, his father sitting in a chair beside him, leaning forward with a look of concern. His bedroom door opened a moment later, and he could see Willow’s silhouette, backlit by the hallway light.
“Alex?” His father reached one tentative hand towards him.
Everything blurred with tears. He fought them back, tried to blink them away. A few escaped down one cheek. He fixed his gaze on one of the planets on his constellation bedspread. Mars maybe. “I saw Mom.”
His father’s hand closed around his own, fingers squeezing tight as if to transfer strength across that grip. “Willow, help me reset the wards.”
They asked questions as they prepared the spell, and Alex hated lying to them, but he wasn’t ready to tell them he was the Slayer yet. He wasn’t ready to talk about his mother yet either, so he failed to pass along her message, if it had indeed been a real message. Thankfully, they didn’t press him too hard for answers and accepted that his dream had been a dead end in the slayer search. Obviously, dreaming of his mother had rattled him, and that softened the edge of their interrogation.
He should probably protest the wards being reset, any possible magic being locked away, but that was a sacrifice he’d willingly make to avoid any more dreams.
By the time Willow and Giles finished the spell, Alex had calmed himself. Even so, as his father bid him good night, one hand seized Giles’ pant leg in a panicked grip.
“Stay. Please.” His cheeks burned red with embarrassment as he asked it. He felt like a baby, but he couldn’t help it.
“Of course,” his father replied softly, and stretched out on the bed beside him. He left the lamp on, although the room dimmed slightly as Willow closed the door on the hallway light as she left. Giles grabbed the first book his fingers touched from the stack on the nightstand and opened to the page with the folded back corner. No lecture on bookmarks and proper book care and not cracking the bindings. Not tonight. Tonight Alex fell asleep listening to his father’s voice continue a tale about robots, spaceships, and other worlds.
Ahmed shuddered every time he dared a glance in the direction of the drained vampire. Willow handed him a cup of tea and smiled sympathetically. Wesley and Stein were too busy strapping their new addition to a med table and hooking up equipment to notice the new watcher’s nervousness.
“If a transfusion of human blood won’t do it, maybe vampire blood?” Stein suggested thoughtfully.
“Considering that the vampires we have on hand are fresh out…” Wesley sighed. “Bloody hell. Maybe Angel… or Spike?” He touched a small cross to the body on the table, and her arm sizzled and smoked. Proof that the thing was indeed a vampire, and not just a dead, cold body. Yet, no reaction to the burn of the cross. At least the one from last night was frozen in vamp face. This one could have been mistaken for a human victim, if Ahmed hadn’t seen what drained it firsthand.
“What did he look like?” Willow asked gently, distracting Ahmed from the lifeless vampire a few feet away.
“I thought… well, I saw her go down. I thought he killed her, thought he was the vampire. But when he got closer… His eyes changed. This, this weird purple color. And his voice. His lips weren’t moving, but I could hear him. Like he was in my head.”
“What did he say?” Wesley’s attention now caught, he wheeled a chair to the other side of Ahmed. Stein was still absorbed in comparing readouts on the drained vampire they’d found last night versus the one Ahmed had found tonight.
“He asked me where the Slayer lived. Said… um…” He squeezed his eyes shut in concentration. “‘The Slayer will bleed for what she has taken.’ Then, umm… Well, I fired my crossbow, but when the bolt hit him, he just melted away like fog.”
“Yeah, he does that,” Willow groused.
Ahmed took a long sip of tea, hands closed around the cup as if to draw comfort from the heat as much as the taste. “My first two chances at staking a vamp, and both times that demon drains them first. Maybe I shouldn’t have a first dusting. Controlled conditions or… or otherwise.”
Willow slapped the backside of his head hard enough that he flinched. “That’s for patrolling by yourself.”
“Believe me, I’ve learned my lesson.”
Wesley stood and started pacing the room, weaving back and forth between the neat aisles of computer terminals, idly spinning chairs as he passed. “He’s looking for the Slayer. Can’t be Buffy. She never even scored a hit on him. And this sounds like a demon looking for retribution.”
Stein joined the conversation. “This demon knows who the Slayer is.”
“Possibly,” Wesley agreed.
“Well, Alex’s dream was a dead-end in that department.” Willow deflated as she remembered the reawakened grief she’d witnessed in father and son. “Better not mention it again. It was… well… Not. Good.”
Wesley raised his eyebrows in curiosity.
“Ah. I’m sorry. I should have never—”
“No, no, Wes, it was a good idea. In theory. The application just went kinda kablooie.”
“Anyway,” Stein changed the subject, rather short on patience for anything resembling actual human feelings. “It seems that our purple-eyed demon is quite possibly looking for the Slayer, so we had better find her first.”
“Oh, Okay,” Willow said, brightly. “In that case, we’ll all stop slacking off and start looking then, shall we?”
Wesley stepped between them. “We’re all tired, but sniping at each other will accomplish nothing.”
“Sorry,” Willow grumbled.
“Maybe I should go,” Ahmed offered, like the neighbor who found himself witness to family squabbles in the middle of dropping by for tea.
“We should all go,” Stein seconded. “Get some sleep.”
No one argued. They locked up the computer lab, making sure the large sign declaring “Temporarily closed for upgrades” blocked any view inside.
Alex spent the day itching for a fight. Being that it was a Saturday, not to mention that he was grounded, he didn’t have much to distract him as he waited out the hours ’til sunset. He stole some stakes and holy water from the weapons closet downstairs, tall enough now to reach the lock without a chair. The swords and crossbows seemed too advanced for him, so he left them where they were.
He trained with his sister. They slipped into the basement while their father was absorbed in research. She showed him a series of basic blocks and attacks, and they practiced the drills side-by-side until they exactly mirrored each other. Every time they heard their father’s footsteps upstairs, they froze, afraid he would come looking for them. When he finally did call them up for supper, they stashed Robin’s borrowed equipment away in a frenzy, like a couple of kids hiding cigarettes they’d been smoking on the sly.
Finally, finally, his father went to bed, and Alex climbed out his bedroom window, armed with stakes and holy water. His sister tagged along, likewise armed, and insistent on playing watcher to his slayer. He tried to convince her to stay behind, especially since he knew, as she did not, that the demon that had killed their mother was out there somewhere. And after dreaming of his mother last night, the pain of that was fresh enough to make him want to do something about it.
Robin would not leave him to patrol alone. Slayer he might be, but he didn’t have the training for it. Reluctantly, he had to agree that she was right. He didn’t know how to be the Slayer. He could translate any gravestones they happened upon that were in Latin, Greek, or Sumerian. He could date, give or take 100 years, any mystical artifacts they found lying around. He could identify dozens of different demon species, and even if he couldn’t remember how to kill them, he could remember the specific book where he could find that information. He knew meditation techniques to improve memory and recall, and he could give a full account on the history of the Watcher’s Council.
But he knew diddlysquat about fighting. Not with a sword, or his hands, or a crossbow. He knew the stake went in the heart, but that about covered it. Combat was phase two of a watcher’s training. After all, theoretically, he wouldn’t have had a slayer of his own to train for another twenty years.
A slayer’s training started with the practical: how to hunt, how to defend, how to kill, how to survive. That was what Robin had been learning, and that was what he needed her to teach him.
He had the strength of the Slayer. The grace and balance. The speed and endurance. The healing. The ‘spidey-sense’, as his mother had called it, for vampires. But without training, only luck could marshal those skills into victory. Especially considering that the demon he hunted was stronger than a vampire and had already killed one slayer.
So Alex allowed Robin to follow along, hoping that between his slayer gifts and watcher training, and her slayer training and newly restored magic, that combined they might form one decent slayer.
They wandered the cemeteries. They circled the Bronze. And just as he was ready to call it quits, he found his quarry down an alley between the butcher’s shop and the thrift shop. Apparently, desperate vamps sometimes rifled through the dumpster looking for pig’s blood and cow’s blood that had been thrown out. This particular vamp was more down on his luck than dumpster diving for expired animal blood would suggest, considering that he was now unconscious on the ground, still in vamp face, having just been drained by the victim he had intended on draining.
The man (demon, Alex reminded himself) stepped over the vampire’s body and slowly stalked closer to Alex and Robin. They had him trapped, blocking his only exit. The alley ended in a brick wall behind him, and the back doors to both shops were locked and barred.
He looked like any ordinary human, a bit on the weak side, even. Tall, but scrawny with dark hair that flopped over his forehead and skin so pale it almost glowed in the moonlight. But then his eyes changed to purple, revealing himself for the demon he was. Robin gasped, remembering perhaps the last time she had seen those purple eyes, and pulled out a stake in preparation.
“Little slayer,” the demon said, although his lips didn’t move. He was still at the opposite end of the alley from them, and yet he sounded as if he were standing right next to them. “Little watcher.”
“Alex, let’s go,” Robin begged.
“I know you.” The demon paused mid-stride and gasped, eyes widening until they nearly glowed purple. “Such wondrous possibilities that never occurred to me before. I walk in your world now, child. The mirror has cracked from side to side, and I walk in your world!”
The demon laughed. The sound echoed inside Alex’s head, and he pressed his hands to his ears as if that could quiet the deep rumbling of the demon’s laughter.
The demon resumed his steady approach. “I walk in your world, and I have the power to change what I have seen. I am half sick of shadows reflected in glass. Time’s drumbeat always beyond my reach. No more.
“I am the thief of time now. I will steal all your tomorrows. I will reclaim what you have stolen.”
Alex gripped the pointy end of a stake, prayed for slayer aim, and threw with all his considerable might.
The stake seemed to find its target, embedding itself in the demon’s torso. But then he dissolved into mist, and the stake clattered to the ground. He rematerialized ten feet closer, and Alex and Robin jumped back.
“Think me a vampire? Tainted half-breed?” The voice so close, as if inside their heads, while the demon’s lips never moved. “You will die, little slayer, and the world will change. Morning will dawn on a new world, a world of my making. And where I go, none can follow.”
The demon quickened his advance. Alex charged. One kick, one punch, the man absorbed them both, hardly phased. Stronger than any vampire. Alex blocked the man’s first punch, the second sent him flying to the end of the alley, rolling nearly to the street, and leaving Robin standing alone in front of the demon.
She turned to run, and the demon gave chase. One hand closed around her wrist, and she screamed.
“GET BACK!” Fury in her voice that Alex had never heard before. Amazingly, the demon was hurled back as if by an invisible force, hitting the brick wall at the end of the alley with a loud thud and then sliding down to land in a heap on the ground. The demon shook his head, as if puzzled. Robin looked as surprised as he did.
“Robin, run, let’s go,” Alex called urgently. He knew when retreat was called for. She dashed towards him, and he waited for her. As his hand closed around hers, he turned to run, pulling her behind him.
A limo screeched to a halt in front of them, the length of the car stretched across the alley’s entire outlet to the street, and thus blocking their escape. Thoughts of evil law firms danced through his head. Vague memories of vampire lawyers in limos and beachside sacrifices. Behind them, the demon had regained his feet and was headed their way. Trapped. Nowhere to run.
Then the limo’s back door opened, and Spike leaned out. “Don’t just stand there!”
Alex didn’t need more of an invitation than that. He sprinted the remaining distance, dragging Robin along behind him as she did her best to keep up. Spike grabbed for both of them, hauling them into the limo, which took off again before the door had even fully closed.
He dumped them in the bench seat across from him.
“Aunt Dawn!” the twins chorused.
She hugged them both tight, one on each side. “You guys are in so much trouble! I get to the house, and when Giles decides to wake you both up so your favorite aunt can dote on you, what does he find? You’ve both stuffed your beds and snuck out the window. What the hell were you thinking? Everyone’s out looking for you. And… and… that was a demon you were running from, wasn’t it? Spike? That was a demon, right?”
“Sure was, pet. And not just any demon. Demon of the day, I’d wager.” Spike was reclining back across his own bench seat, brooding on something.
Alex could sense the weight of his uncle’s stare and resolutely avoided it. He felt the twinge in his gut that signaled vampire, a new sensation he’d never experienced around Spike before. He wondered if his uncle felt a matching twinge that signaled slayer.
“You could have got yourselves killed!” Dawn pointed out, reminding them both of their near escape. She still held them both in firm hugs, her own fear echoed in her fierce grip.
“Ok, you should know that Giles is completely ballistic. Out of his mind. Now, I’ve been in your shoes before, so my advice—”
“Ask me, should be helping him string the pair of them up.” Spike shook his head, eyes still fixed on Alex. “Damn fools, the both of you. Lucky for you I’ve still got this blasted chip, or I’d give you both a whipping you won’t soon forget.”
“Oh, they’ll get punished, Spike. Just… Giles isn’t thinking too clear right now. He’s gonna overreact. I know. I’ve been there. Remember him almost staking you? I’m just giving them advice on damage control. That’s what makes me the favorite aunt. Solid Giles advice.”
The limo pulled up to the curb in front of their house. Dawn rubbed their arms as if to instill courage through kinetic energy.
“Ok, first off. Crying is good. You both can cry on command, right? Work up some tears. Crying throws him off his game. Heartfelt apologies. Remorse. You’ve had a rough night, just want to go to bed. Get him to sleep on it, and he’ll be calmer in the morning. Alrighty then. Showtime.”
She climbed out of the car, but before the twins could follow, Spike planted his boot on the doorframe, blocking their exit with his leg.
“You run on in, Dawn. Give me a minute with the kiddies.”
Robin looked panicked, and shrank back into the seat, as far away from him as she could get. Alex stared at Spike’s combat boots and the hem of his leather duster, anywhere but his eyes.
“So…” Spike’s tone was light and conversational. “Funny story. Dawn’s understudy’s on stage tonight. The demon cult I’ve spent the last two weeks stalking is probably meeting with their buyer tonight. And Dawn and I are clear on the other side of the country. Now why is that?”
He seemed to be puzzling that out, as if unclear on the answer himself. “Why? Oh, riiight!” He snapped his fingers. “Because not a single watcher can manage to find their missing slayer. Oh, and you can be sure they’re missing her alright. Or should I say him?”
Alex flinched. Found out.
“Giles is so desperate, he wants to test Dawn. Figures the monks made her from slayer’s blood, might be a long shot, but still…
“As for me, what should I tell him? You know, most vampires lived as long as I have, who know what they’re looking for, especially if they’ve seen a slayer or two… pretty hard to slip one past us.”
Hand braced against the seatback, no personal space between them, Spike got right in his face. Alex cringed back automatically, but couldn’t help but meet his uncle’s eyes. Not yellow, but the anger in them was terrifying all the same.
“So what do I tell him, Alex? When he asks me… so eager… last hope… please, Spike, can you sense the Slayer anywhere? What should I bloody well tell him, Alex?”
“Please, don’t tell him,” he begged. “I’ll tell. I promise. Let me tell him. Just give me a day, okay?”
Spike leaned back, seemingly satisfied. He spared his first glance for Robin. “And you. Half pint. What the hell you playing at? Little miss perfect. Way I hear it, you ain’t never been in trouble your whole life. Why on earth would you go along with this crazy little scheme your idiot brother cooked up? Patrolling? This isn’t some game of red rover. Those things out there play for keeps. You’re both damned lucky to be alive.”
Her eyes welled up and spilled over. A moment later she was bawling in earnest. Alex wrapped one arm around her and glared at his uncle. She’d always been a little uneasy around Spike, and this was the stuff of nightmares.
“Oh, Christ, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to come on quite so grrr.” Spike rolled his eyes and hauled them both out of the limo by the backs of their shirts. “C’mon. Time to face the music. Least you won’t have to fake cry.”
They trudged towards the front door. It swung open at their approach, Giles standing solemnly in the doorway. If looks could kill.
“Found a couple strays. Figured they were yours. I mean, this one’s so whiny.” Spike gave Robin a little shake, and she wobbled where she stood. “And this one’s so damned aggravating, has to be yours.” He gave Alex a little shake too, and just to prove the point, the boy wrenched himself out of the vampire’s grip. Got shoved through the door for his effort.
Giles stepped to one side. “Please come in, Spike.”
Dawn joined them in the entryway, giving everyone a dramatic yawn and stretch. “Wow, I’m beat. Long flight. Jetlag. Stressful day. Why don’t we all get some sleep, talk things over in the morning, huh? Up to bed, kiddies.”
They tried to slip upstairs, but Giles caught them both by the convenient collars that Spike had just released. He pondered his two guests for a moment, his eyes flicking between the living room and the upstairs.
“The couch pulls out,” Giles offered, “but I doubt Spike will appreciate the morning light. I suppose you’ll have to take my bed.”
“You’re the best,” Dawn assured him, with a kiss to one cheek. She kissed each twin goodnight as well, with a whispered, “Sorry, kids, gave it my best shot,” before heading up to bed with Spike in tow.
Giles deposited the twins on said couch and sank into a chair directly across from them. One hand absently rubbed at his lame leg. Alex imagined he’d overworked it in worried pacing. “Have you any idea… any idea… what you just put me through? I have never in my life been so utterly… terrified. Thinking you might be…”
Unable to finish that thought, Giles bowed his head. His glasses landed on the coffee table, thrown none too gently. He rubbed his hands over his eyes, a ragged breath the first sign that his carefully maintained composure was breaking. Alex was prepared for his father’s anger, would have preferred it in fact. This barely restrained anguish was a hundred times worse.
“Go to bed.” His father’s voice was rough, thick with unshed tears, and he didn’t lift his head. “I’ll deal with the both of you tomorrow.”
Robin dashed up the stairs, not needing to be told twice.
Alex hesitated. “Dad, I’m sorry.”
“Go to bed, Alex,” his father’s voice cracked on his name. The hands covering his face were trembling.
Alex crept up the stairs, watching behind him as he went. His father rubbing at his eyes, breathing deeply, trying not fall apart until he was alone. Alex knew as soon as he was out of earshot, his father would stop holding back and let himself cry. Knowing that he was the cause of it brought him to his own shameful tears.
Giles sat on the back porch, nursing a tumbler of scotch and desperately trying not to imagine all the ways he might have lost his children this evening. His hands still shook slightly. And his eyes were raw from the crying jag he’d allowed himself. At least when Alex had run away a couple days ago, he’d had the courtesy to do it in the middle of the day.
Slipping out after dark… Giles’ watcher education painted all the horrible ways that could have played out. He shuddered and took a deep swallow from the tumbler, a pleasant warmth to chase away the cold knot of fear.
The door opened behind him. Dawn’s light tread padded up next to him, and she found a seat on the step beside him.
“Thought you were jetlagged,” he reminded her with one arched eyebrow.
“Only three hours. Also, pretty much a night owl. ’Sides the twins still have me wigged.”
“And…” Sheepishly, she pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket. “Came outside for one of these.”
Giles watched her dubiously as she tapped one out and lit it.
“I know what you’re thinking, and no, I didn’t get this from Spike. He hates that I do it. He quit, in fact. Ironic, huh? All the nagging I used to do, and now he’s the one nagging me. Anyway, I started after… Well, I used to sneak his cigarettes sometimes after… those first few weeks after Buffy’s funeral.”
“Were you in a hurry to join her?”
“Look, I’ll quit smoking soon as you quit drinking.”
Giles saluted her with his glass and finished it off.
“You know, you don’t have the monopoly on grief here, Giles. She was mine, too. She was more than just my sister… the monks made me from her. She was the best part of me.”
“She was the best part of all of us.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, Dawn taking slow thoughtful drags off her cigarette and tapping the ash out into the bushes, both of them staring wistfully into the darkness. Giles rolled the empty tumbler between his palms, fighting the urge to pour another glass.
“I suppose… If tonight is a night for indulging our vices, then I’ll take one of those too.” Giles set his glass aside and reached for her pack of cigarettes, ignoring Dawn’s look of surprise as he traded one drug for another.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“When I was quite a bit younger. Not very often since. And never in front of you. Didn’t want to be a bad influence. Obviously, not an issue anymore, seeing as you’ll be corrupting me.” He smiled as she lit his for him.
“From your Ripper days, huh?”
He shook his head ruefully. “Do I even want to know how much your sister told you?”
“Nothing much while I lived here. After I went to college on the other hand… All grown up… Whole different story. We sisters tell each other everything.” She waggled her eyebrows. “And I mean everything.”
She nudged him playfully with her shoulder, and he blushed. “Yes, well, please do remember that I have plenty of dirt on you. Not to mention a plethora of tabloids that would pay handsomely for the honor of printing it.”
“Nah. The paparazzi leave me alone. Spike terrifies them.” She reached across him for his empty tumbler. “If we’re gonna share vices, pour me some.”
He looked at her as if he’d never seen her before, completely appalled. The smoking was one thing, but this shattered his remaining illusions.
As if reading his mind, she rolled her eyes and gently scolded, “Giles, I’m not fourteen. I’m twice that. If you can bum a smoke off me, I think you can share some scotch without the universe imploding.” She wiggled the glass in front of him. “C’mon. I know you’ve got the bottle around here somewhere. You weren’t planning on stopping at one glass. Not tonight.”
He didn’t bother to argue. Didn’t bother going inside for a second glass either. He filled the tumbler, and they passed it back and forth between them. She lit him a second cigarette when he’d finished the first. That sat in companionable silence for several minutes, enjoying the twin burn of smoke and scotch. He could tell she was working up to something. He refilled the glass a second time.
She sighed. “You know, Giles, you shouldn’t have to sleep on the couch while we’re here.”
“I suppose we could put an air mattress in one of the twin’s rooms. They can double up in the other.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Dawn sighed again and looked over her shoulder at the house. “You’re like a gazillionaire with all the Council money. You could afford a bigger house. With guest rooms.”
“Buffy and I talked about that once, after we came into that money. This house… Your mother lived here. It was home to both you girls for so many years, stability and comfort that was sorely needed in light of the hardships faced on the Hellmouth.”
He took another long swallow, chased with a slow drag. The warmth numbed him enough to keep going. “This is where Buffy and I started our life together, started our family, our marriage—”
“In that order,” Dawn reminded him with a giggle.
“This is where you became part of my family too,” he continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted. She leaned her head against his shoulder and swiped the tumbler from him. “Alex took his first steps here. Robin came home to us here, under this roof. Hell, Anya delivered Nick there on that kitchen floor.”
“Yeah, that was one helluva Fourth of July.”
“This is my home, Dawn. The home I made with Buffy, and there are just too many memories.”
“That’s just it, Giles. You’re drowning in memories here. You need a fresh start. A home for the three of you without so much baggage. Plus, you know, guest rooms for when your favorite sister-in-law wants to escape the spotlight.”
Giles knew she meant well. They all did, each of them in their own way trying to shepherd him through his grieving. But none of them could truly understand his loss. More than losing his wife and the mother of his children, he was a watcher who had lost his slayer. Stronger men than him had been destroyed by that.
Giles blamed the alcohol for the dreams, the nightmares that tormented him through the night. Buffy died over and over again in his dreams. Vampire. Demon. God. The Master. Angelus. The Mortog Beast. He felt her die each time, wrapped in her Watcher’s magic like armor. He had taken her pain before, in other battles, and then watched as the combination of slayer healing and watcher magic mended all but the worst of her injuries before they’d hardly spilt blood.
But when she took the fatal blow, more than slayer healing or watcher magic could fix, Giles fell to his knees as the link between them severed. He was gutted. His Slayer was dead.
He felt her die over and over. A hundred different gruesome ends gutted him each time, leaving him amazed that he was not dead on the ground beside her.
But in all his many dreams of her many deaths, he never relived her true death. He had buried that so deep, it was less real than anything his imagination could conjure.
He searched for her across his dreamscape, in those moments where he was lucid enough to know that he was dreaming, searched for his dreamcatcher who could chase his nightmares away. He found their oak tree, but it was dark and foreboding without her. A bolt of lightening split the thickest branch from the trunk, and he staggered back to avoid its crash. A storm raged above him, and Buffy was nowhere to be found. He couldn’t control his dreams without her, and they dragged him under, back into the hell that was his Slayer dying over and over again and him powerless to stop it.
He could feel the pull of the dawn nearing. Time rushing past him like the ocean surf, and then came the undertow with the morning light. Time’s pulse so much louder in his mind with the absence of his kind, with her absence most especially.
He waited for the dawn, and for the first time since his arrival, it brought hope. No longer outside this world, trapped behind the glass, doomed to see but not to live. No longer dependent on whatever magically inclined mortals or demons deigned to send him offerings in exchange for what he could foretell. Now he could feed his own hunger.
And now that he had seen the little slayer and little watcher, he also knew that he could thwart his own fate, just as all those who had sought his visions had once desired. Time’s Thief, this world would know him as. Fate’s Master.
Dawn’s undertow dragged him under and spit him out into the new day. And just as if his intention was as good as action, he could feel the little ripples as time shifted around him. His mind sought hers, but still the yawning emptiness remained. Apparently intention alone was not enough to restore her. But the shifting ripples of time gave him hope that he could restore her.
John answered the door. His complexion was ashen. “Where’s Willow?” he asked peering behind them.
“Willow’s not here yet?” Anya complained. “We manage to get all the boys packed off to daycare for her emergency Scoobie meeting, and she’s not even here yet? How rude!” She thumped Xander’s arm hard enough he flinched. “I told you we had time for sex.”
He flushed and pressed a box of donuts into John’s shaking hands. “We come bearing breakfast. Plenty of jellies.”
“Did Willow tell you? Did she warn you?” John stopped them at the threshold.
Xander reflected on the hasty morning phone call. “Come here. Bring Anya. That pretty much covered it. Willow wasn’t exactly a fount of information. So, bring us up to speed. What has you looking like death warmed over?”
“Ah,” he nodded, suddenly understanding. “The demon that killed Buffy is back. Yeah, Willow told us a couple days ago. Haven’t slept well myself since then. Told us not to say anything to Giles.”
“But it’s not exactly ‘rush the kids in their jammies to daycare’ kind of news, now is it?” Anya grumbled.
John ran a hand across his face as if still trying to compose himself. “No, not that. Buffy. She’s in the kitchen.”
“April,” Anya corrected kindly. “You mean April’s in the kitchen.”
“They both are. April and Buffy.”
Curious, and seemingly unaffected by the emotional charge of that possibility, Anya headed towards the kitchen to check it out for herself.
“What?” Xander remained frozen in place, his mind stuck on one word. “What?” He looked helplessly at John for explanation. This was too cruel to be a joke. “What?”
John shrugged, just as lost. “I don’t know. I went out for the paper, and she was just standing there. Said she was there to pick up April for work. Like it was the most normal thing in the world.”
Anya called back from the kitchen doorway. “He’s right, Xander. Buffy’s in the kitchen. And very much alive.” She placed a hand to her still flat belly and frowned. “Does this mean we can’t name the baby Buffy?”