Little Sister, Part 10
By Barb C.
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive, I’d just like to know where it ends up.
Synopsis: A young Slayer has a job to do.
Author’s notes: This story takes place in the same universe as “Raising In the Sun,” “Necessary Evils,” and “A Parliament of Monsters.” Many thanks to betas typographer, kehf, rainkatt, deborahc, brutti_ma_buoni, and special thanks for last minute beta-ing above and beyond the call of duty to torrilin & slaymesoftly!
Please note that due to my excessive procrastinating, Part 10 has only been partially beta’d, so all errors should be considered my own. I will eventually replace this version with the final one.
Previously in “Little Sister:”
Thirty years after Buffy Summers freed the demon essence that powers all Slayers from the Shadow Men, Addie McElroy is a young Slayer out of the San Diego creche. Believing that their mixed human and demon nature means that Slayers, like souled vampires, are doomed to Hell, Addie conceives a daring plan to save her sisters’ souls. That plan involves kidnaping the granddaughter of the infamous Buffy Summers herself, and it doesn’t go well – Addie is captured by Buffy and Spike, who contact her Watcher and make arrangements to return her to the Council.
Addie’s faith in what she knows about Slayers, vampires, and rogues is shaken by her encounter with Buffy and Spike’s daughter Vicki, while Buffy fears she’s inadvertently damned the Slayer line. But it’s not until Addie’s fellow Slayer Alicia arrives to rescue her, and Buffy discovers Alicia’s true heritage, that things really hit the fan…
“Seriously?” Addie demanded. “You’re both just going to stand there holding a gun on me while Trudy bleeds to death?”
Vicki was huddled beneath her father’s arm, watching the Slayers with wide, frightened eyes. Ms. Chalmers was watching them as well, with a gaze far more speculative and predatory, and Ms. Thackeray was watching Ms. Chalmers. The older Slayers exchanged unhappy glances, their attention divided between Addie and the Watchers on one side of the room, and the vampires on the other. Lauren and Zeidel were almost nineteen, Addie thought with exasperation – shouldn’t they have better sense?
“Addie…” Lauren sounded more tired than rebellious. “You don’t get it. You think this is bad, but we were in Cleveland last year when the Hellmouth flared up. Twenty of us went down there to hold back the Turok-Han. Eighteen Slayers and two witches.” She nodded at Trudy. “And us three are the only ones who came back.” She shook her head. “If there’s even the smallest chance that’s where we’re headed when we die…”
Spike snorted. “There’s an infinity of hell dimensions, you wet little girl. By some accounts, we’re sitting in one right now. And as someone with a passing acquaintance with evil, I can tell you that sacrificing babies to save your own sorry hide is generally the sort of thing that gets you a one-way ticket hence.”
Zeidel’s jaw clenched. “Shut up. It’s a fucking demon. It doesn’t count.”
An insolent grin curled across the vampire’s face. “That what you tell yourself when you wake in the wee hours of the night? I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.” The muscles in his shoulders flexed, relaxed, flexed again, but the restraints held. He was still in vamp face, his eyes molten gold, his voice a hypnotic, mocking rumble. The files had been very clear that William the Bloody wasn’t capable of thrall, but he sure as heck knew how to play an audience. Slayers and Watchers alike were riveted. “Stands to reason that when you start mass-producing Slayers, the quality goes down.”
“I said shut up!” Zeidel took a step forward, finger tightening on the trigger of her pistol.
“Keep quiet,” Vicki whispered in Addie’s ear.
It wasn’t a confident voice. It sounded, in fact, like Vicki was about to pass out at any minute. Addie froze as cool fingers fumbled with the wrist restraints, swallowing a yip of pain as Vicki’s penknife nicked her wrist in Vicki’s haste to saw through the plastic. Of course. Vicki’d been such an obvious non-combatant, whimpering and cringing through the whole fight, no one had bothered to search her. Or pay any attention to her while Spike was chewing the scenery. “Do mine,” Vicki hissed, pressing the handle of the knife into Addie’s hands as the plastic cuffs fell away.
The knife was tiny, with a pink plastic handle, more of a toy than a weapon, and cutting through one set of restraints had dulled the crappy stainless-steel blade. Only the fact that she was stronger than a human let Addie savage her way through Vicki’s restraints. She caught Ms. Chalmers’ cool steely gaze; she’d noticed what was going on, at least.
“And why should I believe anything you say?” Zeidel was yelling. “You’ve killed a million babies, so just – “
Addie took two swift steps forward and chopped for the older Slayer’s elbow with all her strength. Caught off-guard, Zeidel yelped and dropped her weapon. At the same time, Vicki jumped Lauren. Lauren’s gun went off with a deafening bang and a metallic pweeeng! as the bulled ricocheted off the ceiling. Addie ignored it and feinted for Zeidel’s jaw as the other girl turned, followed by a kick to the kneecap.
“Traitor!” Zeidel screamed, spinning around the kick and unleashing a furious barrage of blows. Addie danced backwards, out of reach; Zeidel was older, stronger, faster; her only hope was to keep aiming for the same weak spots and wear her down. From the corner of her eye she caught Vicki hanging desperately on to Lauren’s arm, her fangs sunk into the Slayer’s neck while Lauren kicked and punched at her with her free hand, yelling “Get off, get off, get off!”
Something plowed into Zeidel with pile-driver force, knocking the air out of her and sending them both tumbling to the floor. It was Spike, Addie realized; his hands were still tied, and he’d head-butted them. Before Zeidel could draw fresh breath, Addie boxed her ears and punched her hard in the solar plexus. Zeidel went down with a moan. “Vicki!” Spike roared, staggering to his feet.
Vicki was standing, swaying, her mouth stained with blood and Lauren limp and woozy in her arms. She looked at her father with eyes of lambent gold. “It’s… good.” She sounded surprised.
“Don’t get used to it,” Spike growled. “Put her down and get these sodding things off me.”
His daughter licked her lips, inhuman eyes narrowing. “She wanted to kill Nita. Why shouldn’t I eat her?”
Spike made an exasperated noise, half-snarl, half-groan, as if this were the question he was least equipped in the world to answer, but he was going to take a shot at it anyway. “I thought you said eating people was dumb,” Addie interrupted. She wasn’t terrified. She wasn’t. Vicki wasn’t going to smell any fear on her. She was… disappointed. Which was her being dumb, because what had she expected? With teenaged scorn, “I guess you’re just an ordinary vampire after all.”
Vicki’s eyes flicked from Addie to Lauren, pride warring with newly-wakened hunger. At last her fangs receded and the gold of her eyes kaleidescoped into blue. She set Lauren down almost primly, and straightened her sweater. “I wasn’t really going to eat her,” she said sulkily.
“Course not, pet.” And Spike’s exhalation wasn’t really a sigh of relief, either, though whatever it was, Addie suspected that it was more for not having to explain a dead Slayer to Buffy than anything else. “Come on now, let’s get us untied.”
“What about us?” Ms. Thackeray asked plaintively, as Addie struggled with Spike’s bonds. The jackknife was a total loss by now, but she managed to put enough of a notch in the plastic that Spike was able to snap them on his own.
“Eating you having been ruled out…” Spike tossed Ms. Chalmers the blunted jackknife. “If you can cut yourself loose, be my guest.” He pursed his lips, surveying the two groggy Slayers. “Is there any more of that witches’ brew they shot Buffy up with? Dose the both of them good.”
Unhappily, Addie complied. Spike was right; Lauren and Zeidel would do everything they could to escape, and they were no less competent than, well, she was.
“Can we break the door down?” Vicki’s voice was small and scared again.
Her father eyed the dented but still formidable door sourly. “In time, yeah, but time’s what we haven’t got.” Spike pointed at the vent overhead. “I won’t fit through there, but you two might. Crawl through, find security, and have them let us out.” He rubbed his shoulder and grimaced. “I’ll keep pounding away from in here.”
With a boost from Spike, Addie was able to reach the vent opening easily enough, and rip off the grill covering it. There was a faint glow of light about thirty feet down, most likely an opening for an air conditioning vent opening into the hallway outside. She squared her shoulders, then thought better of it and scrunched them in. There was no point in putting it off any longer. “OK,” she said. “I’m going in.”
The edge of the Scythe was really very sharp. Buffy was more than usually aware of this because at the moment, Alicia had it pressed to her throat. The Summers-Pratt living room was doing a good imitation of the OK Corral: Alicia had Buffy pinned in the foyer, and Bill and Toni stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the fireplace, framed by an incongruous row of Christmas cards on the mantel behind them. Jess clung to her brother’s side, and Toni was hugging Nita close.
“But that’s not possible,” Bill repeated, bewildered. “Kerry and I were – we only – it was just the once, and I never bit her!”
“You must have, or I wouldn’t be here!” Alicia’s voice cracked with fury.
“Bill,” said Buffy, teeth clenched. “Are you sure?” She and Spike had given the kids the birds and the bats lecture early on. The peculiarities of live-vampire reproduction meant that birth control was usually just a matter of keeping one’s fangs in their sockets, but she knew better than anyone how easy it was for things to get out of hand in the heat of the moment. If she’d known… maybe she could have talked to Kerry. Worked out something. She and Spike could have handled one more, couldn’t they? And if Kerry really, really hadn’t wanted this, well, the Sunnydale Planned Parenthood office was no stranger to ‘unusual’ pregnancies. God knew that throughout her own pregnancy with Bill she’d kept a slip of paper with their address on it in her purse like a talisman, long after she’d made her decision to go through with it, just as a reminder that it had been her decision.
Bill looked from his mother to his presumptive firstborn, clutching a handful of unruly curls in distraction. “I don’t know! She was hurt, that night. We ran into a couple of Fyarl who were looking for trouble, and – I don’t know, maybe I tasted a little. I don’t remember! It was fifteen years ago! Kerry would have told me about something that important. Wouldn’t she?” For a minute he was an abandoned seventeen-year-old again, baffled and heartbroken. He straightened and shoved his glasses up the bridge of his nose, resolute. “Look, it doesn’t matter. Alicia, I… I believe you. You smell like her. And now that we know, I can – “
“What, bring me home and give me ice cream and adopt me into your happy little family?” Alicia’s voice trembled, but her hands on the scythe were still rock-steady. She shot a poisonous glance at Toni. “She’d have something to say about that, I bet. You’re not my father. You’re just a… a sperm donor. I don’t need you. I’ve come here to get rid of any trace of you.” She wrenched Buffy’s arm up a little higher behind her back. “Give me the baby, or I’ll kill your mother.”
Toni backed up a step, eyes flinty. “Do you have any idea what I went through to have Nita? Three miscarriages, two rounds of IVF. I’m only human, not part of your little supernatural glee club. Look, I’m sorry your mother had a hard time, and I’m sorry you’ve had a hard time, but you’re not the only one who has. If you want my daughter you’ll have to kill me first.”
“If you really were a Potential, then you know how powerful this is!” Alicia gave the scythe a shake, and Buffy winced as the blade drew a bright line of pain across her neck. She could feel the trickle of blood down the curve of her throat. Alicia went on, “The Guardian told me that in the right hands, it can banish demons. And my hands are the right hands. If you really cared about your daughter, you’d be happy to let me cleanse her!”
Bill’s eyes were going yellow – his temper, once roused, was every bit as savage as his father’s, but he was more likely to strike out with words than with fists. “Nita’s your sister,” he said. “If you really cared about her, you wouldn’t be willing to risk killing her to get back at me.” He cocked his head, narrowed his golden eyes. “That’s all you really want, isn’t it? Revenge. On me. On Nita. For having what you didn’t. Deep down you’re hoping this does kill her.” Buffy couldn’t see Alicia’s face, but from the way the young Slayer’s knuckles whitened, she imagined it had gone pale. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a lying vampire who lies. Prove me wrong.”
Alicia hesitated, unwilling to let go of her bargaining chip and seemingly uncertain of her next move. Buffy felt a pang: however strong and determined these girls were, they were only fourteen, child soldiers in a war they’d never asked for. Alicia was an angry, confused teenager acting on half-thought-through impulse, not a demon overlord with a well-crafted plan for world domination. Not that that would make her any less dead if Alicia’s hand slipped. “Alicia,” she said, trying to keep her voice level. She might not have Slayer strength at the moment, but she could play good cop with the best of them. “You promised you’d try the cleansing spell on me first.”
“Everyone makes promises. Why should I be the only one who has to keep them?” For all her bravado, there was something terribly lonely in the girl’s voice. “It’s not fair!”
“I’m keeping mine,” Buffy pointed out. She shot a warning look at her son. “Bill, I volunteered for this. If Alicia puts away her sharp pointy objects, you have to put away yours.”
“Mom, no.” Bill looked anguished, but his fangs receded grudgingly. Equally grudgingly, Alicia lowered the incongruously shiny blade of the – who the heck had started calling it a scythe, anyway? It was obviously an axe of some kind. “You don’t have to do this because you feel guilty, damn it! Even if they’re right about this stupid hell business, and there’s no evidence that they are, you couldn’t have known – “
For a being who supposedly couldn’t feel guilt himself, her eldest son sometimes had an uncanny insight into its workings in others. He took after his father in that way, Buffy supposed. “No. I couldn’t have. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Any more than you not knowing about Alicia matters.” She dabbed a finger to her neck, and brought it away speckled with blood. She took a deep breath. “OK. The whozits and whasits for the spell are in your duffle, right, Alicia? Let’s get this over with.”
The thirty feet of duct felt like thirty miles: thirty very dark, dusty, claustrophobic miles. If the glow of light hadn’t been there, Addie wasn’t sure what she would have done. Kicked her way to freedom through the ceiling, maybe. But it was, and she doggedly inched her way towards it, elbow over elbow. Behind her she could hear Vicki wriggling along after her, the other girl’s breath coming in harsh little half-sobs that fell half-way between panic and determination.
It occurred to her that Vicki couldn’t even see the light, because Addie’s body was in the way. “We’re almost there,” she whispered.
Vicki made a gulping noise. “If we can find a phone we can call my sister – my older sister, I mean. She’s on the police force.”
Addie gave a dubious nod, which she belatedly realized that Vicki couldn’t see either. She was only a few feet away from the vent. It was covered by grill similar to the one in the holding cell, but probably newer – it was vinyl, not metal. She shoved at it. It didn’t give. With a little scream of frustration, she punched at the grill, hard. The angle was terrible and she couldn’t get much power behind the blow, but the screw in one corner popped out, letting a little more light into the duct. She hitched herself closer and punched again, and the grill went flying. Addie stuck her head out and looked around.
They’d come out into the service hallway; down the corridor behind them she could see the door to the holding cell. It shivered, and a loud THUNK echoed through the corridor – Spike, true to his word about working on it from the inside.
“What’s the matter? Why did you stop?” Vicki hissed behind her.
“I don’t want to fall out on my head.” But she was going to have to; there was no way she could turn around in the confined space of the duct. She slithered forward until her torso was mostly through the hole – there was nothing to hang on to, and her hands were sweating so hard she probably couldn’t have held on to anything anyway. She took a deep breath, and heaved herself forward. Her hips cleared the vent opening in an ungraceful rush, and she drew her knees up almost immediately, somersaulting in mid-air. She managed to come down on her butt instead of her skull, which was pretty good, all things considered. Addie scrambled to her feet and looked up, expecting to see Vicki flailing, but the vampire was already halfway out of the duct and clinging to the ceiling, her fingers punching holes in the acoustic tile to grab hold of the metal supports it rested on. Vicki pulled herself the rest of the way out, carefully, and hung there for a moment before dropping to land on her feet.
Rats, why hadn’t she thought to do that? “Come on,” Addie snapped, and took off down the hallway. Vicki slapped dust from her sweater, lips pinched in disapproval, and dashed after her.
They burst out onto the concourse in a matter of minutes, into a hurrying stream of passengers trailing wheelie bags and briefcases. Addie looked wildly around. In old movies there were always ranks of big clunky land line phones in airports, just standing around for anyone to use, but she couldn’t see anything like that now. She’d left her own phone behind when she set off on this expedition, so no one could track her though it, and the Watchers had taken everyone else’s phones when they’d been captured. All of them had been in the duffle bag that Alicia had taken with her. Could they convince anyone to listen to them? The Watchers must have made some kind of arrangement with airport security, so if they just waltzed up to the nearest information desk and demanded to call 911, what kind of reaction would they get?
“Alex!” Vicki screamed. She grabbed Addie’s shoulder and jumped up and down, waving. “It’s my brother! Alex! Over here!”
Addie spun around. A young man of nineteen or maybe twenty was weaving through the crowds towards them, backpack slung over one shoulder. At first glance, Alex looked like a changling from someone else’s family had wandered into the Summers-Pratt nest by mistake; he was stocky where his siblings were slim, and his wavy mop of hair was a nondescript brown. But his hazel eyes had a telltale trace of his mother’s green in them, and there was a hint of his father in his easy grin. “Hey, Vick!” he said cheerfully. “There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you guys! Mom’s not answering her phone – “
“A crazy Slayer broke into our house and tried to steal Nita and now her crazy friend has Mom and Dad’s captured by Watchers and we need to get him out and go save Mom and call Connie RIGHT NOW!” Vicki wailed, flinging herself into her startled brother’s arms.
Alex blinked. “Okay.” He pulled out his phone, tapped out a text, and shot a quizzical glance at Addie. “By the way, who’s she?”
“I’m the crazy Slayer,” Addie informed him. She frowned. “You’re not a vampire.”
“Nope.” For someone dropped head first into the middle of a daring rescue, Vicki’s brother seemed remarkably collected. “I just date one.” His phone blipped, and he tapped a reply, then shoved it back into his jeans pocket. “Connie’s gonna meet us at the curb. Where’s Dad?”
“This way!” Vicki tugged at his arm, dragging him back the way they’d come.
Buffy sat cross-legged in the center of a circle composed of the usual assortment of stones, bones, and candles, breathing in the scent of stinky herbs and wishing she’d vacuumed the carpet yesterday. Alicia stood over her, the scythe gripped tightly in both hands. There was fear behind the determination in the girl’s eyes – at the possibility of failure, but also at the possibility of success. Alicia had never known what it was to be anything other than a Slayer. If this worked… even if you hated your own power, giving it up wasn’t an easy thing to contemplate. It had been a long time since she’d hated her own power. Might as well hate her own hand, or her own liver. She remembered that resentful, self-loathing curdle of feeling, though, and how much worse might it have been if she’d been convinced it was keeping her from heaven?
“I was in heaven once,” she said. “I mean, I think I was. There wasn’t a sign on the door. If I got in – “
“That was before you changed everything,” Alicia replied shortly, deploying another candle.
“You know, if you really wanted to be sure this would work on you, you’d test it on yourself,” Bill said from his vantage point from across the room. Still with the uncanny insight, her boy. If it came to a fight, he was the only one of them with a chance at taking Alicia on, but despite the vampire strength and speed, he wasn’t a fighter by nature. Plus he’d be at a huge disadvantage, trying to protect all four of the rest of them at once. “Instead of on an old woman and a baby.”
“Hey!” Buffy objected, in tandem with Alicia’s “Shut UP!” “I’m not old, I’m… late middle-aged. Ish.”
Alicia shot a poisonous look at her father and brandished the scythe. “If you say one more word…” She took a deep breath. “Inceptus Est!” Eldritch energies crackled along the haft of the scythe, sparking out from the blade to catch the nearest candle alight, and thence around the rest of the circle. A column of pale fire enclosed Buffy like a tame aurora borealis. “There. If anyone tries to break that circle before the spell is finished, whatever’s inside will burn up. So you’d better just sit there and be quiet, or I’ll break it myself.”
Alicia might be lying, and a vampire who could hear the speed of her pulse and smell the fear in her sweat was in a better position to determine that than Buffy was. Which made it bad news that Bill subsided. Alicia took a fresh grip on the scythe and chanted,
Audi, O Numina Orientis!
Propugnatrix in hoc circulo stat
qui daemonis et mulieris.
et sit mulier tantum!
Buffy had watched Willow make with the bells and smells often enough to tell that the Latin was iffy at best, and Alicia wasn’t an experienced witch. But she was the wielder of the scythe (should it have a capital letter?) and that seemed to be enough for the spell to take and run with. The wall of translucent flame in front of her eyes pulsed, shooting up fat white sparks to whirl overhead. The air fizzed with power, and she could feel the fine hairs at the nape of her neck lifting.
How would it feel, to not be a Slayer? Right now, her power was only sleeping; what would it feel like when it was entirely gone? Weak? Or worse, incomplete? She’d wanted nothing more than this, once. She’d have volunteered eagerly, at fifteen, seventeen, twenty. Slayer had been a burden thrust upon her from outside. But everything had changed in the cave in the realm of the Shadow Men, when she’d looked the source of her power in its non-existent eyes, and realized she no longer feared or hated it. Realized that she could make the choice to make it hers, wholly and completely. Could define what Slayer was, instead of letting it define her.
Audi, O Numina Occidente!
Miles populi intra circulum est,
miscentur daemonibus, qui sanguine sanguis.
Impurum, pura iterum!
Immundum, munda iterum!
From the circling sparks a dozen spears of white light lanced inwards, penetrating her body, flensing her soul. Buffy threw back her head and screamed. Dimly, she heard Bill cry “Mom!” and through the veil of fire saw him leap for Alicia. Alicia ducked and swung the scythe in a deadly arc, laying his thigh open to the bone. There were more screams, then, from Jess and Toni, screams of fear, screams of anger, but they all faded to nothing against the white-hot supernova of pain. She could see herself as if from the outside, lit up like a Christmas candle, her aura a complex mottling of black and gold like the pelt of some great, deadly cat. The scythe’s power was methodically slicing her in two, separating the black and the gold with laser precision, nerve by nerve and cell by cell. A filmy shadow of herself was peeling away from her body, dispersing into the aether in a million million particles of jet. As quickly as the demon black disappeared, the lattice of mortal gold remaining crumbled in upon itself, and what remained was neither black nor gold, but merely grey – grey, and dead.
Auribus percipite verba mea, O Numina Aquilonis
Mihi, Numina Notis!
In hoc circulo est filia Sineya.
Non sanguis sanguinis sui,
non caro carnibus,
quae hodie ut renascantur,
Sineya non filia!
All magic has consequences. Maybe there had been another choice she could have made all those years ago, when she beat the Shadow Men at their own game, and took the power they hoarded on her own terms. Something else that could have reached across an ocean in time to stop Quentin Travers from implementing his cold, logical, inhuman final solution. Whatever it was, she’d missed it, and now she was going to have to deal with those consequences. Buffy was the Slayer now, and the Slayer was Buffy, and neither could survive without the other.
“Stop it!” Bill was yelling. “Turn it off! Can’t you see it’s killing her?” He was lying on the floor – why would he do that? Oh, yeah. Blood pooled around his leg, staining the oatmeal of the living room carpet a vivid crimson. Rats. Now she’d have to have it shampooed. Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t vacuumed, after all.
Alicia’s face was as sickly pale as any vampire’s. “She’s too old!” she screamed back. “I told them she was too old! That’s why I wanted to try it on the baby all along! It’s still got a chance! Give it to me!”
Toni threw a frantic look at Bill, who clenched his jaw and nodded – don’t worry about me, run!. She broke for the door with Nita in one arm, dragging Jess after her with the other. Bill, fangs bared in pain, lurched for Alicia, and managed to fling his arms out just far enough to grab her by the ankle. Alicia shrieked in frustration and rage, and whipped around to slam the haft of the scythe against her father’s head. Bill jerked aside and the wickedly sharp stake narrowly missed his eye, gouging a bloody furrow across his forehead and over one ear. He lost his grip, and Alicia vaulted an armchair and flew across the room, smacking Jess out of Toni’s grasp with the flat of her weapon. Jess collided head-first with the newel-post of the bannister, and fell to the floor of the foyer, motionless. Alicia dropped the scythe and grabbed Nita, hauling the baby and Toni bodily away from the door, brushing Toni’s one-handed kicks and punches aside like pesky flies. The Slayer and the former Potential spun around each other, twin planets circling a common center of gravity. The baby was wailing in terror now, tiny fists waving. Alicia’s face was frozen in a rictus of mad determination as horrifying as any vampire’s game face.
Buffy struggled to move, but she was pinned like a beetle by the light. She was falling apart, disintegrating. Was this what Spike had felt, years ago, when Willow’s botched resurrection spell almost pulled the animating demon essence out of his undead body? Or again, when the Mohra blood had brought that same body back to life? Somehow, he’d held on, kept body and demon together. If he could do it, so could she. Backwards and in high heels. That black-smoke shadow-self being pulled from her fiber by fiber was hers – it was her. She would call it back, she would get up, she would step outside the circle, she would she would she would —
Alicia and Toni bounced off the coffee table and careened into the Christmas tree, which toppled over with a crash, sending popcorn strings and wafer-thin shards of ornamental glass flying. Bill was up on both hands and one knee, half-blinded by his own blood and his left leg trailing useless behind him. Toni’s only advantage was superior height and weight, and she used it now, to lean into their spin and then let go. Alicia lost her balance, and she and the baby fell backwards over the coffee table. Bill lunged. Blood-smeared glasses askew, he wrapped both arms around Alicia from behind and pulled her down to the floor with a snarl.
And the front door burst open.
Crammed into the back seat of the patrol car, Vicki hunched down between Addie and her brother, trying to avoid the sun. Under other circumstances the ride would have been exciting. Connie Summers-Pratt was as small as her mother, with big blue eyes and a mane of chestnut curls currently confined to a severe braid and piled up under her cap. She had a badge and everything, with a little separate pin beneath it saying “Supernatural Liaison Department, SPD.” Her driving habits, however, were pure Spike. Sirens wailing, they plowed through three red lights and a funeral procession on their way to a screeching halt in front of the house on Revello Drive.
Spike almost tore the door off of the car in his hurry to get out, and Connie wasn’t far behind him. “Mind yourselves, this is serious,” Spike snapped at Alex, who put an arm around Vicki and nodded. But he didn’t tell them to stay in the car. To Addie, “You, come with me.” Without waiting for a response, he pelted for the front porch in complete indifference to the mid-winter sun beating down overhead.
He and Connie had already flattened the front door by the time Addie made it to the front porch, with Alex and Vicki hovering nervously in her wake. She could feel the unbridled hum of power even over the vampire-tingles assaulting her from all sides, and her heart sank. Alicia had already started the spell, and the Summers-Pratt living room was a maelstrom of whirling energies, surrounding a figure frozen in torment. Bill Summers-Pratt had Alicia in a ferocious bear-hug, and Toni was prying a wailing Nita out of her arms. They both looked up with cries of relief. The scythe lay abandoned in the middle of the foyer, its candy-apple red blade gleaming and the haft alight with spell-fire. Just as she’d imagined it would look, when she was first putting the spell together. Addie couldn’t help herself; she bent down and picked it up. The haft fit her hand as though it had been made for her. She’d never been allowed to hold the scythe before and she could feel the power pulsing in her hands.
“Shit,” Connie said, surveying the damage. “Hey, bro. I always miss the good stuff.” She kicked a few ornaments out of her way, pulled a pair of handcuffs from her belt and snapped them onto Alicia’s thin wrists. “Don’t bother trying to break out of those, they’re spelled. Kid, you’re under arrest for… let’s say kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, and vandalism for now. You have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you – “
“Enough gab.” Spike pointed at the vortex. His face was human, his eyes blue, but his voice was as chill and deadly as the blade Addie was holding. “Stop that thing. Now.”
Alicia spat in his face. “I can’t. Even if I could, it’s too late.” She was sobbing, more from anger than fear. “It’s her own fault! It would have worked if they’d let me use the baby!”
It was like the Alicia she knew had been replaced by this mad-eyed stranger. Or had she ever known her best friend as well as she thought she did? Alicia had always been single-minded. It was the reason she was so good at everything. The teachers back at the creche used to joke that when Alicia wanted something, she didn’t stop until everyone in her way was dead, and looking at Spike’s merciless eyes, it hit Addie like a snowball to the gut where she’d heard that phrase applied before. But Spike’s eyes weren’t just merciless; there was a world of love and fear and pain and confusion there as well. It might be only selfish demon love, but she’d seen how terrifyingly strong it was. If Alicia had given him the smallest crumb of hope… Spike could be swayed, if you found the right words, at the right time. Which meant that his prodigal grand-daughter could too, if only, if only.
“Alicia… please.” Addie knelt beside her friend and laid the scythe across her knees. “This is me talking. We wanted to save people, not kill them. And this is killing her, just like Ms. Chalmers said it would. We have to stop it, and we can’t try it on the baby, either. If this is what you have to do to get into Heaven, I don’t want to go. Help us stop this.”
Her best friend looked up at her, flat-eyed. “I hate you,” she said. “Go to hell. I’ll be seeing you there.”
Addie dropped her head and squeezed her eyes shut, as if that could squinch out the hitching pain in her chest. Alex and Vicki were cutting off the leg of Bill’s ruined jeans, and binding up the wound in his leg. Off to the side, Connie had her phone out, and was talking to someone – Aunt Willow? Emergency. How soon can you get to Sunnydale? and a part of her thrilled to the thought that she might get to meet Willow Rosenberg, souled vampire and the greatest theoretical witch of the twenty-first century. But as she knew from personal experience, theoretical witches had to take planes, trains, and automobiles like everyone else. She opened her eyes again and looked up at Spike. “I’ll do it.”
It took a second for the vampire to realize what she was offering. His dark brows knit. “You sure you’re up to that, pet? Taking over a spell mid-course is dicey business.”
“I know.” She clutched the scythe harder. It couldn’t stop her belly from turning to ice, but there was something strangely warming in that unprompted pet. “But it’s my spell. I made it. If anyone can stop it, or change it, it’s me. And I have to do it now.”
Spike held her eyes for a moment, measuring, and then nodded. Addie picked her way through the wreckage to stand in front of the shimmering column of power in the living room. Inside the circle Buffy sat statue-still, head tipped back and her eyes tight shut. Her mouth was half open, and the cords of her neck strained against the skin. Her aura had drawn in tightly around her body as Buffy held it – held herself – together by sheer force of will, a cloak of black and gold pulled tight against the storm. That couldn’t last forever. Buffy’s edges were unravelling, shriveling under the unrelenting light. Addie suppressed a whimper. If she were Willow Rosenberg, she’d know exactly what to do. Even as a vampire who couldn’t connect to the living source of magic, Willow Rosenberg could famously create rituals on the fly, riffing on the Laws of Similarity and Contagion like a jazz master.
But Willow wasn’t here, and she was. Addie studied the pattern of bones and crystals that anchored the circle, the symbols drawn in red chalk and black salt which connected them, the mix of sage and rosemary burning sulkily in the little smudge pot. Three candles surrounded the circle in an equilateral triangle, white, silver and purple. And last of all was the athame, the ritual dagger, its blade painted red to match the scythe, laid flat on the rug so that its point aimed inward at Buffy.
She couldn’t just break the circle and stop the spell. She had to reverse it, and try to put back the Slayer essence it had already drained. Power wasn’t a problem, with all the mystical might of the scythe to draw on. She just needed to figure out which spell components she needed to switch out, and how to do it without disrupting the spell. Addie dropped into a crouch, running through lists of materials and their properties in her head. “I need white chalk and a blue candle,” she said. “There’s one in the bag. And some mint, and a little mirror.”
Candle, mint, and mirror appeared in record time. Licking dry lips, Addie took the chalk and began to sketch, adding a symbol here, altering one there. White over red, open wound healing to pale scar. She set the makeup mirror Vicki handed her behind the athame, and flipped the dagger so that the point faced outwards. Her reflection in the mirror was white and strained in the spell-light, her freckles standing out like pennies on marble. She used to think that if she hadn’t been born a Slayer, she’d have wanted to be a witch, but no, hitting things was so, so much easier. She lit the blue candle with Spike’s lighter and switched it out for the purple one, fast as Slayer reflexes could do it.
Something was happening; Buffy’s eyes were open now, and tracking her movements. Stepping back, Addie held the scythe out in front of her. There was no time to work out the Latin, and her Latin sucked anyway. All the bones and candles and herbs were just window dressing in the end, a ritual scaffold for the power of the scythe. And the scythe was…
Alicia’s. Addie hoped that wouldn’t make a difference. She was a Slayer too.
“Okay,” she said. “Here goes.”
Powers of the Four Quarters, I beseech you
What you have sundered, reunite.
What you have parted, bring together,
What you have broken, make whole again.
The wild, ancient power of the scythe surged through her, and the radiant spears of light transfixing Buffy flickered and retreated. The oldest living Slayer gasped as the taut lines of her body went slack.
By the power I here hold,
By the Guardian’s blade,
Let Slayer and woman be made one again,
Let the –
In the split second when everyone’s attention was focused on Addie, Alicia wrenched herself free of Connie’s hold and into a forward roll. With a wordless cry of triumph, she lashed out with one foot and hooked Toni behind the ankles. Connie and Spike were both upon her in an instant, but it was too late.
Toni stumbled, her dark eyes wide with terror as she realized that her fall was going to intersect the spell-circle, taking Nita with her. A Slayer or a vampire might have been able to twist themselves away in time, but Toni was only human. All she had time for was to thrust Nita towards Addie. A fresh coruscade of sparks arced from the scythe as Addie dropped it to catch the baby, and the magics spun up and out of Addie’s control. Toni was gone, swallowed up in pale flame.
For a long, blissful moment Buffy was no longer being torn in two. She was weak and in pain, and would be for awhile, but that was all right, she’d been weak and in pain before. Slayer power wasn’t a finite thing that you could use up; as long as she had a little left, she’d get better. She hoped. And then someone fell into her lap, and the broken circle went up in flames around them, just as Alicia had threatened.
Buffy clenched her teeth as icy blue fire engulfed them. She could stand this. Addie had changed things, the flames were less intense. If she could only hold on for a few minutes longer, if only someone would stop screaming. Oh, God, it was Toni. Toni didn’t have a full Slayer’s tolerance for pain, nor her capacity to heal, and Toni was burning alive, the rich peacock green of her aura scorching to a washed-out teal.
I’m sorry, Buffy mouthed, holding her daughter-in-law tight. I still can’t think of any other way. She’d done it before, long ago, passing on power to those who needed it more than she. She had little to spare now, but this was a power made to be shared: the Shadow Men had told her it would live and grow inside her, but even they had had no idea exactly what that meant. Buffy reached down into the molten center of herself. God, she was so weak – was this all she had left? She felt Toni gasp and stiffen in her arms, not with pain this time, but wonder, as their auras merged and a questing tendril of ebony unfurled, seeking. This is my gift, Buffy said. If you take it, nothing will ever be the same.
There were no words, but Toni’s dark eyes met hers, in a place beyond pain and fear. Do it.
Ebony tendrils crossed from gold to green, blossoming into moire patterns of jet, infinitely repeated eyes in the peacock’s tail. Buffy moaned. It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough – she was still too weak to give Toni as much power as she’d need to survive this, and she was dangerously close to draining herself. Outside the circle, Addie was brandishing the scythe, shouting words lost in the roar of runaway magic. The scythe. Power incarnate in steel. The Guardian had offered it to her, once, and she’d refused it. Buffy had always assumed that meant that it would refuse her, too. But when the flash of Slayer intuition struck, it was to be followed. Without hesitation, Buffy reached through the curtain of fire and grabbed the haft of the scythe.
There were forms to follow when writing spells, proper ways to address the forces and beings you summoned. The whole point of ritual was to channel the raw, unreliable forces of magic into safe, predictable courses, and make them do what you wanted without monkey’s-pawing everything up. So you picked your material components carefully for their symbolic value, and you chose your words just as carefully. And you absolutely didn’t let yourself get distracted in the middle of a spell, or you ended up flinging a baby at her vampire aunt, snatching up a magic axe which bucked like a wild bull in the winds of a blue-fire tornado, and yelling, “No, no, no, no, no! STOP IT!” Maybe if you were Willow Rosenberg that would work, but you weren’t, and the question of whether or not you were going to hell when you died was suddenly a lot more than academic.
Bill was vamped out and struggling to get to his feet, obviously intending to jump into the maelstrom after his wife. “Don’t mess with it!” Addie screamed. “You’ll just make it worse!” Connie tightened the last of the industrial-strength pull-ties with which she was hog-tying Alicia, yanked her brother back down on his ass, and smashed a fist into his jaw, full-strength. Bill went out like a light.
“Vicki, take Nita outside! Alex, get Jess out of here!” Spike bellowed, and the two of them lost no time in hustling their younger sibling to the door. Addie wrestled the scythe back into the perpendicular, and the spell fought her like a living thing, eager to devour its prey. Her arms were trembling and her eyes burned, tears streaming down her face in the eldritch wind pouring off of the vortex. She could do this. She had to do this.
A hand emerged from the vortex, fingers clawed and flailing. Buffy’s hand. The fingers brushed the haft of the scythe and clamped on between Addie’s. A jolt ran through Addie as energies realigned, just as they had when she changed the components – oh. Oh!
You chose material components for their symbolic value. Like produced like. Once part of something, always part of something. Those were the laws upon which ritual magic operated. It was why she’d chosen the scythe as the focus for this spell to begin with: nothing was more symbolic of Slayers than the weapon which had been forged for them in the dawn of time. But it worked both ways. Where the scythe was concerned, nothing was more symbolic than a Slayer.
Once upon a time, Buffy Summers had made the source of Slayer power a part of her, blood and bone. She’d given part of that power to Addie’s grandmother, whoever she had been, and Addie’s grandmother had passed it to Addie’s mother, and Addie’s mother to her. Just the way a vampire’s demon buds from sire to get. Addie shook that not-so-reassuring thought aside. The point was, they were all connected, whether that connection was mystical or physical. Across the room, Connie’s eyes widened, and in a heartbeat she was standing at Addie’s side, her hand on the scythe-haft beside her mother’s. Three generations of Slayers, and the power living and growing within all of them. .
The words rushed up from somewhere deep inside of her: Quatuor plagis potentiis exaudi me! Revertere ad requiem tuam, et relinquunt indivisum Propugnatrices! Her Latin was still terrible, but it was the will behind it that mattered now. The howl of the spell-wind fell in pitch, and the wild looping gyrations of the energies overhead calmed. The scythe flared with the sunny yellow of her own aura, Connie’s blazing crimson, Buffy’s ragged gold. Archipelagos of ebony flowed along the scythe-blade, meeting, mingling, pouring into the empty places where filigrees of gold were already expanding to knit them into place and repair the older’s Slayer’s tattered aura.
A second hand emerged from the circle, younger and darker than Buffy’s, spell-burnt and shaky. Addie made room for it. She felt power pouring out of her in a great rush, through the scythe, into Buffy, into Toni – was this how Buffy had felt, all those years ago? She laughed, exultant. Now it was her turn to share. Overhead the energies of the spell-circle rippled and slowed, swirling downwards as they faded. She could see Toni’s face now, the familiar expression of astonished joy as the Slayer power coursed through nerve and sinew for the first time. Could we do this for any Potential? Addie wondered, but there was no time to think about that now.
The last of the spell-fire dissipated. In the circle of chalk and bone, Buffy stood, half-supporting Toni, whose burns were already starting to heal. Connie staggered, her hand falling away from the scythe, which glimmered briefly with dark foxfire, and was still. Only wood and steel now. Dimly, Addie heard the clunk as if fell from her nerveless hands to the floor.
The last thing she remembered was Vicki’s anxious face as Spike carried her upstairs.
To Be Concluded…
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/577760.html