|Story Title:||Miles To Go Before I Sleep|
I’ll Be There for You
OrphanKey!Dawn and Annie spend some time together, Giles and Anya find another surprise in the vault at Council headquarters, Mrs. Katz is making waves again, and Billy has a little surprise of his own for Mom and Dad.
Music Referenced: I’ll Be There For You, The Rembrandts http://youtu.be/nzQWmAwNNCw
|Thanks:||Thanks to YOU for reading! Without you none of this would mean anything! Giant thanks also to Anona for betaing this chapter, including her grammatical and punctuation corrections, wonderful commentary, and final review. Also thanks to Capella42 for her insightful suggestions that made the whole story better. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the very last moment.|
|Rating / Warnings:||
Next Day, Tuesday, September 6th, 2011, Unexpected Universe:
Buffy and Spike let Annie take the day off school so she could spend it with Dawn. After breakfast, the two Keys went for a walk. Dawn wanted to see Sunnydale, reminisce about places she’d spent time, and see what had changed from what she remembered.
With permission from Anya and Xander, Annie and Dawn stopped by Revello Drive. Annie let them in with the spare key that was hidden under the fake rock by the back door. It looked both different and familiar to Dawn. The furniture, photographs, and decorations had changed, but the feeling of the house was just the same as she remembered. She could see her mom and Buffy there; she could hear old conversations, touch the laughter and tears they’d shared there, feel the love that had surrounded her. It was all very bittersweet.
When Buffy didn’t make it out of the Hellmouth, Dawn had begged Willow to bring her back again, but Willow refused to even try. Citing all that Buffy had gone through before when they had brought her back, Giles and Willow had finally convinced Dawn that trying to bring Buffy back from the dead was a very bad idea. Over time, Dawn had adjusted and gotten past the initial shock and grief of losing not only Buffy, but Spike and Anya as well. After the pain had dulled a bit, she’d accepted her new life as an orphan. The thing that bothered her most was that she had nothing at all to remember her sister or mother by – nothing but memories. It was as if they had never existed. When Dawn died, all trace of them would be gone from the earth, buried in the crater that had once been their town. Seeing their home, redecorated, but whole and solid, was like a balm to that festering wound. It was proof that they had been there – they had existed, they had made a difference in the world.
After Revello Drive, they stopped by the Sunnydale Cemetery. Dawn showed Annie the crypt that had been Spike’s home in Dawn’s world. She told Annie about hours spent there listening to Spike’s ghost stories.
“He was the only one that treated me like a person. Everyone else treated me like a stupid kid … or like some kind of precious Ming vase that they were afraid would get broken and unleash hell on earth,” Dawn confided.
“I’m so glad the monks in this dimension created you the way they did … it’s so much better than what they did to me,” Dawn admitted with a sigh.
“How come?” Annie asked as they walked around the crypt, which seemed empty to Dawn without Spike’s old, tattered furnishings and oddly silent without “Passions’ playing on the old TV.
“They created me out of thin air. One day I didn’t exist and the next day I did – except no one remembered that I didn’t exist. It’s really creepy when you think about it. The monks changed everyone’s memory … ev-ree-one,” Dawn enunciated the last word slowly, adding emphasis to each syllable.
“From the butcher, to the ticket-taker at the movie theatre, to the doctor that delivered me, to everyone in the world that Buffy or Mom had ever known. Everyone remembered me, even though I hadn’t actually been there. They created photographs and diaries, school records, doctor’s visits, and insurance claims … scraped knees and bad perms. The magic they used was … astounding – scary, really.
“Then, Buffy found out. Glory had captured one of the monks and Buffy rescued him. She had suspected something was off, but he confirmed it. He told her what I was and … everything changed. That’s when I became the Ming vase and everything got … weird. Everyone got weird. I knew they were hiding something from me. So, brilliant pre-teen that I was, I set off to find out what the big secret was. And, giant softie vampire that your dad is, he helped me.”
Annie watched Dawn and listened as she talked, taking in her story. She didn’t interrupt the older girl, but tried to imagine what she would’ve done in her place. What if she had been created out of thin air instead of created the old-fashioned way … albeit with help from the monks? How different her life would’ve been. How different she would’ve been.
“I thought I deserved to know what they were hiding from me,” Dawn continued. “I thought I knew everything … but I didn’t know anything.” Dawn sighed and rolled her eyes as she lifted herself up and sat on the sarcophagus in the center of the crypt. Annie joined her, silently waiting for her to go on.
“When you’re young, you don’t know enough to know that you don’t know anything. When you’re a kid, you think the world revolves around you … when you get older you realize that 99.99% of the world doesn’t give a crap about you. There’s a saying: ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’ I’m still young, but sometimes I feel really old … like this ancient energy inside me is leaking out and making me see how small we all really are and how short life is in comparison.”
Dawn smiled sadly and turned on the stone top to face Annie. She brushed some of Annie’s long hair back over the girl’s shoulder and sighed. “Don’t ever underestimate how much your family loves you or how important they are. The monks might’ve used their magic to make you, they might’ve hidden this big scary power inside your blood, but you’re still Spike and Buffy’s daughter – the magic doesn’t change anything.
“It’s a big world, Annie … there’re lots of scary things out there in the dark and, worse – there’s lots of apathy. I didn’t realize it until Spike and Buffy were gone. I never felt it when they were there watching out for me – I just felt smothered. But when they died, a giant hole opened up inside me and I wished they were there to smother me … to protect me from the harsh reality of life.
“They might not be perfect, Annie, but believe me when I say they love you more than anyone ever will again. They only want what’s best for you, so … try to give them a break when they do dumb stuff. Remember that they’d give their lives for you without a single thought … without a moment’s regret.”
Annie nodded. “Mom already did,” she admitted softly.
Dawn nodded. “Well, I guess that’s something else we have in common, isn’t it?”
When the girls got back to the mansion, Buffy was sorting out photos from the old photo albums so she could get copies made for Dawn.
The two Keys joined Buffy at the kitchen table and began looking over the old photos. Dawn felt a wave of melancholy come over her as she looked over the memories, only then realizing that she wouldn’t be in any of them. In her world, the monks had changed that too. Her mind knew that, but her heart hadn’t really processed the meaning of it. It was strange seeing familiar photos without her in them. She quickly hid her disappointment by telling herself that she should just be happy to have photos of Buffy and her mom to take back with her – it was much more than she had now.
“Where’s the zombie-goat picture?” Dawn asked as she scanned through the various photos Buffy had taken out.
“Oh … uhhh … that got … lost somewhere along the way,” Buffy stammered, quickly closing the album she was working on and opening a different one.
“You are a horrible liar,” Dawn accused, reaching for the book Buffy had shut.
Buffy jerked it out of Dawn’s reach. “It’s not in there – it’s … lost,” she contended again.
Dawn quirked one brow up into a high arch and began to say something when the phone rang. Buffy jumped up as if she’d been shot and headed for the phone. She tucked the album that she’d closed under her arm and took it with her.
“Hello?” Buffy answered, holding the book against her chest protectively.
“Buffy,” Giles’ voice came over the line, sounding concerned. “Did you put anything other than the scroll that you had me retrieve into the vault during that time that changed?”
“No,” Buffy replied, her brow furrowed. “Why?”
“Well, Anya and I were taking inventory and found an … anomaly,” Giles explained cautiously.
“You found … flowers in the vault? Live flowers ... or silk? Don't tell me they're those really gaudy plastic ones!”
Giles sighed heavily. Buffy thought she could hear him polishing his glasses over the phone. “Not anemones, an anomaly … something peculiar.”
“Oh. I knew that ... Is that good or bad?”
“Well … I’m not entirely certain,” Giles admitted. “Could you and Spike come by? I think this is something you must see in order to fully appreciate.”
“Ok, sure,” Buffy agreed. “We’ll be over in a few.”
Buffy hung up the phone and laid the photo album down on the table next to it, worrying her lip with her teeth. What had Giles found? What else might’ve gotten put in the vault and protected from the reality shift? Only one way to find out.
Buffy, Spike, Dawn, Annie, and MacKenzie arrived at Council headquarters about a half an hour later. Giles, Wes, and Anya were waiting for them. There was a cloud of anxious, excited tension in the air that even MacKenzie seemed to be able to feel. The baby started crying as soon as they walked through the doors and she refused to be comforted.
“Ok, so let’s see what you’ve got,” Buffy said, talking over the crying baby as she jiggled her lightly in her arms and tried to soothe the redhead. “Do the kids need to wait in the nursery? Is it dangerous?”
Giles shook his head. “It doesn’t appear to be – it hasn’t actually … moved or done anything. It’s simply … disconcerting and quite remarkable, really.”
“Something t’ do with the Gem?” Spike asked hopefully.
“I … don’t believe so,” Giles replied as he began leading the way back towards the vault, the others falling into step behind him.
“We’ve placed it in the sorting room,” Giles told them as he passed by the vault and opened a door next to it. He stood aside and allowed Buffy to enter first, Spike right behind her.
Buffy walked in a couple of feet and came to a dead stop. Spike bumped into her back and they both stumbled forward a couple of steps as they looked at the ‘anomaly’ sitting at the table. It was Buffy.
Dawn and Annie filed in behind the two adults, then Giles, Anya, and Wes stepped in behind them.
“Buffy-bot,” Buffy, Spike, and Dawn all announced at once, their voices tinged with disbelief.
“Pardon?” Giles and Wes replied in their own harmonic chorus.
Buffy handed MacKenzie to Annie and took a step forward toward her doppelganger, who was sitting in a chair at the table, eyes closed as if in sleep. “It’s a Buffy-bot,” Buffy said absently, answering Giles and Wes. “Warren … must’ve …” Buffy touched the robot, but it didn’t wake up.
Buffy looked at the others, who had hung back as she moved forward. “It’s a robot … it … there was one in the other dimension – the dimension Dawn’s from,” she stammered, glancing furtively at Spike, then looking back at the robot. “Warren Mears built it. He must’ve … built one here when he followed me, but I don’t remember it. I never saw it. I don’t know how it got here or …” Buffy shook her head and chewed on her thumbnail as she thought.
“But what does it do?” Wes asked. “What is its purpose?”
Buffy’s face flushed slightly and she glanced at Spike and Dawn, then cleared her throat. “Well, it can do almost anything. It walks and talks and acts like me. It can be programmed to do almost anything,” Buffy explained. Heat crept up her cheeks as she thought about just what it had been programmed to originally do in the other dimension. “It can fight and it’s really strong,” she added quickly.
“She can even pretend to be my legal guardian at parent-teacher day at school – and pull it off pretty well,” Dawn interjected. “And she loves to play checkers with Spike,” she added wryly.
Giles looked at Dawn with confusion. “Checkers?”
Dawn nodded. “Oh yeah … totally loves checkers. Didn’t you know about Spike and his checker obsession?” she asked dryly.
“OI!” Spike cut in. “Don’t reckon we need t’ talk about that ‘ere,” he advised with a hint of a threat to his tone.
“Oh, I get it!” Anya piped up. “‘Checkers’ is code for ‘sex’. She’s a sex toy … like a blow-up doll, only better. That’s brilliant! Could I have one, too? I want one that looks like Xander. There’s no way he could get jealous of a ménage à trois with himself!”
Spike sighed and rolled his eyes. “Bloody hell,” he moaned, although he had to admit Anya’s idea had some merit. Oh, not the two Xanders bit – that would be a nightmare – but two Buffys … that definitely had some possibilities.
Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Forget it, Anya,” she rebuffed the ex-demon. “Warren’s bad news and I don’t think the world could survive two Xanders, anyway.”
Turning to look at Giles, Buffy continued, “Was there some kind of cord or charging device that went with it?”
“Yes – here,” he answered, moving over to a corner of the room and picking up the charger and showing it to her.
“What do you propose we do with it, Buffy?” Wes asked as she turned and looked at what Giles was showing her.
Buffy looked at Spike, but he shrugged noncommittally. “I … uummm,” she began as she thought. “I guess just keep it in the vault for now. When Willow comes for Christmas, we can get her to poke around inside. I don’t think there’ll be anything drastic in the bot’s programming that can’t wait. Too bad you didn’t find it a few days ago when Willow was here…” Buffy replied, thinking aloud. “I hate to make her come right back.”
Spike looked slightly disappointed, but didn’t voice it even through the bond to Buffy. Somehow Buffy seemed to read his mind anyway. You can have two Buffys anytime you want, you big perv, she sent him through the bond.
Spike smirked and met her eyes across the short distance. Of course, turnabout is fair play on that score, she added with a flirty smile. Spike’s smirk deepened as he remembered her subconscious’ ‘Pick Your Pleasure’ store – he had no objections to that trade.
“There may come a time when we can use her in a fight or … as a decoy or something,” Buffy continued thinking aloud. “Oooo … maybe I could send her to PTA meetings,” she suggested brightly.
“Fit right in, I’d wager,” Spike agreed under his breath.
“We used the bot to help fight Glory back home,” Dawn offered. “She did pretty well, too – probably not as well as she did at checkers, but…”
Spike let out a low, almost sub-sonic growl. Dawn suppressed a giggle but moved out of arm’s reach of the vampire, just in case.
“Very well, then,” Giles agreed. “We’ll lock it back up in the vault and wait for Willow. I must say, I feel a bit … peculiar putting you in the vault, Buffy.”
“Oh, I’m sure there have been times when you wished you could lock me away and make me shut up and listen – here’s your chance,” Buffy replied, giving her Watcher a bright smile.
“Indeed,” Giles intoned, rolling his eyes.
Buffy took MacKenzie back from Annie and headed out of the room, followed closely by Dawn. Spike and Annie followed behind them a few feet while Giles, Wes, and Anya worked on getting the bot up and back into the vault.
“Why would Aunt Anya want two Xanders for sex? How would that work?” Annie asked Spike as they walked.
Spike choked on thin air, which seemed to have suddenly become thick and unbreathable, then began to cough violently. “Got no bloody idea,” he wheezed out after regaining his breath a few moments later.
Annie rolled her eyes. She’d ask her mom later.
The next morning, Wednesday, September 7th, 2011:
The cool air and warm sun ghosted in through the open window and bathed Dawn with a thousand memories. She lay in her bed, her eyes closed, and just allowed the feel and smell of it to wash the years away. She was home, in Sunnydale. She could smell the salt in the air from the ocean, she could feel the brilliant rays of sun shining on her face, she could almost imagine that her mom and Buffy were sleeping right down the hall from her. In a few minutes, her mom would knock on her door and tell her it was time to get up to go to school. She’d moan and roll over, but finally drag herself up and out of the house. Her friends would be waiting for her; they’d share the latest gossip and giggle as they walked to school.
Dawn sighed heavily and opened her eyes, blinking into the bright rays of light that shone through her window. Waking up in Sunnydale was like nowhere else on earth. She’d done a lot of growing up in this town. Even though she hadn’t realized it at the time, she’d come to life in this town; she’d gained everything and lost everything here. It would always feel like her home.
She rolled onto her back and closed her eyes again, willing her mind back into that little twilight dream of her life before. That was how her life was defined: befores and afters. Before losing her mom, and after. Before Glory, and after. Before Buffy died, and after. Before Buffy came back, and after. Before losing Buffy and Spike, and after. Before Sam, and after. Now there would be a new before and after to add to her list: before finding Buffy and Spike again, and after. Before finding out she wasn’t the only freaky Key in the universe, and after.
She felt tears welling behind her closed lids as her emotions rose in her like a tide of bittersweet joy. She was so thankful Spike and Xander had come for her and brought her back here. She was so glad to finally know for sure that Spike and Buffy were together and they were happy, but she also knew that she couldn’t stay, no matter how much she might want to. People in her own world depended on her – she made a difference. Even though she wasn’t a Slayer, she was the top researcher at the Council and only she could ferry Slayers and Watchers from one side of the world to the other in a blink of an eye, allowing them to stamp out demonic fires before they turned into raging infernos.
“You can always come back and visit,” she told herself aloud, taking a deep, cleansing breath of the cool, fall air, and swallowing back her tears. She only wished she could bottle that fragrance and keep it with her always. But it was more than salt and sea and the hint of tropical flowers that hung in the cool, fall air. Lying here in ‘Angel’s mansion,’ she realized what she was really smelling was the essence of true family: a bouquet of undying love, unequaled courage, and generous sacrifice. It was the perfume of ‘home’.
“So,” Annie concluded, passing the paper over to Dawn as they sat at the research table later that day. “This is as far as we’ve been able to get with it. Willow is sure the scroll is decoding it right and I think it is too, but it’s into a language we can’t identify.”
Dawn took the paper and studied it intently. She began rummaging through the hundreds of languages, human and otherwise, that she’d dissected and translated over the years, trying to fit them to the words on the page.
“Without this spell in something we can understand, we can’t create another Gem, so Bess and Dad have to share it. They won’t let me watch, but I saw the wound on Bess’ back where they took it out of her. It doesn’t look very … nice,” Annie continued talking as Dawn flipped through a card-catalog of languages in her mind.
After several long minutes, Dawn finally shook her head and looked back up at Annie. “I’m sorry, it’s not ringing any bells for me. Can I take this with me? Maybe I can find it back home.”
Annie sighed but nodded. “I have another copy,” she told Dawn, the glimmer of hope that this older version of herself would recognize the language fading miserably.
“Sorry,” Dawn apologized again, seeing the disappointment on Annie’s face. “It might be some kind of demon language that I haven’t come across yet. When I get home, I’ll go through some of the un-translated books and see if I can find anything that matches. The larger the sample, the easier it will be to translate it to English.”
Annie nodded. “Yeah, that’s why we’re working on decoding the whole book, even though only about three pages seem to actually be the spell.”
“If I can get copies of everything you’ve done so far, maybe it’ll be enough to run some algorithms on,” Dawn suggested.
Annie nodded, but wasn’t buoyed by this. Willow had run lots of algorithms; nothing they had run thus far had made the decoded text make any sense.
That afternoon, Buffy and Spike waited with a couple of other parents in the mid-afternoon sun for Dani and Billy’s bus to arrive. The bus-stop was only about a block from the mansion, but they both still felt better meeting the bus and walking the kids home – they were just in second grade, after all.
“Can you believe that fucking Katz woman?” a tall, thin woman in her late thirties asked Buffy. The woman was probably six feet tall, but looked even taller due to her reed-like build. She had glossy, stick-straight, dark brown hair cut in a severe pageboy, and a beak-like nose. Over the years, Buffy had realized that she used the word ‘fuck’ like Valley Girls used the word ‘like’ – often and seemingly without any thought. Buffy knew her name was Sydney, but she went by Syd, and had a son, Teddy, who was three or four years older than Billy and Dani. Syd and her husband, Ted, Sr., lived about four or five houses down from Buffy and Spike, on the other side of the Katzes.
Buffy sighed. “What has she done now?”
“Oh! You mean she hasn’t cornered you yet?” Syd asked in a slightly awestruck tone.
Buffy shook her head. “I try to only come outside when I see them drive away,” she admitted.
Syd laughed. “We need to set up a fucking signal … like that thing Commissioner Gordon used to summon Batman, so we’ll all know when it’s safe to go into the yard.”
Buffy and Spike laughed and nodded their agreement, as did a couple of other parents standing nearby.
“So, what’s up now?” Buffy prodded.
“She’s resurrected the fucking homeowners association. She renamed it the ‘Sunnydale Homeowners Resisting Unsightliness Guild’. We’ve all gotten fucking ‘official notices’ of things we need to fix to be in ‘compliance’,” Syd went on, adding air quotes around the words ‘official notices’ and ‘compliance’ as she spoke.
“SHRUG?” Spike questioned, quirking a brow at the tall woman.
Syd snorted a very unladylike laugh and nodded. “Fucking right, SHRUG.”
“She can’t do that,” Buffy complained. “Can she?”
“Apparently, she can and has. There was a homeowners association here when we moved in, but lack of anyone giving a fuck made it die out,” the other woman revealed. “It is on the deed.”
“But you need members, don’t you? I haven’t paid any homeowners dues,” Buffy objected.
“Apparently she’s brow-beat a few ball-less people into joining her,” Syd explained. “And she’s looking for more. I guess she’s funding it herself, and now she’s giving out these fucking ‘official notices’ of things we need to clean up in our yards. She told old-lady Weiss that the garden gnomes in her front yard had to go, and she told me the fucking dollarweed in our lawn was ‘unsightly and lowered the home values of the whole fucking neighborhood.’”
The tall woman smirked and crossed her arms over her chest defiantly. “I’m thinking about planting dandelions and crabgrass to go with it now.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I can’t wait to see what she says about our house,” she groaned.
“Of course, Ted says we should just tell the fucking lawn-man to spray the dollarweed more often. My Ted, he hates making waves,” Syd sighed.
“But … she can’t actually enforce these … violations, can she?” Buffy asked Syd.
Syd shrugged and sighed heavily. “Apparently, since she’s just resurrecting something that is enforceable on our deeds, she can file something with the county to fine us if we don’t comply with the bylaws of the fucking association.”
“Oh, that’s just crap,” Buffy exclaimed. “And who’s making these bylaws?”
“Well, her, of course,” Sydney said tersely. “If we want to change them, then we would need to go to her meetings and get on the fucking board. We’d have to sit in a room with her and the cronies she’s bullied to help her. That’s like willingly walking into the fucking Colosseum to face the lions.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed as the bus pulled up and kids began filing off.
“You really need to look into that Katz signal, though, Buffy. People would be fucking happy to donate to that project,” Sydney assured her as headed off down the sidewalk with her son.
Buffy and Spike turned their attention to Dani, Billy, and JJ, who were just making it off the bus – they were the last ones to file off.
“Oh my God! What happened?” Buffy exclaimed as the three approached. Billy had an eye that had obviously been blackened not long ago and his clothes were dirty and torn in places.
“Billy got in a fight!” Dani announced. She sounded proud.
“What? Why? With who?” Buffy demanded. “No one from the school called.”
“It was right after school in the boys’ bathroom. None of the teachers saw it,” Dani continued happily. Billy, on the other hand, didn’t say anything or even look up at his parents.
“It was sooo cool,” JJ interjected. “Bam, bam!” he demonstrated, punching the air.
“Billy, why were you fighting?” Buffy demanded, dropping down to one knee in front of him.
Billy kept his eyes glued to the sidewalk. “Jason called you names,” he said in a low voice.
“Not just names,” Dani piped up. “He sang: ‘♫Billy’s mom’s a batty bitch. Afraid of bats, an ugly witch.♫’”
Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed. Time apparently hadn’t faded the memory of the fiasco at the zoo last June.
“Billy, that’s still no reason to fight,” Buffy asserted. “Sticks and stones…”
“Papa would’ve,” Billy offered soberly, still looking at the sidewalk.
Buffy looked up at Spike, who just smirked and gave her a one-shouldered shrug in agreement with his son.
“Yeah, well, he would’ve been wrong too. You can’t let people taunt you into fights. Just ignore bullies, that takes their power away.”
“So does beating them up,” Dani offered, still smiling excitedly.
“Junior beat ‘im up?” Spike asked perhaps a little too eagerly, a tinge of pride in his voice.
“Yeah! He hit him right in the mouth! BAM!” JJ demonstrated again, throwing a right jab into the air.
“It doesn’t matter who won the fight. There are no winners in fights over things like this,” Buffy interrupted before anyone could say any more. “Words are not worth fighting over. Someone could’ve gotten seriously hurt.
“No one got seriously hurt, did they?” she asked, suddenly more concerned.
All three kids shook their heads. “But I bet he won’t be singing that song again,” Dani added in a solemn tone.
Buffy sighed again and stood up. “Ok, let’s go home,” she said, reaching for Billy’s hand. He lifted his arm and she wrapped her fingers around his. She gave her son’s small hand a reassuring squeeze as they began to walk down the sidewalk, JJ tagging along next to them.
Wipe that smirk off your face, Papa, she sent to Spike through the bond, shooting him a warning look. This is not of the good.
Spike rubbed a hand over his mouth, trying hard to literally wipe the smirk off, as he let her, JJ, and Billy go ahead. He put a hand on Dani’s shoulder and held her back a moment before they started walking a few paces behind Buffy.
“Junior won the fight?” he asked her quietly.
“Uh-huh,” she replied in a whispered, nodding.
“And you didn’t … help?” he asked, eyeing her suspiciously.
Dani shrugged slightly. “I might’ve … stuck my foot out and someone might’ve … fallen down. But no one saw me – don’t tell Billy.”
Spike chuckled softly and nodded. “Been taking lessons from Bess, eh? She’s a dirty bloody fighter, too.”
Dani shrugged again. “Jason shouldn’t have said those things about Mama.”
“Bloody right,” Spike agreed.
In the house, Buffy got an ice-pack out of the freezer, wrapped it in a towel, and put it on Billy’s eye, which was starting to swell slightly.
“Keep this on your eye, go up to your room, and stay there. You’re grounded. You can do your homework, but no games, no books, no music, no computer – nothing else,” Buffy ordered. “When this melts, come back down and I’ll get another one.”
Billy nodded and headed upstairs, holding the cold pack against his eye. Dani and JJ followed him up the stairs.
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “This is not of the good, Spike,” she said, watching them go.
Spike shrugged. “They’re kids – they fight. It’s all part o’ growing up.”
“No it’s not. I never fought … not until …” Buffy let her voice trail off.
“He’s a boy. Boys are different,” Spike offered.
Just then, they were interrupted by a shout of victory coming from the training room. They both walked over to the door to find Annie standing over Dawn, Billy’s lightsaber pressed against the older girl’s throat like a sword.
“Excellent! See! It’s not that hard!” Dawn encouraged Annie as she sat up on the soft mat. “It just takes a little practice. I’m sure Buffy and Spike will work with you.”
Spike and Buffy both stood in the door watching, dumbfounded. Annie had never shown any interest in learning to fight or use weapons before.
“It’s kinda fun,” Annie admitted. “It’s kinda like dancing, only more …”
“Bloodthirsty?” Dawn offered, smiling as she got back to her feet and picked her lightsaber back up from where Annie had knocked it out of her hand.
Annie laughed. “I guess …” she agreed. “It’s kinda like dancing to ‘We Are the Champions’ or the theme to ‘Rocky’ or something.”
“Yeah, well, don’t get too cocky,” Dawn advised as she swung her saber at Annie unexpectedly.
Annie jumped back and lifted her own weapon instinctively, barely blocking the swing. “You’ve still got a lot to learn,” Dawn told her as they began sparring again.
“Bloody hell,” Spike murmured. “How did she get the Niblett to do that?”
Buffy shook her head, but clearly remembered Annie’s bravery and how quickly she learned to use a stake and the stun-gun in the Gift-less Universe. Emotions ranging from relief that Annie was actually showing an interest in learning to defend herself to overwhelming dread and fear warred inside Buffy. Annie had always been a ‘girly-girl’, preferring dolls and pink tutus and giving tea parties for her stuffed animals to playing cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers … or Slayers and vampires.
Could Annie be more than the Key? Could she have another destiny, as well? Could she be a Slayer, too? Buffy had accepted the idea that Dani would most certainly be a Slayer, just as Bess was, but she’d convinced herself that Annie would not. She’d convinced herself that their eldest daughter didn’t have the disposition for it, the personality, the … hardness it took – but she did. Even if Annie didn’t remember, she’d shown the metal beneath the frilly exterior in the other dimension. Annie had the heart of a champion beating beneath the surface.
Buffy turned and walked away from the door. She collapsed in a chair at the research table and tried hard not to start hyperventilating. Annie would be thirteen in February. Nowadays many Slayers were being Called anywhere between thirteen and sixteen years of age. Annie could be a Slayer in as little as four months. Holy shit.
“Buffy, what is it, pet?” Spike asked softly, crouching down next to her and putting a hand on her shoulder.
“What if she’s a Slayer, Spike?” Buffy asked him, her eyes wide with fear and glistening with emotion.
“The Niblett?” Spike asked, his brow furrowed. “But … Anne wasn’t – just Bess … Dani’s doppelganger. Aren’t they supposed to be … identical … magically cloned or whatnot?”
Buffy nodded but then shook her head. “Yeah, but back then there was only one Slayer at a time. Anne could’ve had the … potential but just never got Called. Now everyone gets Called.”
“And, what if she is, pet?” Spike asked. “We’re here with ‘er, yeah? She won’t be alone.”
Buffy nodded. “I know. I don’t know why it’s freaking me out. I guess I just never thought it would be her. I just … you didn’t see her in that other world, Spike. She really … she was really brave and did so well … but I couldn’t protect her. And even with as many Slayers as we have, they do still die sometimes. Just this last year one died in India, two others in Africa, and even one right here in the US – in New York.”
“I know that, pet, but the two in Africa were killed before the Council could even find them and get a Watcher there, the one in New York went off partying on her own and got stoned out of her bloody mind – easy pickings, and the one in India wasn’t killed by vamps – she got caught by a bloody tiger … it was a fluke.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I know that. I know none of that will happen to Annie, I just … have a bad feeling about it.”
Spike sighed and took both of Buffy’s hands in his as he looked up from his crouching position to meet her eyes. “I can’t tell ya to ignore your instincts, Buffy. God bloody well knows your gut is usually spot on, but I don’t reckon there’s anything t’ be done. If she’s meant to be a Slayer, there’s nothing gonna stop it.”
He looked over at the still-open training room door. “Looks like you were right t’ bring Dawn here, though. If the Niblett is destined t’ be a Slayer, the sooner she starts learning t’ fight the better, yeah? Hell, living in this town, it’s even more important if she’s not a bloody Slayer. Looks like Dawn’s gettin’ that through to her even if we couldn’t.”
Buffy gave him a sad smile and nodded. “Yeah. Of course, you’re right,” she agreed half-heartedly. “I’m probably just worrying for nothing. She’s the Key … the prophecy only showed one Slayer as part of the Tetrad. It stands to reason that would be Dani … assuming the idiots writing the damn things know what they’re doing.”
“There ya go,” Spike agreed eagerly. “No worries! Those berks never mess up bloody prophecies.”
Buffy snorted a laugh and rolled her eyes. There were a few silent moments between them before Buffy said, “Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” Spike agreed, still crouched down on his haunches in front of her.
“Would you have beaten up that boy for calling me a 'batty bitch'?”
“Definitely not,” Spike assured her. “You are a batty bitch most o’ the bloody time.”
Buffy laughed again, leaned over, and dropped a kiss on Spike’s lips.
“I would’ve beaten ‘im up for callin’ you an 'ugly witch' though,” Spike murmured against her lips.
Buffy laughed harder. “What would I do without my two Williams to defend my virtue?”
“Reckon it’s a little late for defendin’ your virtue, pet,” Spike teased. “But callin’ you a witch? Bloody insulting, that is … for proper witches, at any rate. Wouldn’t want to brass off Red and Glinda. They’re bloody scary.”
Buffy sighed dramatically. “I knew I could count on you.”
Next: Spike takes on Mrs. Katz and SHRUG ... but, to his dismay, he must abide by Buffy's 'sticks and stones...' rule she set down for Billy.
The Rembrandts : I'll Be There For You
So no one told you life was gonna be this way
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