Alternate Universe: Unexpected
Story Title: Miles To Go Before I Sleep

Chapter Title:



Pale Blue Dot, Part 2


Chapter Summary:


Annie and Buffy get the full Gertie Greenbriar experience.


Time line:

September 2011


Click here to view history timeline and key dates.



Narration Referenced:  Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot


Some Screencaps courtesy of Broken Innocence (others from ScreenCap Paradise which is, sadly, no more). and also from

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. Photo of sunset on the English Channel by neilalderney123 on Flickr.
Rating / Warnings:

NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.

Continued from previous chapter, Friday, September 9th, 2011:


Gertie came back with a large tray laden with food. She sat it down on the low, heavy table, crossed her feet at the ankles, and then lowered herself into a cross-legged sitting position onto a floor-pillow next to it, the wispy skirt of her dress flaring out and covering her long legs as she went. The witch moved with practiced grace, sinking down onto the pillow gently and silently, as if she didn’t want to hurt the cushion by sitting on it. Dawn joined her, followed closely by Annie and Buffy, who continued watching Dawn, following her lead, and trying not to commit any unforgivable faux pas.


There was hot tea, of course, but also cookies … errr … biscuits: red, heart-shaped sweet-breads. In addition, the bread that Annie had smelled baking when they first came in, warm and fresh from the oven, was on the tray. It was dark and rich-looking, and still smelled heavenly. There were three jars of jam, obviously homemade: raspberry, blueberry, and gooseberry. There was also a mound of pale-yellow butter on a covered, antique porcelain butter dish. And, lastly, there was a small pitcher of cream and a clear, glass bottle that contained some type of reddish liquid.


Annie and Buffy continued taking their cues from Dawn, who simply sat, hands in her lap, and waited.


When they were all seated, Gertie closed her eyes and said in her rich, lilting voice, “It is our privilege to accept Mother Earth’s bounty as it was given: with grace and respect.”


Buffy felt like she should say ‘amen’ or something, but no one else did, so she didn’t either. As soon as Gertie had finished her short blessing, Dawn began helping herself to the ‘bounty before them.’ Annie and Buffy continued to follow Dawn, who poured some of the milk and a little of the red liquid stuff, which turned out to be thick, like syrup, into her tea.


“What is this?” Buffy finally asked as she let a few drops of the thick liquid fall into her own cuppa.


“Humanely-harvested sugar-beet syrup,” Gertie replied as she spread some of the gooseberry jam on a chunk of bread she’d pulled off the loaf.


Buffy’s brow furrowed slightly. “Oookay…” she drawled out slowly, letting the word drip off her tongue. “I’ve never had that before. Is it … a local custom?” Buffy asked.


“To be sure,” the witch replied, a wry smile on her lips. “Haven’t had a bit o’ luck growin’ sugar cane here on the cliffs meself.”


Buffy’s brows went up. “Oh, you grew this?”


“Only way t’ be sure now, innit?” Gertie replied, nodding and sending her long hair shimmering in the late-afternoon light that streamed in the large windows.


“Sure of … what?” Buffy wondered.


“Sure our Mother's charges were tended with love and allowed to gain their full promise b’fore they gave their life-energy to sustain us,” Gertie explained before taking a sip of her tea.


“Oh … yeah … there’s that,” Buffy stammered as she tried to catch Dawn’s eye. Dawn didn’t look at her, but continued spreading blueberry jam on her bread as if she were performing major surgery.


“Well, it’s … very good,” Buffy offered sipping the syrup-sweetened tea and taking one of the red, heart-shaped cookies from the tray.


Annie’s brow was furrowed as she listened to the witch and looked at the food on the table. “Are you a … vegan?” Annie asked. There were a couple of kids at school that were vegans … sort of. Their parents were vegans, and the kids were vegans when they were with their parents, but at the candy machine they sometimes forgot their convictions.


Gertie smiled. “Don’t go in for labels, lass. I fancy meself a defender o’ our Mother ... what me friends in town call ‘Space Station Earth’, and her children. Only got the one … reckon we oughta pay her a bit o’ mind.”


Annie picked up the pitcher of cream, poured a bit into her own tea-cup, and stirred. Her brows furrowed when she tasted the tea: that was regular cream, like from a cow. She’d expected it to be almond or soy milk, like Dani drank. She then took some of the butter, spread on her bread, and took a bite. Annie's confusion deepened. It was regular butter, not some kind of fake-canola butter-look-alike, although it tasted somehow sweeter than what they normally ate at home.  She continued to sip the tea and nibble on her bread while her mother took over the conversation with the witch.


“And these … children of the Earth are…” Buffy began hesitantly, raising her brows in question.


Gertie spread her arms, palms up in a motion that encompassed the room, but it was clear she meant much more than that. The ends of her silky mane danced over the floor at her back as she lifted her face to the ceiling … or perhaps to heaven. “All things: air, soil, water. All the life-energies that share the journey on our pale blue dot are Mother Earth’s children.”


“Like … beets,” Buffy guessed.


Gertie looked back at Buffy and nodded, her expression serious. “To be sure. All things are connected by the life-force of the Universe, and Mother Earth is our sentinel. Animal, vegetable, mineral … we’re all one here in her bosom. As goes the Mother, go the children; as goes one, goes the other. We’re all connected … damage to one is damage to all; mistreat one, mistreat all.”


“Uh-huh,” Buffy grunted out, giving Dawn a look that asked, ‘Is she serious?’ Unfortunately, the look was lost on Dawn since she was carefully studying something on the other side of the room.


“A Champion such as yourself doesn’ believe in a unified life-force? In Karma … in destiny?” Gertie asked Buffy, quirking a pale brow at her. “To be sure, it follows the same path of connection. As ye sow, so shall ye reap and the like.”


“I’ve found Karma to be overrated. It usually needs me to give it a helping hand for people to get what they really deserve ... you know, in a timely manner at least,” Buffy admitted, giving the witch a cool smile.


“Perhaps,” Gertie agreed, sighing serenely. “And have beets done anything that would suggest they should be punished … mistreated? Are they evil demons, t’ be enslaved in our service and brutalized for nothing more than being beets?”


Buffy opened her mouth and closed it again, furrowed her brow, and shook her head. “I … guess not.”


Gertie shrugged. “Then why not have a bit o’ respect, eh? They’re givin’ their life-force t’ nourish us. A cycle o’ life, it is … takin’ from the air, the soil, the sun, the water, and givin’ to us.


“Make no mistake," Gertie continued languidly. "Champion or no, one day our physical bodies will lay down an’ merge back into the Mother. We’ll be the air, soil, and water. Round and round it goes. One day we’ll be the fodder for the beet rather than the other way ‘round … one day we may be the beet.”


“Uh-huh,” Buffy agreed, although it lacked conviction. “Go beets!” she cheered, pumping a fist in the air with fake enthusiasm. She was starting to not really care if she offended the witch any longer. Gertie was a fruit-loop with a capital ‘F’.


Annie listened intently as Gertie and Buffy talked, brows still furrowed. “But isn’t this is … cream and butter … like from a cow?” she asked at the lull, pointing at the small pitcher on the table and the mound of butter.

 “Ah, well … Mrs. O’Leary’s a dear friend and child o’ the Earth, but she don’t much fancy being labeled a cow, lass,” Gertie reprimanded lightly.


“Mrs. O’Leary?” Buffy choked out, nearly spitting up the tea she’d drunk. “This is … human milk?”


Gertie laughed in her lilting, melodic tone and shook her head. Her thick, silver-white hair washed over her shoulders, back, and arms as she moved. The bright, pink streaks in her hair separated and fanned out atop her long, pale mane, making her look even more fairy-like as her hair reflected the color over its full, and considerable, length and breadth.


“While it be true that Mrs. O’Leary be a bovine by birth, I be sure t’ never let on the truth of it t’ her,” Gertie revealed, her voice conspiratorial. “Been sisters here on the cliffs for nigh on ten years, we have – and even before that in some past time, to be sure. A sweet soul, she is … akin to mine, I don’t be doubtin’. Raised her up from a wee bit, I did, and she’s been kind enough t’ grace Mother Earth with four lovely báibíns.


“Always gracious enough t’ take fodder from m’ garden and give back a bit o’ cream for my pleasure with nary a whisper of upset. Her wee ones don’t mind sharing a bit – and they be lovin’ a bite o’ sweet biscuit themselves.  Always got more than they can tuck away, she does,” Gertie explained. “Tis the same circle, yeah? Give and receive … a balance o’ life.”


Buffy sighed in relief. Mrs. O’Leary was a cow. Thank God.


“Where does she stay? In the back yard?” Annie asked, looking at the door that led out to the area on the other side of the house where the windmill was.


“Much too lonely there for Mrs. O’Leary. She be a social creature, after all, lass. She stays up t' the highland atop the cliff at the back o’ the house with Séamus Flannigan’s charges. Has a right time, she does. She be the queen o’ the pasture, ya see? Not one o’ the others dare challenge her royal highness –neither bovine nor ovine nor canine. We visit a bit every day, she and I. Right good friend she is to me, my lovely Mrs. O’Leary.”


Buffy suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. The fruit-loop’s best friend was a cow. Why did this not completely surprise her?


“Sooo … you believe in reincarnation,” Annie continued. “You think we could come back as an animal … or a plant?”


Gertie shrugged a slender shoulder as she met Annie’s eyes. Annie could see the woman’s irises shift color again. They morphed from the deep purple she’d had when she was looking at Buffy, to bright green as they settled upon Annie. It was disconcerting, but Annie didn’t look away – she really wanted to know. Gertie was the strangest person she’d ever met … but she seemed so sure of herself, sure of her beliefs.


“I believe in nature, in the cosmos, in science, in the Mother. Tis all connected - canno' have nature without science, can ye? As we be now, in the form of a human, we’ve be gifted with intelligence and the ability t' suss things out. We must use it or dishonor the Mother … dishonor the cosmos, dishonor ourselves, a ghrá.


“The First Law of Thermodynamics tells me that energy canno’ be created nor destroyed – it can only change forms, flow from one place to the other. And, what is life but energy? What do our spirits be if not cosmic life-force … power, fire? And do plants and animals not also have a life-force? Are they not also living beings? Do they not also have a potential to fulfill in this realm?”


Annie blinked, then her brow furrowed. “Yeah … I guess ... but … Mom’s been to heaven. She didn’t … reincarnate when she died before.”


Now it was Gertie’s turn to blink, clearly impressed, and turn her mutable eyes back to Buffy. “There are more realms than our Mother’s, a ghrá. We be nothin’ more than a single pixel in a cosmos o’ color. Just as you will one day be off, no longer within your mother’s arms, as will our spirits shift in their cycle of awakening, away from our Mother’s embrace, to dwell in a new reality.”


“I don’t get to be a beet?” Buffy asked, mock disappointment tingeing her words. “That’s a total bummer. I was looking forward to just, you know, lazing in the sun a while, curling my roots in the soil, and chillaxin'.”


Gertie’s lips quirked into a smile and dimples returned to her cheeks. “To be sure your fire is bright, Champion … an old soul is within ya,” she observed, nodding. “The Chosen oft be the eldest among us … but even ye are but a small drop of water in a vast ocean. We need look only into the night sky to see how minute our place in the universe is … and there be many more, just as vast, to be sure. There are untold levels to be achieved … all a part of the cosmic life-force.”


“Sooo …” Annie continued. “Mom like … graduated?”


“To be sure,” Gertie agreed.


“Cool,” Buffy remarked. “Glad I could graduate from something other than Sunnydale High … knew it would never be college.”


Annie scowled at her mom and wanted to tell her to stop being sarcastic and making fun, but instead just kept talking to Gertie. “So … there’s a cosmic life-force … like Ch’i?”


“To be sure, a ghrá. There be many names for it…” Gertie agreed, looking back at Annie. “And you …” Gertie looked between Dawn and Annie a moment, finally settling her eyes back on the younger of the girls. “You hold more than most … more than I’ve seen in all m’ days.”


Buffy looked up from her tea and met Dawn’s eyes. Dawn’s expression said, ‘I told you so,’ without words.


At Buffy’s request, they hadn’t told Gertie the real reason for their visit. Instead, they’d brought the silver scroll from the Gift-less dimension with them – the one that decoded the Gem of Amarra book. On Gertie’s doorstep, Dawn and Buffy had introduced themselves innocuously as a Slayer, her daughter, and her sister. They’d said that they had gotten her name from the Council’s records, which said she was an expert on hand-made artifacts, and asked the witch to take a look at the scroll. They’d asked Gertie if she could tell them what time-period it was from or what civilization had created it.


That was the main reason Annie hadn’t been paying much attention then – she knew that was nothing but a ploy to come here, to get invited inside, to talk. Buffy had wanted a chance to pass judgment on the witch, to find out if this Gertie could feel the power inside Annie like Dawn’s Gertie had. After all, the same people living in different dimensions didn’t always behave identically, nor have the same mindset or abilities.


“Your aura is strong, lass, your soul … ancient, your life-force thrums,” Gertie revealed, holding her hands out, palms facing Annie, as if touching an unseen wall around her.


Gertie then turned and looked at Dawn. “But I reckon that don’t be a shock t’ ya.”


Dawn smiled and shook her head. “No …” she admitted, casting a sidelong glance at Buffy.


Buffy still thought the woman was a fruit-loop, but she had felt Annie’s energy, just as Dawn had insisted she would. Buffy sighed in resignation. “We thought you might have some ideas about how Annie could use that power to, you know, help Karma along when it needs a hand to keep the … cosmic energy flowing … or whatever.”


Gertie studied the three visitors in silence for what seemed an eternity. Buffy thought she was gonna toss them out for their small subterfuge, but then the witch nodded.


“I be needin’ t’ talk with the child … alone,” Gertie said, standing up from the cushion the same way she’d sat down – with practiced, easy grace. “Join me in the garden, a ghrá?” she asked, looking at Annie.

Annie looked at Dawn and then her mom. Buffy nodded her permission and Annie got to her feet. Gertie led Annie into the back garden – the one with the windmill. The sun was just setting, and the sky and water all seemed to be on fire, painted in reds, yellows, and oranges, as Annie followed the witch to a wide, smooth wall that lined the cliff. Gertie sat down on the wall, lifted her legs up, and turned around. She dangled her bare feet over the side, high up above the water and rocks below, and Annie copied her.


After a few moments of listening to the sea crash against the waves and the windmill turn lazily in the fading, evening breeze, Gertie said matter-of-factly, “Your mam reckons me to be off my bloody nut.”


“Oh, no!” Annie protested, vehemently, shaking her head. “I’m sure she doesn’t think…”


Gertie gave the girl a wry, slightly crooked smile, stopping her. Annie rolled her eyes and shrugged. “She’s not very … theoretical … or theological. She’s more into hard facts. If she can’t beat it up, then it’s not really on her radar.”


“A Champion she is … a Slayer,” Gertie agreed. “Tis their Calling – their nature.”


Annie shrugged again as she kicked her heels nervously against the limestone block of the wall, first one, then the other, in a quick, 1-2-3, rhythm. Her sneakers hit the heavy stone, bounced off, then fell back again – she could feel it vibrate her body more than hear it. Thud, thud, thud … thud, thud, thud … thud, thud, thud…


“And you, lass? Where does your mind lie?”


Annie shrugged again, looking down at the rocks and water far below. After a few moments she looked back up at the witch. “I go to a special school that focuses on world studies … languages and cultures. Part of what we study is different religions,” she admitted. “We weren’t supposed to talk about our own religion ‘cos of all that church and state stuff … but I thought it was pretty interesting. I was glad we didn’t have to say our own beliefs though – I don’t know what I would’ve said. Agnostic, I guess … or Slayerism.” Annie laughed and rolled her eyes.


Gertie laughed as well, a melodious chortle of amusement which made her eyes morph momentarily from the bright green to a rich, dark honey color, then back again.


“There are a lot of religions that believe in reincarnation,” Annie continued. “It seems as valid as any other idea to me. I don’t see why we couldn’t be a beet. Especially when you think of it as life-force. It’s kinda interesting to think about, really … and a little overwhelming. It makes you feel pretty small in comparison to all those possible realms or levels ... universes or whatever.” Annie shrugged again. “I just don’t know.”


“Ya don’t need t’ know, lass,” Gertie assured her. “But ya gotta be willin’ to accept there’s a force that ties us all t’gether … an energy that flows through us all and through Mother Earth, or I won’t be able t’ help ya tap into that power.”


Annie nodded. “I think I can do that.”


Gertie gave her a reassuring smile, the gap between her teeth showing. “And there’s one other thing: ya gotta be ready to commit … be ready t’ learn, and t’ work. It won’t be a snap o’ the fingers, yeah? Ya got the power inside, a ghrá, but bending it to your will won’t be like anything you’ve ever done. T’ be honest, it won’t be like anything I’ve ever done either. I’ve heard-tell of such energy, but never thought I’d see it with my own eyes.”


Annie looked out over the water and sky, which had fallen dark now. Stars had just begun to twinkle above them, clearly visible with no city lights to eclipse the darkness. She didn’t reply. What if she couldn’t do it? What if Gertie spent time with her – exerted her life-force trying to teach her – and she just wasn’t able to get it?


“Me thinks you may be a bit young for this endeavor just now, a ghrá,” Gertie offered. “But you be knowing, I’ll be here when you’re ready to find your power, lass.”


Annie blinked back tears and nodded, biting her bottom lip, thankful for the out the witch had given her. She didn’t want to let anyone down – not her mom, not Dawn, not Gertie. “Thank you,” she croaked out, trying to keep the tears from her voice.


Gertie gave her a small smile and wrapped a strong, slender arm over Annie’s shoulders, pulling the girl against her side. “All the Earth’s children have a purpose, lass. The Mother will show you when it be time for you to find yours.”


End Notes:


This was gonna be the last Gertie chapter, but now that I've finally got her voice in my head, I think we'll spend a bit more time with her.  I apologize for three chapters with basically no Spike. I promise to make up for it!

Next: Annie meets Mrs. O'Leary.



Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi




From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.



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