An’ Foolish Notion
(the As Others See Us Remix)
Copyright June 2007
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
Doomed. There was no other word for it. They were all doomed.
Buffy sat behind the railing at the second level of the Hyperion Hotel, her knees drawn up in front of her, glowering through the bars at the scene unfolding in the lobby below her. A samurai long-sword hung diagonally across her back, with two shorter ones sheathed at either hip. Stakes were up her sleeves, and more rested in sewn pockets inside the vest she wore; a girl could never carry too many stakes. A knife in either boot, a chain-flail (manriki, Satsu called it) around her waist, holy water bottles in cargo pockets … Any more gear would have compromised her mobility, and she needed to be able to move quickly. Tonight, it all depended on her.
Which was totally not her fault. She’d tried to tell them. But would anybody listen?
Halloween was supposed to be the safest day of the year. The Watchers’ files all said so, and Giles had always faithfully repeated the party line. (She couldn’t actually blame him for the current situation, he hadn’t come with them this time. But still.) Never mind chaos mages, fear demons, and various ookies who just never got the memo: Halloween was safe, because demons were way too genteel to pay attention to human traditions.
Uh-huh. Got it.
Too many people had memories that argued against the Watcher-lore; hence, the eventual habit (unvoiced, but growing into something like tradition) of gathering together on that particular evening, in a place completely under their control. Group solidarity, strength in numbers, plenty of able bodies to watch each other’s backs … Good so far.
Until this year. This year, they had to go and make it a party.
Hello, people? Us? Parties? Disaster? Birthdays were the worst — especially hers — but after just so many apocalyptic Christmases and homecoming dances and fraternity bashes and even a haunted Thanksgiving, you’d think somebody would begin to sense a recurring theme. But no-o-ooo. Why not paint big freaking targets all over themselves?
She hadn’t literally said that, but maybe she had thought it too loud. (Wow, cool idea, Buffy! Let’s do that, everybody!) As if in defiance of past history, the decision had somehow been made that it would be a costume party.
Cue the Twilight Zone theme.
At the first suggestion of costumes, Buffy had announced flatly, “You want a masquerade? Fine. I’ll dress up as a Slayer. A heavily armed Slayer. So start picking out decorations that won’t clash with lots of weaponry.”
A wet blanket tossed square into the middle of the party plans. Only, instead of a fizzle, it had somehow morphed into inspiration. Come as you are … with irony.
It was Xander who started the wacky-ball rolling — wow, gee, never saw that one coming! — by announcing he’d be dressed as a pirate, or maybe Sergeant Fury. (Andrew’s protest that Fury didn’t start wearing the eye-patch till after his Howling Commando days was airily waved away; Xander had never let his imagination be confined by troublesome facts.) Unexpectedly, though, Angel was the next to seize on the notion, and the rest fell in with an eager enthusiasm that had Buffy wondering darkly about idiocy spells.
Maybe the whole thing was a stress reaction. That wouldn’t make it any less insane, but at least it offered a plausible alternative explanation. After Angel had argued her into letting him stay for the final battle with the First, it had only made sense for him to put up the busload of refugees at the Hyperion until further plans could be worked out. Before then, he and Buffy had carefully kept their worlds separate for four solid years; with one more joint apocalypse behind them, though — and with the bonds that had formed between Team Angel and the battle-dazed Scoobies in their mutual grieving over the comatose Cordelia — the decision had somehow been made that they would all get together periodically. And they had … but the visits hadn’t always gone smoothly.
Not her fault. She hadn’t known that the mysterious-and-disturbingly-hot Drogyn Battlebrand was actually an imposter named Lindsey McDonald, or that he was using her in some subtle game against Angel. And she had not had sex with him just for revenge on her ex; that had been an even worse surprise for her than for Angel. It had left ugly memories, though, and along with the other stuff that had cropped up meanwhile and since — Gunn’s unexpected animosity toward Robin, whatever had been the misunderstanding between Fred and Willow, Andrew’s awful mishandling of the situation with Crazy Dana — they’d had to work through more than a few issues.
It hadn’t stopped Angel from sending Lorne and Wesley to salvage that mess in Orvieto, though, or Buffy and Faith and a dozen other Slayers from helping him take down the Circle of the Black Thorn once Angel had decided it was time to move. (And who would have expected Fred to be the powerhouse in that particular battle? Note to self: with or without magic mojo, freaky intelligence is not to be underestimated.) They were still two separate groups, but the ties between them had continued, gradually and haltingly, to strengthen.
So here they were again. Back at the Hyperion. At a freaking is-everybody-out-of-their-minds-here costume party.
Below her, the proceedings continued with awful inevitability, and she could only watch, appalled but queasily fascinated.
There was a heavy movie theme going, or at least a strong pop-culture influence. Angel was decked out in full Dracula regalia (the Bela Lugosi version, not the one who’d brought his own castle to Sunnydale): crimson-lined cape, red sash across his chest, lips rouged and hair moussed flat with an exaggerated widow’s peak added in what looked like eyeliner. Nor did it end with the costume, he was acting every bit as goony as the worst of the descriptions Willow had reported from telephone conversations with Cordelia. Who would ever have guessed that the gorgeous, brooding hunk in the leather jacket and white wife-beater would turn out to be such a world-class dork?
Gunn had harkened back to his past history as a vampire fighter, and donned black leather and other accessories to come dressed as Blade. It looked good on him; in fact, Gunn looked seriously damned sexy. He couldn’t have pulled it off as well back when he kept his head shaved, but since he’d recently let his hair grow out again, it was simple for him to clip it in the style Wesley Snipes had used in the movie series. The tattoos, she presumed, were temporary, but the ninja-to was no cinematic prop, her practiced eye picked it out as a serious working tool, probably drawn from the armory Angel had accumulated over the years. The muscles in his bare arms and chest, too, were a lot more ripped than she remembered; he must have put in some dedicated workout time once he’d said goodbye to his stint as a Wolfram & Hart courtroom warrior.
Wesley looked good, too, but Buffy couldn’t understand his choice of costume. If her memory was right (and there was no way she could be sure, she came from a generation that thought of the Breakfast Club as a golden oldie), he was decked out like Gary Cooper in High Noon. It suited him — the crisp, formal vest, the string tie, the elegantly shaped Stetson, the sheriff’s star on his chest — but why would Wesley Wyndham-Pryce see himself as a Wild West lawman? There had to be a story there, it was just a matter of deciding if she cared enough to find out what it was.
Faith … was Faith. With the leather jacket and motorcycle boots, maybe she was supposed to be a biker chick, but she’d dressed outrageously enough in the past that she didn’t really look all that different from usual. Hot as hell, happy and wild, comfortable (finally) with people who cared about her … When disaster hit, as it inevitably would, Buffy was confident she’d be able to toss Faith a spare sword and have instant backup, the other Slayer never totally let down her guard, but right now she was about as relaxed as Buffy had ever seen her.
There was music, though she didn’t recognize what was playing at the moment. There were jack-o-lanterns with wavering candles behind carved snaggletoothed grins. There was a tub where you could bob for apples if you wanted to make a total fool of yourself. Faith and Gunn were dancing together, looking like the opening act for some hardcore S&M. Angel was passing out cups of the punch, loudly and endlessly repeating the Lugosi line, “I do not drink … vine.” And, oh my God, here came Andrew in round black-framed glasses and Gryffindor robes, his forehead showing a lightning-bolt scar in pink lipstick.
Oh, yeah. Definitely doomed.
Andrew was looking around with eager enthusiasm, and Buffy ducked back further from view. She couldn’t bear the thought of facing all that dweeby effusiveness (honestly, how could someone so totally ineffectual make you want so badly to run in the other direction?), so this was probably a good time to do another search for whatever calamity was guaranteed to be gathering itself.
She started with a sweep of the Hyperion’s kitchens. What would it be? demon roach infestation? portal into some slime dimension? hidden room with a horde of mystical ninjas waiting to spring out? The possibilities ran a lot farther than that, and she might not be able to imagine them all, but she swore by every bad holiday she’d had to live through over the past ten years, she’d be ready for them!
Nothing. Most of the rooms and equipment weren’t used at all; some hadn’t been touched since the brief influx of new Slayers after the swallowing of Sunnydale. Buffy could remember Chao-Ahn setting a toaster on fire — yes, right there, you could still see the scorch marks on that wall — and for an instant she was surrounded by memory-ghosts: a myriad of young girls, bursting with power and exuberance and giddy with the joy of finding themselves still alive after living for so long with the certainty of their own deaths …
Of course, they were the ones who had survived. Too many ghosts weren’t here at all because they’d never made it as far as the Hyperion.
She shook away the unexpected stab of melancholy, and moved on. Mopey Buffy was neither a cheery companion nor a vigilant sentinel. And tonight’s gathering truly was a beacon for catastrophe, so she needed to keep a sharp eye out, not waste her time wallowing in regret over things she still didn’t see how she could have done any better.
Not much left on the ground floor that she hadn’t already covered. She might do a follow-up sweep later, but Buffy decided she’d take a look at a few of the upper levels first. Some of those rooms probably hadn’t been opened in close to sixty years, no telling what kind of hell-spawned scroty-ness might be percolating in them. She started across the lobby, automatically glancing through the glass of the double doors to be sure that no orc armies were gathering on the grounds outside, and likewise marking Andrew’s position so she could steer wide of it —
Willow caught her just before she could make it to the main stairs. “Hey, Buffy!” she called, with revolting chirpiness. “They said you were around somewhere. So, what do you think?”
It was never a good thing to feel on your face the blank called-on-in-class-while-daydreaming-about-Ryan-Phillippe look that was supposed to have been outgrown, oh, forever ago. “Think? About what?”
Willow gave her a quick grin, raised her arms above her head, and twirled. “Ta-daa!” she said.
Ah. Costume. Willow was wearing a smart little black dress, heels, a single string of pearls, a frilly apron; her hair was fuller somehow, flipped up at the ends in a way Buffy couldn’t remember seeing on her before, and, oh! she hadn’t caught it till now because of the party lighting, but Willow had gone blonde. What in the world —?
“Wait, wait, you haven’t seen the whole thing yet.” Willow set herself, tilted her head, and abruptly twitched her mouth in a quick, familiar motion, to the accompaniment of a five-note sound effect.
“Okay, I get it,” Buffy said. “Bewitched. So is the hair a glamour, too?”
Willow looked wounded. “Well, sure. You know I’d never dye my hair.”
Right, because nobody was supposed to remember that it hadn’t been anywhere near so red when Buffy had first come to Sunnydale. Still, you didn’t argue with someone who could change the jetstream across North America with a temper-tantrum; at least, not over hair color. “Does this mean all the Glinda costumes had already been rented out?”
“Pshaw!” Willow said. (Yes, she actually said the word. With the ‘p’ clearly enunciated.) “Samantha was the first modern witch. She broke new ground for all of us, and I for one am honored to honor her.” The mock-severity fell away, and she grinned. “This was a great idea, Buffy! Look, everybody’s having a wonderful time!”
“Good,” Buffy said. “I’m glad.” Glad nobody took me seriously. Glad my absolutely sincere warning was turned into a party theme. Check me out, I’m just skipping for joy. “Look, I need to visit the ladies’ —”
She stopped. She had one foot on the stairs, her getaway was nearly accomplished, but she simply couldn’t move until she had an explanation for what she was seeing. “Willow?”
Her friend smiled at her. “Mm-hmm?”
“Why is Fred wearing a fur sarong? And —” She looked closer. “And a chicken bone in her hair?”
Willow followed Buffy’s gaze, and clapped her hands in delight. “Oh, that’s priceless!” At Buffy’s still-bumfuzzled expression, she said, “Don’t you see it? She’s Wilma Flintstone!”
“Oh.” Buffy shook her head, frowning. “And how is that supposed to show us the inner Fred?”
“Well, because she used to live in a cave,” Willow explained.
And once again Buffy was staring. “She did? Why? I mean, I know she’s from the South, but —”
“From Texas,” Willow corrected. “Not Southern at all. No, this was all a big ‘lost in another dimension waiting to be rescued’ deal. Which Angel did. Rescue her. From there.”
“Oh,” Buffy said. “Okay.” She started up the stairs.
“It’s really great that she can laugh about it now,” Willow called after her.
Willow was always just a bit too eager when it came to Fred, as if she could make things right by insisting that they already were. Buffy privately felt it would take more than that to smooth things over between the two of them — while there had been no serious hostilities after the initial explosion, the armistice had been long and chilly — but, again, it was better not to say such things aloud. On the positive side, Willow had shown significantly more discretion in her personal life since the (cause still unknown) falling-out, which was a welcome relief from the somewhat overpowering self-assurance she had picked up from Kennedy.
There was no occult activity on the upper floors, unless terminal mildew rated as supernatural (which would actually not have been the most unlikely thing Buffy had ever faced). The elevator shafts were likewise omen-free. She drew up short of scouting the roof, contenting herself with making sure the access doors were thoroughly secured; at each of the hallway-end windows, though, she surveilled the exterior grounds and fire escapes.
The Hyperion remained stubbornly threatless, but at least she’d done what she could. She went back to the main staircase, stopping at the railing to look down at the revelers in the lobby.
Faith was dancing with Angel now, that customary panther-grace sharply diminished by her being bent almost double with laughter: incredibly, Angel truly was as bad a dancer as Buffy had been warned, at least when he tried for anything more modern than a waltz. Wesley was likewise taking a turn with Fred, his obvious adoration of her giving him a kind of solemn dignity, while Fred’s dancing was jerky and unrhythmic and visibly irrelevant to the fun she was having. Willow was determinedly paying them no attention, talking with suspicious animation to Gunn while Andrew fidgeted at her elbow, no doubt bursting with some geek-king observation of his own.
She and they might as well have been in different universes. Were they really that oblivious, or just in bottomless-deep denial?
There was a sound behind her, a whisper of feet on carpet, and she was already lowering the sword by the time she finished her turn: Dawn, it was just Dawn, regarding her with a smile of familial indulgence. “Sure you’re carting enough hardware there, sis? Because I’ll bet we could scrounge up a minigun from somewhere.”
Buffy shook her head. “You know, as soon as I could see you were going to be taller than me, I should have smothered you. I kept telling myself that, I just never got around to doing it.”
“Well, peroxide does slow down brain function.” Dawn moved up beside her, leaning on the rail to survey the festivities in the lobby. “So, it looks like this party is one beast that even you can’t slay.”
“Give me time,” Buffy returned darkly. “Everything has a weak point.”
“I won’t say you’re wrong about this,” Dawn told her. “You’ve got the Slayer instincts, and the track record to back them up. But we’re none of us novices anymore, and we can’t spend our lives on red alert.” She laid one hand over her sister’s. “We’re always looking at one hell-threat or another. Who says we can’t enjoy ourselves a little while we wait for the next one to pop up?”
Buffy sighed, and inspected Dawn head to toe. The younger girl was wearing a light, knee-length dress made up of layers of some sheer, gauzy material, with filmy sleeves and a (for Dawn) relatively high neckline. Her only accessories were ankle-strap sandals and a rather robust necklace. Her hair was brushed to glossy brilliance, and she stood with an easy elegance that was only emphasized by its being unstudied and automatic. She was chic, poised, and heartbreakingly beautiful. Whatever happened to the pigtails and scabby knees?
“You look great,” Buffy said almost grudgingly. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a costume, though.”
The sudden grin made her sister look five years younger. “That’s because I haven’t made my entrance yet. Watch.”
She took hold of one of the stones of the necklace, and squeezed. The layers of her dress stirred and shifted, then began to rise and swirl lazily around her like streamers of smoke; a vague, subtle glow appeared and grew stronger, and within ten seconds Dawn was surrounded by what appeared to be restless, undulating currents of green energy.
“Okay, that’s just creepy,” Buffy said. “I get it, but it’s still creepy. And how do we know the amulet isn’t dangerous?”
“It’s not an amulet,” Dawn corrected her. “It’s a control band. In fact, it isn’t even magic. Fred worked it up for me, some kind of ionization effect. Is this cool, or what?”
“It’s cool,” Buffy admitted. “If they give a prize for best costume, you’ll probably win.”
“Unless they’re judging on sex appeal,” Dawn said. “If they are, Gunn’s a shoe-in. Woo! He has really been toning up!”
“Am I going to have to kill him?” Buffy wondered musingly. “Or just lock you in your room till you turn forty?”
“You’re fighting the tide, sis.” Dawn hugged her sister. “But, just for you, I’ll make sure the video stays off the Internet.”
“Devil sibling,” Buffy said.
“Learned from the best.” Dawn stepped away from the railing. “You coming down? I think people are starting to worry.”
Buffy snorted. “About time!”
“No,” Dawn said, shaking her head. “I mean, worry about you.”
Not unexpected, but it still stung. “I believe I’ll make a few more sweeps first,” Buffy said. “You know how this stuff works: I relax, I let down my guard, and then the cake explodes and hex-blasts start ricocheting off the walls. We’ve been through this so many times, they might as well print programs. This time, though, I won’t be the one walking around with the KICK ME sign. You want to tempt fate, go ahead; I’ll be here to start the counterattack and say I told you so.”
Dawn sighed. “You remember your 21st birthday, when nobody could leave the house and that thing was popping in and out of the walls, trying to kill whoever it could reach?”
“Oh, yeah,” Buffy said. “The Party That Wouldn’t Die. And people wonder why I hate birthdays. No, I’m not about to forget a frolic-filled event like that. Which is why I don’t want to see any such thing happen again.”
Dawn gave Buffy a tilted look, and one of those tiny smiles that said what came next was to be taken with a grain of humor. “I’m just saying, right now you’re making me nostalgic for those days. You want to stay alert, go ahead, but lighten up some, okay? Smile a little. ’Cause Mom was right: your face really is starting to stick that way.”
She was halfway down the staircase before Buffy could even attempt the requested smile. It wasn’t fair, making her feel guilty for trying to be responsible. Why was everybody ganging up on her?
She shook her head sharply, reminding herself to focus. Let’s see … Sewer access, Angel would be sure to have sewer access in any place he used as headquarters, which meant something else might be able to use it as an entrance. Deliberately turning her attention from the party in the lobby, Buffy began to look for a way to whatever basements this place had.