Some people wonder what their reason for living is. They want to know if there’s a plan for them, if they have a destiny. I have two. I was born with two jobs to fulfill, two things to do, two things to be. Except I didn’t know of the second one until I woke up at fifteen and the whole world was different. Sometimes I still think it’s some sort of fluke, that second job, that second power. The first one, on the other hand, that’s something I’ve been prepared for since…forever. It was the first thing I knew and it’s going to be the last one, too.
So this is who I am. Buffy Summers, vampire slayer. And Buffy Summers, one of the five heirs left of the ten families of the Covenant, the wielders of the power of hell since ages unknown.
Funny enough, it’s the first one that seems like a fluke.
Burn the Witches
Buffy listened half-heartedly to her peer stumble and fumble through a report on the witch hunts of Salem. He had transcripts of orders of execution, numbers and figures.
The class sat slouched low in their chairs, not paying much attention and even the teacher looked bored. No-one cared. History was boring and everyone had heard of Salem before. Except they hadn’t.
Numbers, figures, a few names on a list. It made Buffy sick to listen to it. Made her sick because she had grown up with The Book of Damnation for bedtime stories. Births and deaths, those who fled and those who were tortured, the families that were torn apart, the innocents that were slaughtered.
She’d been five the first time Mr. Danvers had taken her down into the hidden chamber under the old mansion and showed her the book. She hadn’t understood the words yet but the pictures she’d understood just fine. To her, Salem was real. The numbers the kid at the front of the class was stammering about were names, faces, people.
Why? Simply because for the families of the Covenant, their past was as important as their present. They learned from the mistakes of their ancestors. Learned about the need for secrecy through the stories of the four lines that had ended in the fires of Salem.
There had been ten lines once, five patrilineal, five matrilineal. No-one knew when the pact, the first Covenant, had been signed, just like no-one remembered the details. What the Sons and Daughters brought with them to the New World was only the basic outline of how their ancestors had gained their powers and Buffy knew every word of it by heart.
At the beginning there was no Garden of Eden. Instead there was hell on earth and humans were slaves to the demons ruling the planet. Eventually, the demons were ordered back into hell to hide from their rebellious servants, but many refused to heed the call and go back to where they’d come from.
Ten humans, five men and five women, called upon the Devil himself to make a pact with him. He would give them the power of hell and in return they would banish those demons that had refused to leave. They indebted themselves and their lines forever to the Lord of Hell in return for the power to protect their families and people. The Devil agreed and through the ages, five females and five males carried within themselves from birth the fires of hell, the ability to exorcise demons back to where they came from. Ten people with the power to protect. Ten people who were the Covenant.
And always did their people care for them and keep them safe in gratitude for the protection they received. But there was a downside to the pact. Channeling hellfire through human flesh destroys the host. Every time the ten used their powers, they aged. It was the price they paid for the good of all.
But eventually most demons were gone and those that remained were forgotten and all that remained with the people was the knowledge that there were ten families with unparalleled power. Ten families with the power to rule the world.
And saviors became monsters. Witches. Warlocks. Evil. So they fled to the New World in hopes of living a peaceful life and maybe finding a new reason for their existence. Purpose, other than the fire burning inside of them.
They didn’t. The hate and fear followed them across the ocean and four of the ten families went up in flames.
What was left were four male lines and two female lines. The males decided to stay in their homes and houses, but to keep secret what they were. They formed a new Covenant, one of silence, to protect their families and themselves. Their names were Danvers, Sims, Parry and Garwin.
The females were angry though. They had lost their sisters and they refused to stay and protect the people that had killed them. Instead they left. They traveled the world together. For generations the two families never settled anywhere until one day, one of them got tired of constantly running.
The two Daughters of their generation fought, turning the power against each other and one managed to mortally wound the other. But while the woman lay dying she cursed the one she had called sister, cursed her whole line to never give birth to a female again so the power would forever remain dormant and the family would have to live with the shame of remembering that it had failed. The woman who died was called Seymour. The one who lived was called Summers.
It had taken over two hundred years for the curse of the dying woman to wear down enough for the power to take control once more.
Hank Summers had, the second his daughter was born, given the order to pull the old Summers mansion in Ipswich out of hibernation. He had uprooted his wife and his business to move across the continent and raise his daughter, the first Summers Daughter in centuries, alongside the Sons of Ipswich.
Hank was not stupid. He knew that even though the old family lore had never died and he knew of the potential he carried within himself, that he could never raise a true Daughter. Not without the help of someone who possessed the power.
His wife hadn’t quite known what hit her when her young and charming husband had suddenly ordered her to shut up about the move and simply do it for the sake of their daughter. Joyce hadn’t been happy, but she’d done as he asked of her. It had, in a way, been the beginning of the end for her and Hank.
Four months to the day after Buffy Anne Summers was born Hank Summers rang the doorbell of the Danvers Mansion and asked to speak with William Danvers. He had left Joyce at home but carried his baby girl with him into William’s study where he introduced himself. He was pleased to see a spark of recognition in the other man’s eyes as he said ‘Summers’.
Then he pulled a sleeping baby out of her carrier, held her up for inspection and said, “I present Buffy Anne Summers, Daughter of the Covenant.”
The rest was, as they say, history.
Buffy sighed as she slid lower in her chair and played idly with her pencil. She only knew what Hank had done from the stories Mr. Danvers had told her and the boys about how the Covenant had regained the fifth family.
Only a few weeks after Mr. Danvers and the other Sons had agreed to help raise her, Caleb had been born. He’d been two weeks old when wee little Buffy had rolled on top of him and tried to shove her tiny fist into his even tinier mouth. He had flailed wildly, hitting her with a stuffed elephant and they had both started to scream at the tops of their little voices. After that, they’d been inseparable.
Pogue had joined their little club two months later, Reid another three months after that and Tyler only weeks before Buffy’s first birthday. They had learned to crawl together, to speak, to walk, to climb stairs and catch butterflies, to terrorize their mothers into more dessert. They had also learned how to read together and they had learned spells together and read The Book of Damnation together and had nightmares together.
Buffy could not recall a single day of her childhood where she had not seen the boys or at the very least talked to them. Even when one of them was sick, which rarely happened, they spent hours on the phone, talking with each other. For a long time, they had not understood that they were in fact separate beings. They were always BuffyandTylerandReidandCalebandPogue, echoes of their powers pinging between them long before they could consciously access them.
Caleb hit his head and Tyler cried, Pogue shoved Reid and Buffy yelled at him, Reid tickled Tyler and Pogue laughed. Their mothers quickly got used to setting out five plates instead of one, of wrestling five children into pajamas and making them brush their teeth.
And if they sometimes had to tuck themselves in because their fathers were away on business and their mothers couldn’t quite stand looking at them, well.
That was just the way the Covenant families had always worked. Those with the power did their thing, loving nothing and no-one but the power and each other even as they withered away. And their spouses, male or female watched helplessly as the people they loved turned into dried husks with no trace of their former glory while struggling to raise children they knew were genetically engineered to end up exactly like their parents, to pass on the power and bitterness of their line, to again love nothing but the hellfire singing in their veins.
Buffy wondered sometimes, if things had been different before the Covenant lost its original purpose. Did direction and a target make it easier to focus? Easier to hold on?
The power of the Covenant inside of them, that flash of hellfire that turned her eyes black, the infinite possibilities it represented…that was everything.
If you give away your power, you give away your life. That’s what they had been taught. Because the power was what they were, from the moment they turned thirteen on. There was nothing else left. The power was their air, their water, their bread, their…everything.
They had tried to not Use once when they’d all been around fourteen. Tyler had managed longest. He’d gone ten days without Using at all. By the end of the tenth day he’d been shaking, shivering, running a fever and looked more dead than alive. Then he’d fixed his broken computer, turned Reid’s hair green and magic-ed away Buffy’s clothes and he’d been as good as new.
There was no way to describe how it felt to Use the power. No way to put it into words. It was like every time Buffy Used, another piece fell into place and she became a bit more whole. Her ascension on her eighteenth birthday had been the worst and best thing in her life. If she didn’t Use, all the pieces slowly fell away until she was just a wreck of herself, not Buffy anymore.
It was a miracle, if she thought about it, that none of the families had died out simply for a lack of heirs. But then they always found their spouses when they were young, before the power took them over completely. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have a long family history to look back on and learn from. Hell, some of them probably thought they’d do better, get out. Break the cycle.
Buffy knew better. All of her generation did. They were playing for time, nothing more.
“Huh?” Buffy jerked upright in her chair, looking around wildly only to find Xander grinning down at her. The other students were already leaving the room, she’d been too deep in her thoughts to notice that the class had ended.
And for a second, as she came back to the land of the here and now, the temptation to thrust out her hand and fling one of her best friends away from her with a wave of power, to smash him against the far wall like a bug, was almost too big to resist. She had to close her eyes and concentrate like hell to avoid public man slaughter, simply because Xander had dared surprise her.
“You alright, Buffster?”
She nodded slowly, flashing her friend a quick smile as she grabbed her things. “Sorry. I totally zoned out there.”
“I noticed,” he commented as he offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet, slinging an arm around her shoulder. She gritted her teeth and allowed it.
Keep the secret. Do not harm innocents. Do not Use in public. Do not give in. Don’t ever relax or let go or be who you are. Deny yourself at every turn.
It was what she had lived with for all her life, the knowledge, the power, the seductive call of darkness. The power they possessed, that was given to them on their thirteenth birthday, was the power of hell. It was the one thing demons really feared, aside from the slayer and a few other creatures with the ability to cause them harm.
And the only thing keeping the Sons and Daughters from spinning totally out of control, from giving in to the whispers in their mind and never looking back, were the rigid rules that were imprinted on the backs of their eyelids from day one on and the hold they offered each other.
And unlimited potential for disaster.
That’s what it meant to be Covenant.
Hours later Buffy grunted as she landed back first in a tombstone twice her size. She rolled under the foot coming her way and ducked past another grave before finally rolling to her feet only to jump back in order to avoid another kick aimed at her chest.
The demon she was fighting didn’t look like much, but damn, it was fast. Old too, if she had to guess. Smart.
She flipped backwards, bringing her booted feet up in a mean kick to the jaw, landed and got in a right hook as well before her opponent shook off the dizziness and was fully back in the fight.
Even though she’d never admit it to any of her friends in Sunnydale, she loved patrolling. Not the way Faith did, mind you. Faith loved kicking the crap put of something, loved the feeling of power it gave her. If Buffy had to guess she’d say the girl had major control issues, especially when it came to men.
No, what Buffy felt when she was battling a demon had little to do with being a slayer. Fighting was what came natural to the slayer, to Faith, but it was the demon part of the equation that made the blonde’s heart beat faster.
The Covenant was meant to do exactly this, to fight demons, to destroy them and exorcise them from this plane. But the true demons had been gone from earth for a long time, leaving behind parasites and half breeds, more human than demon. The Sons and Daughters had lost their purpose. They’d become obsolete. An elite demon hunting squad with nothing left to hunt. It was no wonder most of them went around the bend at some point.
And yet they still existed. Sure, every now and then they had some work to do but most of the time…. They still learned their lessons, they knew their history and their spells, but the hell fire in their veins was never quite satisfied. It wanted blood. Demon blood.
And even though Buffy could hardly ever Use while fighting, the fact that she was doing what she was well and truly born for, not only chosen, was a feeling like few others. Now if only she could have her boys with her.
She ducked past a flailing arm and delivered a sharp elbow to the demon’s chest, shoving it back a few feet. She took a step back to get out of the thing’s reach and waited for it to come back.
She did, however, miscalculate as the demon used its tail to shoot forward again much faster than anticipated, ramming both fists into her ribcage at an angle that sent her flying even as she could feel her ribs shatter.
A second later she hit the side of a mausoleum with a sickening crash as more bones broke. She’d seriously underestimated this opponent. And yet, as she slid to the ground, the power inside her unfurled, turning her eyes black as night as her bones realigned and healed with the speed of sound. By the time her feet hit the soft graveyard soil again she was fully healed and very pissed off.
From her crouched position she looked up at the demon that had come close to finishing her off. The green humanoid jerked back as if bitten the second it met her black gaze and fear flashed through its every cell.
It recognized her.
“Daughter,” it hissed quietly, almost reverently and so very afraid.
Buffy couldn’t help but grin sharply, baring her teeth. The demon had tried to kill a mere slayer and ended up waking something a lot worse than any one girl. It had drawn all the fury of hell onto itself and it seemed to understand that as it dropped to its knees in front of her, all the fight gone from its face.
“Giving up so easily?” The blonde snarked as she stood, the dirt and blood gone from her clothes and hands with a mere thought. Gods, it had been too long since she’d Used, almost five days. Every cell in her body was begging for her to Use and Use hard.
The demon quirked half a smile. “I have wandered this world for a long time, Daughter. I am not stupid. There is no fighting the Covenant Packs. Especially not if one of them is a slayer. How did that happen?”
She snorted amusedly. “Who knows.”
The demon shook its head. “You’re serving two masters, Daughter. That’s a risky path.”
She was, wasn’t she? She had the Devil’s power inside of her and at the same time was the Powers’ Champion. Funny that.
She gave a short bark of laughter, almost feeling sorry for the demon. It seemed like it was a decent conversationalist. Then she flung her left arm forward, a blast of ghostly energy leaving her palm and hitting the demon in the chest like a train, flinging it backwards into…nothing. With a scream of pain that echoed through the silent cemetery, it was gone. Banished back to hell where it belonged.
Twirling in place, Buffy let more power stream from the tips of her fingers, freeing broken tombstones and cracked trees from any traces of her fight, touching the bodies deep inside the earth, feeling the last remnants of their souls, feeling the grass and the trees and the small animals in them, feeling houses and cars filled to the brim with human lives, so easy to wipe out, so easy. Just like blowing out a candle. If she only blew hard enough…
Buffy pulled back into her own body with a jerk of effort as her eyes slowly turned back to their normal green. The power was receding. She’d won the battle against it one more time. And, damn, it felt good.
With a wide grin she bent to pick up the dagger she’d dropped at the beginning of the fight just as her cell phone rang. She pulled it out of her jacket and flipped it open.
“Hi, Tyler,” she chirped.
“What the hell did you just do? You woke me up all the way across the continent.” He wasn’t mad, just curious. He was the youngest of them all and he knew how to preserve his energy.
“Exorcism,” she offered, unable to keep the smile out of her voice. She felt good.
“That was more than a simply exorcism.” There was some noise at the other end of the line, as someone tried to wrestle the phone from him. A second later Reid’s sleepy voice greeted her, demanding, “Sugar, what’d you just do?”
She rolled her eyes. She loved them both dearly, well, all four of them. But they had a tendency to go overboard with the worrying, especially since she’d moved away from their immediate reach.
“Banished a demon and let loose for about…five seconds. I’m sorry for waking you, guys, but it couldn’t be helped.”
Reid grumbled for a second before accepting her explanation. She could hear him lay back in bed, growling as Tyler complained about this being his bed. Like any of them really respected personal boundaries. Ever.
“Put the speaker on, Reid, let Baby Boy hear,” she ordered, laughter in her voice.
Anyone watching the girl walking out of the cemetery at that moment would have seen a simple teenager chatting with some friends on the phone, laughing at their antics. They would have seen a girl sure of her place in the world and in her friends’ hearts. A girl who was never alone.
That too, was what it meant to be Covenant.
Maybe that demon is right and I am serving two masters. Maybe I’m right and this slayer thing is a fluke. Maybe one day the power will go away and I’ll be no more super human.
I don’t really care.
There are five things in the world that matter, five things that I care about. They are called Caleb, Tyler, Reid, Pogue and hellfire.
That’s all the reason to live I need.
Rules. Rules are a funny thing. They apply to everyone, right? Except, do they apply when you’re not human? Because some people aren’t.
They try to hide it, though. They pretend to be human. They pretend so hard they sometimes almost believe it themselves. But then something happens, something no-one can prepare for and everything they pretend to be falls away and what’s left is nothing but the basics.
And the rules, the rules suddenly don’t apply anymore.
Most people in such a situation ask themselves if what they’re doing is the right thing. I never do. Maybe that’s what makes me so inhuman.
Protect Your Own
It seemed to happen in slow motion. Faith jumping forward, Finch’s eyes growing wide, Buffy screaming and then the stake plunging deep into the man’s chest, hitting his heart with a precision any human would be hard pressed to match.
The blonde slayer didn’t need magic, didn’t need preternatural hearing to know that the man was dying, his heart sputtering and failing to pump blood through his veins, to his brain, into his lungs. Within moments, he would be dead. And she couldn’t allow that.
She shoved Faith away, intentionally hard, not to punish her but to make sure the other girl didn’t see what came next. She knelt in front of the man, eyes burning bright before turning black as she pressed a hand around the stake to his wound and pushed with her power.
She could feel the bleeding slowing under her hand, could feel her magic plugging the wound, curling around his heart, keeping it working for the moment. But she couldn’t heal him. There was too much blood already in his body, too much damage. The dead and the dying were something even the Covenant did not touch upon.
She probably could have found a way to keep the man alive. The power she possessed was almost infinite. But it would have changed him, changed the course of fate. Once someone carried the mark of death, the Sons and Daughters were forbidden from interfering. She was already breaking rules just slowing his death.
But Buffy couldn’t let him die before she knew why he’d been looking for them. And she couldn’t let Faith watch the man she’d killed die. The girl was already too far gone. Being a murderer, Buffy wasn’t sure the other girl could take it. For now though, she pushed the thought away as she concentrated on the man in front of her, hissing deep in his mind, One word about this and I’ll let you die.
It was a cruel thing to say but she couldn’t let him tell her secrets. He nodded, clearly terrified and Buffy announced, “You missed the heart, Faith.”
The second slayer walked up to them, slowly, cautiously. Nervously. “It was an accident. I swear, I didn’t mean to. He was just suddenly there and…”
“I know,” Buffy said, not taking her hand of the still bleeding wound. “I know, Faith, now help me get him up.”
The brunette just stared, uncomprehending. Great, she was losing it. “Faith,” the blonde repeated, voice deeper and louder, hoping to get a reaction. “Help me.”
This time, the younger girl snapped out of it.
Angel’s mansion was three blocks away, four because they had to stick to backstreets but they managed. The second Faith kicked the front door open, Buffy yelled, “Angel, first aid, living room, now!”
They placed the injured man between them on the sofa, ignoring the fact that he had bled all over them and was now staining the furniture. They’d talked to him on the way over, Faith to keep him awake, Buffy to milk as much information from him as she could while his heart still beat. His name was Allan Finch. He was the Deputy Mayor of Sunnydale and he wanted to warn the slayers. Of what they still didn’t know.
Buffy gently slapped him, ordering, “Stay awake, damn it.”
A moment later, Angel came skidding into the room, eyes glowing yellow with the scent of blood already permeating the house.
“What’s…,” He came to an abrupt halt when he realized that it wasn’t the slayers that needed first aid but a human. And one they didn’t know on top of it.
“Buffy, what’s going on?”
The blonde shook her head, grabbing the kit out of her ex boyfriend’s hands. “Help now, questions later. Or at least work while you ask them. I need someone to put pressure on this when I pull out the stake.”
She looked around when both of her friends simply stood and stared. They weren’t really used to Buffy’s take charge attitude, at least outside a fight. Angel because she was usually the good little girl around him and Faith because she simply hadn’t been around long enough for a major crisis to hit.
Rolling her eyes, the blonde snapped, “Now!”
That served to shock the vampire into moving. He stepped behind the human and grabbed one of the towels he kept stacked right next to the First Aid kit, ready to press the wound closed as soon as Buffy removed the wooden stake.
With the ease of someone who’d gotten hurt too often, she cut the clothes away around the wound, making sure the stake had nothing to get tangled up in. She spoke while she worked.
“Alan, I can call you Alan, right? I’ll pull this thing out of you in just a moment. Why don’t you tell me why you were looking Faith and me?”
She dropped the knife she’d used and wiped her hands on her jeans, taking a deep breath. Then she thought better of it and stripped off her jacket. Her shirt was already ruined anyway.
“I need to warn you,” the injured man told her, not quite clear through the pain. She’d numbed it as much as she could but without keeping her eyes permanently black, there was nothing she could do now.
“We had that already,” she pressed on a she knelt back down, ignoring Angel’s gaze. “What do you need to warn us of?”
She put both hands on the stake and –
“The Mayor. He’s going to Asc……aghhhhh!!!”
Angel was there immediately, pressing the wound closed as Buffy dropped the bloody weapon and started digging through the kit for something to disinfect the wound, only to find a slim hand waving it in her face.
Faith was pale, but she seemed to have snapped out of it enough to help.
“Thanks,” the blonde offered her sister slayer as she grabbed it before turning back to her patient, “And you, keep talking.”
“He’s going to do something, tonight,” he hissed as Buffy poured liberal amounts of clear liquid on his gaping chest wound but kept talking. It distracted him. Faith, in a gesture entirely unlike her, grabbed hold on his right hand and squeezed.
“It’ll make him invincible for the next one hundred days.”
“What happens then?” She motioned for Angel to move the man forward so they could wrap the wound. There was no point in waiting for the blood to cease flowing.
Everyone in the room heard the capital ‘A’ and for a second Buffy’s heart stopped as her brain registered the word and put it in the one context she knew it in.
One their eighteenth birthday, a Son or Daughter Ascends and gains their full powers.
Then she realized that couldn’t impossibly be what Finch was talking about and she took a deep breath. This night was getting progressively.
Flinging the bandage she’d been fiddling with at her sister slayer, she stood and pulled her cell phone from her jeans pocket, scrolling down to the first of the four names she was looking for and hitting dial.
Two rings later she stood in front of the blazing fireplace with Angel’s watchful gaze heavy on her shoulders as a deep and comfortingly familiar voice answered.
“Hi Buffy, what’s up?”
She looked up to see Angel had not turned his attention elsewhere and sighed. No names. “Hi yourself. I need help.”
“Want us to come to you?” Caleb’s voice immediately grew worried and despite everything, she smiled at his concern for her.
“No. Just find everything you can about something called the Ascension in combination with one hundred days of invincibility beforehand. Yesterday would be good.”
“Alright. I’m on it.” He hung up without another word, without asking anything or demanding an explanation. Buffy had trouble and he had a way to help so he did it.
Luckily, the Covenant possessed quite a few more rare demonology books than even Giles did. If anyone could find anything useful, it would be the Sons. And they’d be fast about it because Buffy knew without a doubt that the word ‘invincible’ had set off all warning bells in Caleb’s mind, too. Nice people didn’t need to be invincible, after all.
She tucked away the cell only to find Angel standing directly in front of her, blocking her sight of Faith and Finch, although she assumed that they’d done all they could for the man.
“Who was that?” He asked, too low for even a slayer to hear across the room. His voice was tight.
“A friend. How is he?”
Angel pulled her out of the room by the arm and Buffy had to bite her lip to let him. Then he spun to face her, hissing, “He’s dying.”
He seemed to wait for a reaction but a simple nod certainly wasn’t it. “I know.”
“Buffy, what the hell happened?”
She leaned against the wall, wiping her bloody hands on her jeans yet again. It didn’t do any good. “We were patrolling. There were vamps. Finch came out of nowhere and Faith reacted. It was an accident.”
“Why did you bring him here, if you know he’s not going to make it? You’re getting yourself in even more trouble.”
She snorted. “More trouble? You’re funny, Angel. I brought him here because we need to know what he knows before he dies and I couldn’t very well bring him home to Mom. As for trouble, we’ll have to get rid of the body. And not let Faith know what we’re doing.”
The vampire looked shocked. “Buffy, you need to go to the police!”
She blinked at him, incredulous. Did he really believe that, or was it simply what he expected the shining, golden version of her to do? Because a vampire with more than two centuries under his belt should really know better.
“Hello. Did you listen to him,” she finally snapped, shaking off her morbid thoughts, “The Mayor is potentially evil. Going to the police would be like painting a bull’s eye on our backs. Besides, how do we explain why a teenaged girl stabbed a grown man in the heart with a wooden stick? Think, damn it!”
“Buffy,” he tried and that was his reasonable voice. His I-know-better voice. “Okay, you’re right. The police is not an option. But we need Giles and the others on this. We need to research, to plan our next steps. This is above your paygrade.”
She snorted. “I have a plan, I have someone on research, and I’m working out the next step. Don’t you dare turns the others into accessories for murder, Angel.”
She left Angel standing in the corner, wondering just when his girlfriend had turned into the person in front of him. She was colder than the Buffy he knew, more calculated. More ruthless.
The Scoobies joked about her abysmal secret keeping skills, but they had no idea just how many masks she wore every day. Ditzy Buffy, Angel’s Buffy, Giles’ Buffy, Joyce’s Daughter, Vampire Slayer. Each and every one of them was just one more trick to hide behind.
She was a fifth of a whole, part of a machinery made for war and destruction, raised in a world of power and bitterness and death. She hadn’t been innocent since her father had held her up in his arms, proud and naïve, and presented her as a Daughter.
Faith was talking to Finch when the blonde reentered the living room. She was speaking lowly and urgently; apologizing, judging by the tone of her voice. Finch nodded and offered her a weak smile. There was blood at the corners of his mouth. Buffy didn’t need to be a doctor to know that he was slowly drowning in his own blood.
But there was nothing she could do. Nothing but wait.
So she settled next to him on the couch and sifted through the first aid kit for some painkillers. As soon as she found some she sent the younger slayer for a glass of water.
Faith came back with water, Angel hot on her heels and they all settled down.
“We should call Giles,” the vampire finally offered, again. Probably hoping Faith would back him up.
Buffy shook her head without hesitation and shut him down. Again. “No. The fewer people involved, the better for us.” She cast a meaningful look at the dying human at her side. Angel ground his teeth but didn’t speak up again. For now. Hopefully for long enough to get this done.
“But don’t we need like, research and stuff? The G-man would know what to do.” The brunette slayer sounded very young all of a sudden. Young and scared and looking for something to cling to. Angel wrapped an arm around her as the other slayer shook her head yet again.
“I got people already on the research. They’ll get back to me soon and then we’ll make plans.” She reached out to squeeze the younger girl’s hand in her own. “It’ll be alright. I promise.”
The phone rang half an hour later. Buffy simply put the boys on speaker and placed the cell phone on the table. She was in no mood to repeat everything she learned to Angel and Faith.
Caleb’s voice came over the line loud and clear and without any greeting. “We got it.”
There was some shuffling of papers before someone – Reid – sighed and snatched the phone. “Hey, babe.” His voice lacked the usual purr. “The Ascension,” he quoted, “Is the event of a human becoming a true demon. The ritual starts one hundred days prior to the actual Ascension, giving the human invincibility until such a time as it ascends to take on its pure form.”
Buffy grimaced. That didn’t sound too good. She’d read all the stories about true demons, thanksalot. If the Mayor really managed to Ascend, she’d need everyone of the Covenant to defeat it. Better not let it get that far.
“Any advice?” She asked.
Voices in the background and then a snort from Reid while Caleb took back his phone. Despite the circumstances, there was a smile in his voice. “Baby boy says stopping the ritual before its finished should to the trick. Pogue says, I quote, ‘fry his ass or I’ll fry yours’.”
More yelling. Angel was giving the phone on the table an incredulous look. “He also says that the loves you and don’t fuck up.”
The vampire flinched back as if slapped and Faith looked more curious than confused now. Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. I love you, too. I’ll call when this is over.”
“Want us to stay on standby?”
“Nah. He’s still human before the ritual. I’ll be fine.”
“Be careful. A human will be missed.”
“I know.” She let the phone snap shut in her hand and turned to try and wake Finch when Angel’s hand was suddenly on her arm in a vice like grip.
“Buffy,” he hissed, “What are you doing?”
With a tightly controlled glare she pulled her arm out of his grasp. He let her. “I need to know where the Mayor is if I want to stop him.”
“Who were those guys? And what did he mean ‘a human will be missed’?”
The look she gave him was incredulous, but she couldn’t help it. How dumb could he pretend to be? He knew what Caleb had said as well as she did. Be careful where you hide the body.
She took a step back from her ex-boyfriend. “They are friends. People I grew up with. And you know exactly what he meant.”
“You can’t kill a human!”
“Were you listening? The guy’s gonna turn into a true demon! The last time a true demon appeared, it tore down whole cities, Angel. What am I supposed to do, kill one human, or let thousands die? Don’t be naïve.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
She flung up her arms in frustration. Damn Angel, his holier than thou attitude and his guilt and the way he looked at her as if she was precious and golden when she was anything but. Didn’t he understand that this wasn’t about right or wrong? This was about keeping people safe. Keeping everyone safe. It always was. She was going to take Finch’s death onto herself to keep Faith safe. She was going to kill a human to keep the world safe. And if she had to, she would knock out Angel to keep him safe, too. It was what she did, who she was.
Slaying demons was only a tool. Protecting her own was what counted. The Covenant came first, followed by friends and family and the rest of the world. She was not going to let him stop her.
“Great,” she yelled, “What would you do? Stop the ritual, give the guy a slap on the fingers and tell him not to do it again? You of all people should know how these things work. You…”
You had a family to protect once, a clan. You knew about responsibility and protection and how your morals don’t matter. She didn’t say any of it. That had been the Angel before the soul. What did it say about her that she felt closer to him than the souled creature in front of her?
She ran a jerky hand through her hair, all anger suddenly gone. Yelling wasn’t going to get her anywhere. She had a plan almost worked out. If that didn’t work, she could always wipe Angel’s and Faith’s memories. Speaking about Faith…
The girl was standing in the middle of the room, looking unsure of herself and her place in the fight. Buffy motioned for her to sit back down. Reluctantly, they all did.
“Alright. Faith, you need an alibi for tonight. Someone is bound to have seen us around….” She waved a hand in Finch’s direction. “Angel is going to take you into town, catch a late movie or go to the Bronze, I don’t care. Make sure you’re seen. I’ll take care of everything else.”
The younger girl opened her mouth, as if to protest. Buffy waved her off. “I promised, remember? Trust me?”
Maybe it was because no-one had ever offered to protect her, maybe she was just confused or scared or lonely, but Faith nodded and all the tension left her. She would let herself be saved without a fight. Because Buffy had promised. She pitied the younger girl. She deserved someone to teach her what family was supposed to be.
Maybe Angel would do it in her stead when she left.
Because she would. Leave, that is.
Joyce had dragged her here, but she was of age now, and there was another slayer to hold down the fort. Besides, after this, there’d be no living with the Scoobies, Angel or the Council.
Dead human, oh my.
She’d fix this, and then she’d leave. She’d go home.
Angel didn’t want to leave Buffy alone but she didn’t leave him much choice. He knew that Buffy was right when she said Faith couldn’t be allowed to watch Finch die. It would break something inside the girl that was already so fragile. The alibi talk was just a story Buffy had made up to get Faith to play along. She didn’t like lying to Faith but she hoped the girl would forgive her eventually.
And with the blonde slayer gone, the brunette would finally get the attention she deserved and the chance to prove herself.
The second reason Angel left with the other girl was that Buffy had promised him that she wouldn’t do anything. She had sworn, after they’d fought over it for almost an hour, that she wouldn’t touch the Mayor. The ritual, Tyler had called again to tell her, needed to be timed to the position of the moon. They had three more hours left to figure out a plan. So, after the vampire had threatened to call Giles and tell him everything, Buffy had folded and promised to hold still for now.
She almost felt sorry for lying.
She Used to transport herself and a blissfully unconscious Finch into the Mayor’s office. Catching the man unawares, she knocked him out before he had a chance to sound an alarm.
Then she healed all signs of the Deputy Mayor’s wound. She was forbidden from playing with life and death but she was not forbidden from doing this. She wasn’t saving him. She was killing him in a different way.
Then she staged both men to make it look like they had tried to reach the door. Her eyes turned pitch black as she surveyed the scene and then, screwing her eyes shut and thinking of Tyler and Reid getting into a tickle match with Pogue and Caleb to cheer them on, she pushed.
A small chocking sound was all she heard from either man as their air supply was cut off and they suffocated without ever waking up, choking on the smoke from the electrical fire she started in the wiring of the Mayor’s computer. She made sure the fire caught, quickly and thoroughly, to explain the bodies, and then left them there.
It would be enough to fool the police and maybe enough for Angel to keep his mouth shut. Either way, it was the last thing she did as Sunnydale’s official savior.
By sunrise she’d packed her things, called her father, bought a car and left letters for those that would miss her. They were few. Angel because she needed him to not tattle on her. Faith because the girl needed to know someone gave a shit. Giles and the others mainly because they would never stop looking for her otherwise. There was no need to tell her mother she was leaving. Deep down, Joyce had always known that her daughter didn’t belong to her. She’d know where Buffy was going and she wouldn’t miss her. The Council received a very brief call as well, informing them that the slayer belonged to the Covenant and they’d better leave her alone.
Even a bunch of arrogant British assholes knew better than to mess with the servants of hell.
Just like that, she was free. It was anticlimactic and long overdue.
All that was left was to figure out what she would do until the new school year started in New England.
Why did I do it? Why did I kill two humans in one night?
Finch was already dead. I just made his death worth a damn. And Wilkins was a danger, a threat to me and mine. I eliminated the threat. It’s what I was raised to do.
Protect. Keep the secret. Stick together.
Those are the rules I live by. The only rules I live by. I’m not human. I’m Covenant. I haven’t been raised to make compromises or show mercy. I do what needs doing, end of story. The others won’t ever understand that. I don’t expect them to, to be honest. There are eight other people in the world who do, the older generation of Sons and my boys. They’re all I ever needed or wanted.
That’s why it’s probably a good thing I’m leaving.
When I was a child, Mrs. Parry kept taking us to the zoo on Sunday afternoons. The boys all liked the lions and gorillas best. I liked the wolves.
They were a pack, a family. Once, one of them hurt itself and was put in a separate enclosure and the look in its eyes as it stared in the direction of its pack mates was dead. Lost.
Wolves hunt in packs. They protect, they care, they defend. They are one soul in many bodies. Wild and free and unrestrained. You cannot tame a wolf. You can only kill it.
Alone, a wolf is nothing. Among its kind, it can terrify the world.
I look into the mirror sometimes and I expect to see fur and claws. I expect there to be five of me.
Gorman was a normal human. He had no special powers. Yet he knew the exact moment the Daughter returned. William’s eyes lit up with happiness and relief. They only ever did that when one of the Covenant members returned home safely. All the others were accounted for.
And then the sun set and the old young man in his chair threw back his head and laughed roughly, drunkenly.
The call echoed across the county, unrestricted, unstoppable and heard only by eight people. Four of them threw their heads back and rode the heady rush of power that washed through them, letting it give them the high they were all addicted to. When the call abated enough for them to breathe again, they all smiled vaguely, remembering a time when they had been their sons’ ages.
The other four dropped whatever they were doing and headed toward the origin of the call, like moths to a flame.
Pogue was the first to arrive, leaving his motorcycle at the gate of the dilapidated old building that had once been the Danvers mansion. He parked his bike, took off his helmet and stripped off his jacket. It was only going to slow him down. Wallet and keys were wrapped into the garment and left behind as well. They would only get lost in the woods and no-one was going to steal them out here anyway.
Then, preparations taken care of, Pogue turned toward the edge of the woods behind the mansion and a feral smile spread across his face as his eyes flashed red and then turned pitch black. With a speed and agility that was more reminiscent of a predator than a human he vaulted over the crumbling stone wall and took off at full speed.
A moment later he was out of sight.
Caleb didn’t bother driving all the way up to the mansion. He simply parked his car at the edge of the dirt road and climbed out, head thrown back to take in the scents and sounds of the night. There was a throbbing center of power right in front of him, half a mile into the woods and three other pulsing knots were moving toward it. Like wolves circling their prey.
With a flash of black and red, Caleb took off. Within seconds he was surrounded by trees and had to twist and turn at impossible angles to avoid crashing as he ran at breakneck speed. He jumped ten feet straight in the air instead of rounding a fallen tree and with another boost of power, landed safely on his feet. To his left, he could hear sharp laughter.
Pogue appeared next to him out of the dark, still laughing, leaves tangled in his hair. He playfully banged his hip against Caleb’s and then sprinted ahead as they got closer to their goal.
Tyler and Reid were pushing and shoving each other, turning the run through the woods into a race, a competition. Tyler pushed Reid to the side, forcing him to brake hard in order to avoid hitting a tree. A second later he burst into the clearing and stopped running.
She sat in the rock in the middle of the clearing, just like she always had when they’d been kids, legs dangling, arms spread to catch the night breeze. She smiled at him, eyes as black as his own.
The Son’s grin as he jumped the rock in a single leap was dark and hungry.
They came racing toward her like moths to a flame, answering her call without thought or reason. All they wanted, all they needed, was to get to where she was. She was sitting on top of her old look out, waiting for them, tracking their paths through the forest until Tyler came bursting out of the tree line ahead of the others. Reid followed on his heels. Pogue and Caleb were last, shooting out of the underbrush like bullets.
And then all four of them were there, touching, hugging, kissing, holding her. Whispering words of welcome, words of love and care. Words of completion because they were all just parts of a whole and now, finally, they were all they could be once more.
Gorman finished cleaning their room around midnight and made sure that the back door was unlocked. More than once they had broken the lock in their exuberance.
They came an hour later, five voices, five sets of steps, five young people, shiny and bright in the moonlight. They moved across the grassy field like shadows flitting in and around each other, never slowing, never stopping. Their movements were coordinated and dangerous, smooth and full of power. They were one entity split in five bodies until they tumbled through the door and piled into what had long since become their room.
Then, as soon as they hit the door, they dissolved into five teenagers drunk on power and happiness. They stumbled into their room and dropped, exhausted, as soon as they passed the threshold.
Their room was the smallest in the house, a former maid’s chamber off the kitchen. When Master Caleb and his friends had been just three Master William had taken all furniture out of the room and filled it with mattresses, pillows and blankets. He’d turned it into a play room where it was impossible to get hurt. At least for normal children. Those five had always been different. Even as toddlers there’d carried with them a potential for violence and destruction that sometimes made Gorman shudder. He wasn’t young anymore and chasing after those five trouble makers had added thirty years to his age.
He waited five minutes to give them time to settle down. Then he stepped up to the open door and inspected them. They looked rumpled and definitely needed showers after their romp in the woods but there were no injuries. Like a pile of puppies they had curled up together in the middle of the mattress castle, Miss Buffy at their center, wrapped snuggly in a mess of limbs. They all wore smiles on their faces as they quietly whispered to each other in their own language.
Their eyes, the old groundskeeper noticed as one of them looked up at him, were still black as coal.
Pogue at her back, Tyler at her front, Caleb and Reid playing cocoon to their strange butterfly, Buffy felt as safe as she ever had. There were no words for it, no notion in any human language that covered how she felt. Safe, yes, but also warm, happy, content, high and on edge. Full of life and energy and something darker and achingly sweet. Something powerful.
The power flowing in their veins was one and the same, and whenever they touched it was so close. Right under the surface of their skin, it coiled and hummed, connecting like drops of mercury inevitably rejoined. Seamlessly. Perfectly.
There were hands under her shirt, fingers pressed under the waistband of her pants and in her hair and she could feel them, all of them. The five surviving families of the Covenant. All that was left of the Power on earth. One.
“You’re staying.” That was Reid, stating a fact.
“I’m staying. I’m home.” And she was. For the past months since leaving Sunnydale she had traveled the world, done all she said she’d do but had never gotten the chance to because of her slayerness. She would have liked to take the boys with her, sure, but they had been busy with school and their own lives. She would take them some other times to show them all the wonderful sights she’d seen. After graduation maybe. When they’d all finished their final year at Spencer, her a year later than intended. She didn’t mind the lost year, though. It had always annoyed her that the four of them got to go to school together while she was on her own a year ahead of them, born just before the cut-off.
Her schooling had been the only thing her mother had ever won a fight about. When Hank had told her of his intention to hold her back for a year and then send her to school with the Sons she had threatened to take his daughter away from him by telling the world of his little ‘fantasies’ about magic and demons. Not that she hadn’t done that in the end anyway but there it was.
Her mother had taken Buffy away but she was back, in the same grade as her boys, reunited with them for good. From now on, it would take apocalypses to get her to leave them. End of story.
The last thing she heard before sleep took her, was Caleb’s warm voice whispering in her ear, “Welcome home.”
Melinda Summers lay in bed wide awake, staring at the ceiling. She couldn’t sleep. That wasn’t really surprising considering the fact that she was thirty two years old and had just met her eighteen-year-old step daughter for the first time today.
She had been married to Hank for a year, living with him for almost two. She had heard, from almost everyone she had met in Ipswich, about her step daughter and her friends. All the stories. All the fairy tales. She hadn’t believed them, determined to make her own judgments, her own decisions about the girl.
The first she had made months ago when she had found a message on the answering machine from Hank’s ex-wife, Buffy’s mother. “Hank,” the woman had told the machine, “Buffy ran away again. I think she’s headed your way, fair warning.”
Like anyone needed to be warned of their own child. No panic, no worry. Not even a ‘call me when she gets there’. Nothing. Melinda had decided there and then that she’d be there for the girl. She’d be half mother half friend, trying to make up for whatever neglect the teenager had experienced at her mother’s hands.
The only problem with that was that it had taken Buffy months to get here. The girl had turned her road trip into an adventure without telling anyone about it. And the worst thing was that Hank hadn’t seemed concerned.
“She’s very independent. And mature. My girl can look after herself,” was all he ever said on the subject.
And then today, finally, Buffy had arrived. She’d come in jeans and a t-shirt, looking like any teenager. But she’d come waving papers she needed to fill out to get into Spencer Academy. She’d stopped by the school and taken care of her future before she’d even come home to say hello. She’d done it alone. Without help. Without even asking anyone for anything. Independent. Mature. Melinda suddenly believed her husband’s description of his daughter.
And then she’d greeted her father and step mother, had dinner with them and taken off again. Now, long past midnight, she still wasn’t back.
“We have an agreement,” was all Hank had said when she woke him to tell him his daughter was still absent. An agreement. Buffy took her cell phone with her wherever she went and she came home at least once every twenty four hours. That wasn’t what worried Melinda. No, what worried her was that the agreement was not new and the last time Hank had seen his daughter, she’d been fifteen. Who let their fifteen-year-old do whatever she wanted?
As quietly as possible, Melinda turned and punched her pillow into place under her head. She’d decided to reserve judgment until she met the girl. Now that she had, her impressions were many and varied. Smart. Polite. Mature. Independent. Wild. Careless. Resourceful. Determined. Aimless.
She could tell, even now, that she wouldn’t get very far if she tried to be a mother to the girl. And she wasn’t sure Buffy needed a friend. According to the town gossip, she already had four best friends. And boys, too. But what was she supposed to do?
Even after only a few hours together, the girl was already giving the older woman a headache.
Melinda was wide awake, bone tired and slightly grumpy when Buffy came home and plonked herself down at the breakfast table like she’d only stepped outside for some fresh air, instead of being gone all night. Her clothes were rumpled and there were twigs and a few stray leaves in her ponytail.
When Melinda pointed them out, wondering what the girl had been doing, Buffy scowled and grumbled something that sounded a lot like, “Got them all out, my ass.”
Then she grabbed a handful of grapes from the table and started munching on them just as Hank entered the kitchen. Both women turned and were greeted with a peck on the cheek.
“So, honey, did you have fun with the boys?”
Melinda was pretty sure that sounded wrong, coming out of a father’s mouth. But Buffy nodded and smiled so brightly, she forgot to worry. “Mhm, yeah. We had heaps of fun. They’ll be over in a while, alright?”
Hank nodded and turned to his newspaper. Buffy stood, announcing that she was going to take a very long shower. Melinda just sat there and wondered if the family dynamic in this house really was strange, or if she was seeing things.
An hour later the new Mrs. Summers almost had a heart attack when she came out of the kitchen after cleaning up to find four teenaged boys in full bad-boy regalia standing in her foyer, whispering to each other.
Her gasp of surprise drew the attention of a long haired boy in a leather jacket. She vaguely recognized him as the oldest Parry kid. He gave her a small wave and offered, “Hi, Mrs. Summers. Sorry if we scared you.”
“How did you get in here?”
Another boy, a little tamer looking than the others, with dark hair and blue eyes offered, “Didn’t Mr. Summers tell you? We all got keys to each others’ places. Our parents got tired of the door bells constantly ringing.” He smiled politely.
Keys. They had keys to each others houses. All five of them. They came and went as they pleased, apparently. With their parents’ consent. How strange.
While she stood there, contemplating, the boys started moving toward the stairway with an ease that betrayed familiarity. They were as at home here as they were in their own houses. The nice one waited at the bottom of the stairs, looking at her expectantly. Oh. At least one of them was polite. She waved him off with a half smile. He smiled back and was gone.
The next thing she heard was Buffy’s enraged shriek of, “Reid, get your dirty paws out of my underwear drawer before I take them off!”
It was past lunchtime when the five of them came bounding down the stairs, armed with DVDs and arms full of pillows and blankets. They stopped briefly in the kitchen to get snacks and drinks before making their way into the living room. The bedding landed on the floor in front of the sofa and within minutes the five of them were curled up together, watching some dumb action movie, not taking notice of Melinda standing in the doorway, watching them.
“So,” the blond one asked after a few minutes, “How’s the step mom?”
Buffy shrugged and let herself fall sideways to land with her head in the lap of the boy who had spoken. She rolled her eyes up to meet his. “Dunno. She seems alright but we haven’t really talked, you know.”
“Does she know?” That from the Danvers boy.
A shrug. “Dad said it was up to me how much I tell her. Guess he doesn’t want a repeat performance of Mom.”
There was a brief silence at that, as if they all remembered something. The long haired one asked, “How is she anyway?”
“Same old, same old. Too involved with her own life to give a damn and convinced we’re all devil spawn.”
Parry snorted, “Buffy, love, we are devil spawn.”
There was a smattering of laughter. Then, “Reid, stop groping me.”
“Hey! I’m not groping you. I’m the gropee, here. Who’s…Pogue, keep it to yourself, man!”
They laughed. Melinda didn’t know these children, not even the one she would live with from now on. She had no idea what they were like, what they liked and disliked. She didn’t know what they’d done in the woods the night before, although she suspected that she didn’t want to know.
But she saw them now, curled into a pile of limbs and laughter, touching, talking easily. She saw them and she saw the happiness that radiated from them. She saw how content they were, how close. And she saw the way they all turned their heads in perfect sync when a loud explosion shook the sound system. She saw them wrap around each other with a total disregard for personal space and propriety. She saw them communicate with nothing more than a tilt of the head, a look.
She remembered how they had taken off up the stairs hours earlier, remembered them scavenging in the kitchen.
They were typical teenagers, there was no doubt about that. Teenagers controlled by hormones and friendship and a childhood growing up together. They dressed messily and ate too much fast food. They liked stupid movies and riling each other up.
But they moved with eerie symmetry at times and they carried a cloud of violence and danger with them. Melinda had had a boyfriend once who’d been constantly angry, constantly on edge, ready for war. The kids weren’t like that. They weren’t tense, weren’t angry. But the violence, the potential was there, right under the skin.
If they put their mind to it, those five could shake the world. Of that she had no doubt.
And then Buffy looked up from the movie. Her eyes met those of her step mother and she smiled, her teeth stark and white against her golden tan. A sudden gust of wind blew in through the open window and caught the door, slamming it shut in Melinda’s face.
She jumped back, startled yes, but also scared. Because she could have sworn for a split second before the wind came, Buffy’s eyes had glowed pitch black.
Melinda looks and she sees surprisingly many things. She’s smart, that one. She sees how we move, like a unit, a pack. Sees how our reactions are off by fractions, not quite genuine. She sees how we touch, too close to be friends, too familiar to be fumbling teenagers in love. She sees that there are five of us and that somehow, we belong together.
She sees all these things and she understands that we are not like other people. What she does not understand is that we are not people.
We are wolves.
Six letters. C-H-A-N-G-E. Noun. English. Probably of French origin or something like that. Doom.
Change is a funny thing.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how much power. It doesn’t care about what you think, or feel, or want. It is a cold thing, an abstract concept that boils down to a simple truth: Something ends.
He watched them come down the dune, lit from behind in the fog rising from the sea, like small town messiahs. And below, the party held its breath for a moment, the congregation acknowledging its precious saviors.
A hard smile rose on his face. They were boys, children. Leather jackets and big attitude, easy life and big wallet. They were loud and popular and everyone’s darlings.
They were pathetic.
A fifth one suddenly came jogging up from behind them as they were almost at the outskirts of the crowd. She came rushing down the dune and jumped one of them to avoid crashing. Her arms and legs wrapped around him like a vine and she laughed into his ear.
Another Son grabbed her by the waist and pulled her off the first, twirling her around once before setting her back on her feet. They all chuckled and then resumed their march, her in the place of honor, right in the middle.
Small town messiahs and a blonde haired saint in their midst.
They’d make such pretty martyrs.
Buffy watched the new guy circle their group like a predator cornering his prey. He looked at them, looked away, changed position, looked again. It made her dizzy. Dizzy and suspicious.
Then Aaron got into full asshole mode and Caleb couldn’t help be a gentleman even when there was no lady present, only a blonde transfer with too few clothes and everything went downhill.
And the predator struck.
To the rest of their little crowd he seemed to come out of nowhere, appearing between the warring factions like mist. But Buffy was a predator herself and she saw him move, saw him calculate his entry into the scene.
She smiled at his daring and watched him break up the fight. Well, try to at least, before Reid dissolved the situation with little finesse. Then someone raised the alarm. Cops. Buffy rolled her eyes. Why didn’t they just give up? The Spencer kids had this back to school party every year, for as long as she could think. And no-one ever got caught.
Maybe, she decided, the cops were part of the ritual. Then Tyler grabbed her hand and started dragging her back to his car. She shook him off, looking back at the new guy who stood by the fire, looking bit forlorn. Either he had no clue what was going on, or he needed a ride.
She shooed Tyler off with a tiny nod of her head and took a few steps back to grab New Guy’s hand herself and pull. Or at least that was what she intended to do until her bare skin met his and –
- fire blazing, souls burning, sulfur and ashes, addiction and benediction.
Her gaze jerked up to meet his but instead of recognition, all she found was confusion. He didn’t know. Then a lifetime of rules and training kicked in and she pulled her hand from his loose grasp and shook it as if in pain. “You zapped me.”
She smiled up at him and waved toward the others, waiting at the edge of the woods, looking anxious, “Come on, we gotta get out of here. I’m Buffy by the way.”
Tell me your name. Tell me who you are and why you exist. Tell me you are a fluke.
“Chase,” he offered as he jogged alongside her, “Chase Collins.”
She had time to nod before they hit the treeline and Pogue grabbed her around the waist to pick her up. She smacked him on the shoulder for his sexist attitude – hello, slayer here! – but didn’t protest too much at being settled on his muscular back as the five boys took off at a dead run through the trees.
If any of her boys noticed how the New Kid managed to keep up with them, they didn’t say.
Half an hour later, after the adrenaline of their impromptu flying session had worn off a bit Buffy snuggled into Caleb’s shoulder and yawned. “I hope Kate and Sarah are alright with the New Guy.”
Above her, she could feel Caleb snort at her capitalization. “I’m sure they got away.”
Oh, right. She sat up straight again and looked first at him, then at the others. “Guys, this Chase guy is one of us.”
It took Tyler flinging himself across the car to grab the wheel to keep them from getting wrapped around a tree. Reid cursed up a blue streak.
The next evening Buffy was still slightly miffed at the boys. Oh, they hadn’t dismissed her words, hadn’t not believed her. They knew each other too well, trusted each other on too basic a level to doubt each other. But they hadn’t really believed her.
On an intellectual level she could understand that. There were only five families left and there was no reason to assume otherwise. They hadn’t ascended, so their senses weren’t as fine tuned as hers. It had taken touching Chase to figure it out. All good reasons for them to doubt her. But the animal part of her, the part that yearned for their touch to ease the burning ache of the absence of power, the part that wanted to howl at the moon, didn’t care much for logic.
So when Sarah put a quarter to good use, the slayer snatched Chase right from under Pogue’s nose and made him dance with her. Dance the way she never danced with anyone but her boys. Charged and wild, ruthless and ruleless. Later she would do a little breaking and entering to find out more about Chase Collins and prove that she was right. But for now –
- The way Buffy saw it, Chase was one of them. She knew it, even if she had no proof – yet. That meant he was one of her boys. It didn’t matter how or why or when. Didn’t matter where he came from. The fire in his veins was the same as theirs and that made him family. Made him one of the Covenant. If the others needed written proof, they’d have it. For Buffy the case was decided and Chase was adopted. He was loved. It was that simple. It had always been that simple. They fought and sometimes they hated each other, screamed and raged. But they never stopped loving because it wasn’t how they were designed. Covenant meant one. It meant belonging. Chase belonged.
“Stay with the girls.”
Huh? She got torn out of her thoughts by Pogue’s words and looked around to find out what the problem was. Reid and Aaron. What a surprise. With an apologetic look toward her dance partner, she made to take off after the Sons only to find a hand holding her back.
“You’re a girl. I’m supposed to protect you with my big manly muscles,” Chase said and grimaced wildly.
She snorted out loud and, standing on tip toes, she managed to peck him on the cheek quickly before freeing herself and responding, “Not tonight, I’m not. There’s not enough estrogen out there to keep this from escalating.”
With one last smile, she slipped into the night after her stupid boys.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you looked at it – the owner of the bar had already broken up the fight by the time Buffy made her way out the back door. Aaron and his crew were stomping away just as she closed the door behind herself.
She watched impassively as Reid and Caleb geared up for another one of their little lovers’ spats when she suddenly felt a slow trickle of ice run down her spine and pool in her stomach.
“Guys.” It was all it took to stop the four boys dead in their tracks and make them turn toward her, question plain on their faces.
Still concentrating she uncrossed her arms and walked over to them. Their eyes followed her and unconsciously they all fell into fighting stances. They had been trained well. But the only girl of their group paid them no attention as she pushed past Pogue and Tyler to stare at a dark corner between trashcans.
“Angel.” It was a name like a spell. The name of the ex-boyfriend. The one who had hurt her. The one who had almost broken her to pieces while she’d been away, far from their reach, alone and forced to play dumb and innocent. Behind her, the Sons closed ranks and the potential for violence rose as she sighed in resignation.
She’d known this was coming. Had known that Angel wouldn’t leave her alone. He wasn’t the type to walk away. Not even after he’d officially walked away. What she’d done before leaving Sunnydale was evil in his book and she was not. She was pure and good and light. So he needed to make things right. He needed to save the little girl.
Nevermind that there had never been a little girl and you can’t save a person from herself. Never mind logic when there is love. Buffy pitied Angel in a way. He was so old, so wise and yet he failed to grasp the easiest of concepts. Family. Belonging. Protection. He understood so little that he had left his family behind when he had gotten his soul. As if Drusilla and Spike would have cast him out. As if family cared about such things as good and evil.
No, she decided, Angel understood nothing.
He stepped out of the shadows like tragedy in motion and Reid made a gagging noise. What had she ever seen in the vampire? Had he reminded her of the boys? Of dark, seductive, forbidden things? Or had he just panted after her until she’d given in?
“Buffy.” If his name was a spell, hers was a prayer on his lips. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“How did you find me?”
His gaze left her face long enough to take in her family, they way they stood so close together, a wall of flesh and power. Did he understand that those teenaged boys were ready to kill him? She didn’t think so.
“I asked you mother.”
She snorted. “My mother did not tell you where to find me.” Joyce wouldn’t have. There was always a chance Angel would bring her back and Joyce didn’t want her daughter back in California. Didn’t want to look at the thing that had ruined her life, had taken away her husband without her knowing. Once Buffy’d proven beyond a doubt that removing her from the Covenant’s reach didn’t change her at all, her mother had washed her hands of her, pretty much.
“She told me you were with your father.” Clue enough for a determined vampire.
“Why are you here?”
A look of surprise crossed his face. He thought she knew. Pogue took half a step forward, pressing the line of his chest into her back. Comfort. “I came to take you home.”
A laugh, cold and bitter. “I am home, Angel.”
He stiffened. “Sunnydale is home, with your mother and your friends.” He didn’t count himself as part of her home. So noble. So blind.
Buffy shook her head. “Get a clue, Angel. Sunnydale was never home. And my mother never cared much for me. I don’t belong there. My exit should have proven that. It’s Faith’s town.”
“Buffy, what happened when you left, that wasn’t you. The fire in the mayor’s office, the – “
She cut him off with a sharp flick of her hand. “Wasn’t me? Angel, that was the first time you ever saw just who I really am. That last night, that was me.”
He shook his head, wildly, vehemently. Desperately. Desperate, she thought, to have back the golden girl that gave him hope. Another lover disappointed. Another one left behind for the power. More bitterness and more broken promises, another turn of the cycle.
“No, Buffy, you’re not – “
But he needed to understand and there was no gentle way to make him see that there had never been a golden girl. So she lowered her head a fraction and when she brought it back up to meet her former lover’s gaze, her eyes were black as death and night.
He stumbled and almost fell, shock and fear plain on his face. “Covenant,” he whispered and it was a plea for mercy. A plea for her to tell him, no, tell him that he was wrong.
“Covenant,” she confirmed. The swelling and breaking of power at her back let her know that the others had followed her lead. Five pairs of black eyes, four Sons and one Daughter.
Pogue bowed mockingly and offered, “At your service, demon.”
She chuckled quietly and asked, as gently as she could with the fire raging in her head, “Do you see, Angel? I was never yours.”
He took another step back in denial, head shaking, hands held out in supplication or defense. “No. That can’t be. You’re not…”
But she was. Oh, she was. She took a step forward and spoke as if to a child. “Didn’t you ever wonder? How my weapons were always where I needed them? How I knew all those things about demons without ever listening to Giles? How I never lost a fight, never got injured too badly, never missed a target? Didn’t you ask yourself why I am so much better at killing than Faith? Than you?”
He hadn’t. He had seen what he wanted to see, believed what he needed to. He’d been a man drowning and his golden vision of her had kept him afloat. But no more. No more bending, no more hiding. No more trying to fit in. This was who she was, who she would be until the day she died, too early and absolutely senselessly.
Addiction and comfort, the thrill of the power under the boys’ skin, made her lazy, took away her will to fight what she was. Her will to try and be more. Be better.
“You can fight it,” Angel pleaded. Like he fought his demon? Always half a being and never happy, never free?
It was Buffy’s turn to shake her head. “This is what I am. What we are.” She took another step forward and another, until she stood in front of him, inches from touching him. She wasn’t sure she could stop from burning him if she did. Not with the power still in her eyes.
“We’re fire, Angel. That’s what Covenant means. We are the end of things. We break things and we don’t know how to care. We’re death, lover, and I was never yours. Leave. Live your life. Help Faith. Absolve your soul and find some happiness. Don’t come back.”
She smiled and it was a weak thing, acid and water. And then it wasn't the power speaking but her, Buffy. “I’m not worth saving.”
Silence, a nod, a last look and then –
- The vampire was swallowed by shadows and Buffy stood alone, staring at the blank spot where he’d been. Suddenly she sunk to her knees, sat down in the middle of the empty yard and started laughing.
“Burn,” she muttered through her laughter, “Burn, bridges, burn.”
Caleb was there, then, pulling her to her feet, snuggling her into his arms, her face against his shoulder. Tyler’s hand found hers and he squeezed as Pogue ran his fingers through her hair and Reid was simply there, a presence at her back. She could feel the power thrumming through them, singing her to sleep with songs of home.
“I hated my mother,” she suddenly whispered against Caleb’s neck, laughter gone. “I hated her for not loving me but now… we bring only pain, don’t we? We ruin everything.”
She’d tried, so hard. And in the end….
“Nah,” Reid argued, “We don’t ruin each other. Not by far.”
It was the truth.
“Baby boy,” she heard Caleb say, “See if Sarah needs a ride home. Pogue, take care of Kate. I’m taking Buffy to my place. I’ll see you there.”
As the adrenaline and hysteria failed her, she fell asleep before Caleb maneuvered her into his shiny car.
Burn, bridges, burn. In her sleep, she cried.
Hidden by a few empty crates, he stood and watched the whole confrontation. So the girl, the bright, pixy Buffy was one of them, too. A Daughter. He’d thought there were only Sons. How strange.
He watched the way they walked and talked, together, a unit. A pack. It was strangely graceful, the ease and thoughtlessness with which they attuned their every action to the others’.
And then she spoke, of death and bitterness, of breaking things and hurting others.
Fire and fury, she told her vampire lover.
Fire and fury.
That was… interesting.
My mother always said that when one door closes, another opens. I don’t know about doors. I don’t know about beginnings, only about endings. I’m good at ending things.
It’s what I was born for.
So the bridges that tied me to my old life, the last remains of Buffy, the Californian vampire slayer, burn and burn brightly.
And the heat of the fire makes me feel strangely warm.
I am what I am.
The first time I heard those words, they were the line of a bad actor in a dramatic movie with too little plot. I am what I am. It seemed basic to me, simple.
Who else would I be but me?
The answer? Anyone. I could be anyone if the chips had fallen someplace else, if the dice had rolled differently. A million little choices everyday, not nearly all of them mine, have made me what I am. And I can’t change that, can’t fight it, can’t do anything about it. I can’t escape it, no matter how much I may want to.
We are what we are.
Taking My Likings
It was almost ten o’clock when Buffy came home, wet from the rain, with a stack of papers tucked under her arm, talking animatedly on her cell phone. She announced her return by slamming the front door and then came marching into the living room.
Without hanging up the phone she waved at Melinda and bent to peck her father on the cheek. Then she suddenly straightened and sighed. “Look, Cal, I know you didn’t believe me, so I got proof. Now get your sexy butt over here and look at it. I was right. And we got trouble headed our way, alright? What…. Yes, of course. Remember the Darkling? Hello? Yes, bring the others. See ya in a few.”
She hung up with a frown, tucked the phone away in her too tight pants and grimaced at her father who asked mildly, “Are you in trouble, honey?”
Melinda blinked numbly at her husband. Trouble? What did Buffy need proof for? And what in God’s name was a Darkling? It sounded like something out of some demented fairy tale. Every time Melinda ran into her step daughter – not that that happened often, the girl seemed to come home only for fresh clothes and showers – she seemed to become more and more bizarre. And Hank refused to be alarmed. No matter how strange his daughter acted, he always looked at her like she could do no wrong. Like, by simply existing, she had already done some great feat.
Melinda understood the sentiment. Her husband was proud of his only child. But there was something not right about the way he smiled – like he was happy – when he asked his daughter if she was in trouble. Weren’t parents supposed to ask that question with severe expressions and a good scolding prepared?
But, sticking with the bizarre theme, Buffy simply shrugged. “Remember that new kid I told you about?”
“Yeah, he’s hiding something. I figured there was something off about him, but the boys didn’t believe me without proof. I got it now, so we’re having a…” She trailed off suddenly, looking at her step mother. She tended to do that. It reminded Melinda of –
- Dad said it was up to me how much I tell her. Guess he doesn’t want a repeat performance of Mom.
Tell her what? What was that big secret that the two were keeping from her? Before she could work up the nerve to ask what was going on, Buffy resumed talking. “The others will be here any minute. We’ll work something out, cool?”
Hank smiled. “Cool.”
And Buffy, shaking her head at her aging father’s antics, left the room just as the front door sounded. Melinda was never going to get used to the teenagers running around her house unsupervised at all times of the day.
Fifteen minutes later found Caleb lying on his back in Buffy’s bed looking slightly worse for the wear. He’d been on a date with Sara earlier in the evening and he refused to share the juicy details with his best friend. So she had resorted to cheating and tickled the details out of him.
Tyler and Reid, joined at the hip as always, had come in sometime during the pitched battle and quickly taken up refuge against the far wall. Reid was sitting on a low bookshelf with his legs crossed and Tyler was sitting in front of him on the floor. Both watched in amusement. Pogue, too, had arrived and broken up the fight by simply throwing himself between the opposing parties. Which had led to his current predicament.
He was lying on the floor not far from the bed with a slayer sitting smack dab on top of him. He and Caleb were both breathing hard from wrestling with the tiny girl while the blonde herself just looked gleeful. She had been easier to mess with before she’d gained slayer powers. Suddenly she twisted and reached behind her to grab a few sheets of paper off the nightstand and smack them down on Pogue’s chest.
“Proof that Chase is one of us.”
The light mood throughout the room evaporated like smoke. Almost as one, the Sons all abandoned their perches to sit on the floor around Buffy and Pogue, who both sat up.
Caleb started leaving through the papers. They were copies of Chase’s school file. Including, “His birth name is Chase Goodwin Pope.”
“Meaning?” Reid asked. He’d never been one for names and stories. Tyler on the other hand, had never forgotten a thing he’d read.
“Meaning he is a descendant of Goody Pope. She lived during the witch hunt and was widowed. Accused James Putnam of knocking her up by taking on the form of her husband. Meaning, man, that the fifth male line didn’t end in Salem.”
“Meaning,” Buffy added into the ensuing silence, “That Chase really, truly, is a Son of the Covenant.” She nodded at the papers, “There’s more.”
Half an hour later they had all had a look at the papers and what they knew made them shiver. Chase had killed his adoptive parents the day he ascended and probably the kid in the Dells as well. He also had to have been the one that sent Caleb that Darkling.
“What does that tell us?” Pogue asked when no-one seemed to have anything to say.
“It tells us that he’s not here by coincidence. He wants something from us.” Caleb shrugged and flung the papers in the middle of their circle.
“And what?” Tyler and Reid both demanded at the same time.
Buffy leaned against Tyler and told them, “Think about it.”
The boys all just looked at her so she straightened again and explained, “Think about how he grew up. He never knew his birth father so he probably didn’t have a clue what happened when he turned thirteen. Imagine if no-one had told you and suddenly you had all those freaky powers.”
“You think he used without knowing the consequences,” Caleb picked up the thought. “You think he’s addicted.”
Reid snorted and ran a hand through his hair. “Man, we’re all addicted.”
“Yeah,” Pogue argued, “But we have each other, right? And we knew from the beginning how things will end.”
Buffy nodded in agreement. “Chase is here because he somehow found out about the Covenant and he wants what every junkie wants.”
They all looked at each other as understanding dawned and horror followed quickly on its heels. In sync they all breathed, “More power.”
This time it was Tyler who snorted. When Reid gave him a sideways look he offered, “Well, he obviously missed some math classes. The books all say that the power is limited only by your body and your imagination. Right? That means it’s basically infinite. And infinite power times two is still only infinite.” He looked around, “More power won’t help him shit to feed the need.”
“So what do we do?”
It was Buffy who spoke first, her voice hard as stone. There would be no argument over this. They were a democracy most of the time but not here, not tonight. “We fix him. We show him what it means to be Covenant.”
A long silence followed as all five of them tried to work through the implications of helping someone like Chase. They knew addiction and they knew what it did to people. Knew that the only thing an addict cared about was the drug and their drug was power. Chase’s was too, only he didn’t understand the power, didn’t know how to Use it properly. Didn’t know how a touch of another Son or Daughter could silence the craving, didn’t know how one of them Using could feed them all. He didn’t know that underneath all six of them were the same, red and black, hell in human packages.
He didn’t know what he was.
“What if he doesn’t want us to help?”
A snort from the only girl in the room. “Baby boy, how could he not? We are the power.”
Power and each other, each other and the power, the power in the others’ veins and the fire in their eyes, it was all the same, all good and warm. Sliding softness as it went down the throat, pooled in the dip between hipbones and wrapped around your spine, taking you over, ripping you away on a flood of ecstasy. Oblivion. Satisfaction. Home. Warmth. Satiation. The only kind they knew.
“So what? We approach him, tell him how it is?”
Caleb, always the logical one, shook his head. “It won’t work that way. We have to wait for him to make the first move and then we take it away from him. If it’s power he’s after then he’ll go after Buffy or me, after my birthday. We let him. And then we knock him down, tie him up and –
“- teach him a lesson,” Pogue finished, a look of anticipation in his eyes.
Melinda was making tea in the kitchen when the herd of rampaging teenagers came back downstairs and stormed the living room. She shook the teabag one last time so it wouldn’t drip and quickly disposed of it before grabbing her mug and quietly making her way down the hall. It had become a habit of late, this sneaking around in her own home. She felt like a spy in some bad action movie, listening at doors, hoping for the shred of information that would make sense of everything she was seeing and hearing.
A father who seemed on the one hand completely uncaring of his daughter and on the other, insanely proud. A teenaged girl who had no trouble at all looking after herself and acted well beyond her age but reverted to kindergarten behavior as soon as her friends showed up. Cryptic conversations all around, stopped mid-sentence when she stepped into a room.
It’d gotten old after a week. So old in fact, that Melinda had seriously considered calling Joyce Summers to try and found out what she knew. Only the fact that Joyce was bitter enough to lie to her just to spite her ex-husband had kept her from picking up the phone.
“Hey, Mr. S.” That was the long haired one, Parry.
Hank grinned at the five teenagers as Melinda rounded the last corner and stopped in the doorway, not hidden, but unnoticed as of yet.
“Hello boys,” her husband said. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Caleb, the ringleader, retorted.
“Buffy said you had trouble?” The girl in question rolled her eyes where her father couldn’t see.
Caleb caught the look and was quick to placate his friend’s father. “Nothing we can’t handle. I’ve got to go, I promised Sarah I would call.”
That earned him a very teenage macho boy fist in the shoulder and a hoot from the bleach blond.
Hank’s face fell a bit. “Oh, are you all leaving?”
“Caleb and Pogue are, Dad,” Buffy offered, “Reid and Baby Boy are staying over.”
“Too much time in the dorms is bad for us,” Reid – the blonde – said with a straight face. Melinda noticed that neither of the kids were even remotely asking for permission. They were staying. End of story. She didn’t know what to think about two boys staying with her step daughter over night. But then she told herself that she was thinking the worst possible thing and that wasn’t nice.
As the two leaving boys said their goodbyes, both of them pecking Buffy in a very comfortable way usually not seen in boys their age, Melinda stepped into the room and asked, “Do you want me to make up the guest room?”
Hank jerked a bit, but none of the younger generation seemed surprised to see her. It creeped her out.
“Thanks,” Tyler, the youngest if memory served, declined, “We’ll crash in Buffy’s room. We always do.”
“Don’t worry, dear. They’ve been doing this since they were toddlers. No reason to get worked up.”
Melinda bit her tongue hard and did not say what she thought about toddlers sleeping in one bed as opposed to teenagers sleeping in one bed. He husband grinned first at her and then at his daughter and her friends.
“So you have a plan? Everything sorted?” he asked Buffy, his eyes sparkling.
The blonde tensed, unnoticed only by her father. The boys turned to her, expressions worried. She waved them off and nodded stiffly at Hank. “Yes, Dad.”
Melinda watched her husband, caring and well meaning but sometimes very, very oblivious, as he nodded back, seeming distracted and excited. “Well then, I suppose you’ll be off having some adventure in the next couple of days?”
Buffy turned to stone as she repeated, very slowly, “Adventure?”
Melinda almost dropped her tea as the ice in her step-daughter’s voice sliced through the room. Hank furrowed his brows, confused.
“God, Dad, when are you gonna get it? This isn’t an adventure. It’s not some grand game. It’s my life. And sooner or later, it’s going to kill me. So I’d really appreciate it if you could stop acting like you have the slightest fucking clue what it’s like to be me. It’s not cool and it’s not fun and it’s not… fuck. This isn’t a movie! It’s –“
“Buffy.” That was Tyler, his hand on her arm, trying to stop her before she said too much, presumably. It didn’t matter though because Melinda had stopped listening around ‘going to kill me’. What the hell was going on? What secret were her husband and his daughter keeping? Why didn’t seem anyone in the room surprised? Or worried? Or… scared? Because she was sure this time, absolutely sure, that Buffy’s eyes had just flared black.
She shook the well meaning hand off, took a step forward, two steps back, ran her fingers through her hair. “Fuck,” she said finally. “Fuck.”
Was she sick? No, that wasn’t it. If she’d been sick, Hank would have been worried. And she seemed so lively, so healthy. Was it something to do with the boys? Was there something wrong with them? No, that wasn’t it either. Melinda remembered then, all those fairy tales she had refused to listen to, to believe. The stories about the Sons of Ipswich that could make things happen, could kill a man with a look. Of old families that had been hit hard by the Salem witch hunts. Stories about people that were more than they seemed and the four boys that were Buffy’s best friends – their descendants.
Stories, she remembered, about terrible powers that came with a terrible price. But Melinda didn’t believe in horror stories, didn’t believe in witches and demons and monsters.
But she remembered a sunny afternoon and five teenagers sprawled right there on the living room floor, watching an action movie. Remembered the door slamming in her face and a glimpse of black eyes, just like now. Just like….
Melinda didn’t believe in witches.
She didn’t have to. Because now, looking back on the past few weeks, she knew.
The boys somehow managed to position themselves on either side of and slightly in front of Buffy. Ready to stop her from attacking her father, even if it might look the other way around.
Finally Buffy sighed and waved a hand at her father, sitting shell shocked and very silently. “Sorry, Dad. It’s just… you’ve been acting this way ever since I got back and… it’s been a long day. Sorry for yelling.”
Hank nodded and took a deep breath, trying to take it all in. Trying maybe to understand what he had failed to for the past eighteen years. That his daughter was not a girl with some fancy skills but something else entirely. A wolf. “It’s alright honey. I know I don’t understand all that’s going on in your life. But I’m trying, okay?”
He stood, waiting for the boys to fall back, wordlessly acknowledging that they had an authority that he didn’t. He stepped forward, placing his hands on Buffy’s shoulders with a smile. “I’m so proud of you. Of who you have become. Of how you’re using your gift.”
Buffy, relaxing slowly, tensed up again at the last word. But she didn’t start yelling again. Instead she asked, almost whispered, “Gift? Who called it that?”
She snorted and Tyler and Reid smiled strangely. “Well, William is dead.”
With that Buffy pecked Hank on the cheek and let herself be pulled from the room by two of her best friends. Hank stayed standing in the middle of the room, staring at nothing.
I am what I am.
I can’t change that. What I am is neither good nor bad, neither perfect nor broken. It’s not ugly and it’s not pretty. It’s just that. It’s me.
I’ve had a long time to get used to me. My whole life in fact. I’m okay with it. I mean, I have great family. I have the Covenant and my father and I have unlimited power. So what if it will kill me one day? So what if there’s a monster sleeping right under my skin. Nothing’s perfect and everything has to end one day.
All in all, it could have been worse. I could have been a brunette.
But… there’s that part of me. The part that remembers how life was like before the fire came. The part that liked living in Sunnydale, being almost normal. The part that is sorry for hurting Angel, for my mother’s bitterness.
I am what I am.
But that part of me wishes I could be someone else.
Some people believe in love at first sight. Personally, I don’t. I’ve been burned too badly by the whole Angel fiasco to still believe in butterflies and sunshine and all the good things. Daisies and violins, right?
That kind of love just doesn’t happen. At least not to people like me.
The boys belong to me, and I to them but if it weren’t for the power binding us together, we probably wouldn’t be able to stand each other. Reid’s too loud, Tyler too bookish, Pogue too relaxed, Caleb too high strung and I’m too wild.
In another world we probably hate each other.
But in this world, we belong. And that’s an entirely different animal.
He watched from the shadows as he always had as a child. Always the freak, always outside, the kid his real parents hadn’t wanted, the guy the strange things happened around. And later, once he had learned how to control his power, the psycho nut job, the crazy kid, the madman. So many names and once upon a time, all of them had hurt.
Yes, he had become very good at watching unnoticed.
He was there when Buffy confronted her former lover and he drew his conclusions from the scene. He was there when Caleb got friendly with the blonde – Sarah. He saw as Pogue stormed out after fighting with his Kate. He saw the four Sons and the Daughter run all over town, dancing at Nicky’s, having a good time.
And while he watched, he looked for weaknesses. He was smart and he was powerful but they outnumbered him by far and they had the advantage of formal training, whatever that may have consisted of. No, he couldn’t face them up front. He had to be sneaky about it.
He couldn’t go for their families because there were enough of the last generation still around to make his life a living hell. He couldn’t afford to bring them down on his head. No, best keep this among the ‘kids’.
He considered the girlfriends. They were the only obvious weak spot in the game. But unlike the girls, he saw the way Pogue and Caleb looked at them, compared to the way they looked at their fellow Covenant members. They looked at the girls like lovesick teenagers and at each other like dying men looked at salvation. If it came down to one of the girls or their own, he knew which they would pick.
It made him jealous, to know how much they loved each other, how much they would sacrifice for each other and he couldn’t help the spite he felt as he considered how different he might have turned out if he’d had them to grow up with. But the past was the past and they had to be his enemies now. He was the bad seed and they were glorious and golden and so full of power. Power he craved. He would get it.
The girls were only arm candy, toys. Distractions and potential brood mares. Not love interests, not soul mates. Oh, sure, they mattered. As much as anyone who was not Covenant could ever matter. He understood that. His adoptive parents had been in his way, trying to hold him back, to keep his real parents’ names from him. Trying to teach him order and discipline and pumping all sorts of drugs into him to heal his freakishness. He had loved them, yes, very much. They had only tried to help him. But in the end they had been in his way and they were expendable. They were not like him. They had no power.
Just like the two girls had no power.
They were favored pets, like a family dog, loved, cared for, spoiled and readily kept but essentially useless. They mattered nothing.
But they were the only weak point Chase Collins could find in the armor of his five hell bound siblings. So he used them.
The creation spell was pathetically easy to plant. Kate was practically all over him anyway, just to spite Pogue. A few mumbled words and the spider snuck into her hair, stayed there until night. He felt it as it entered her body and started wreaking havoc on her poor, mortal system.
He was a bit disappointed when Pogue didn’t come rushing as soon as he heard his beloved little girlfriend was in hospital but figured that the others had held him back from the obvious trap. Buffy, probably. She pretended to be ditzy and all fun and butterflies but he had seen her face her lover in that alley and he knew that, if it came down to it, the boys all deferred to her. She was the leader of their little cult.
If she told Pogue to stay put he would. Screaming and raging, sure, but he would obey.
So he found himself deprived of his game of Beat the Parry. Booh-hoo. Oh well, on to plan B. Paying sweet Sarah a visit.
Caleb lay on the cold tiles of Sarah’s and Kate’s small bathroom in the dorms and relearned how to breathe after Chase had used him to beat the walls in. He was glad suddenly, that they never used against each other. Hell knew, he had made Buffy mad enough at times for her to beat him to shit and he had never quite realized just how different being ascended was from what he had.
He might as well have tried to fight with a rubber gun for all the good his power had done him against Chase. Plainly put: He fucking hurt.
And while he had been bouncing off the walls, Sarah dying on her bed, he had seriously doubted their assessment of the fifth son. The mad glint in Chase’s eyes, the sweat on his forehead, the edge of his laughter. The other man was on a hair trigger of desperation and need and he’d thought that maybe, maybe, putting him out of his misery was all they could do.
But then Chase had grabbed him, hissing his threats and demands, yes, and calling him brother. Brother with a kiss that was meant to be a mockery. But Caleb heard what was underneath the word, felt the lips linger on his skin too long.
Chase was desperate, no doubt about that. But not only for power. He was desperate for family.
They could give him that.
Caleb met them at the hospital, a very confused and quiet Sarah in tow. Buffy looked at the other blonde and fought a grimace. The wheels in the girl’s head were turning at high speed and soon she would start asking questions. Uncomfortable questions.
They got her to sit with Kate, giving them a few minutes alone.
“Man, what happened?” Reid demanded as soon as the door closed being Sarah. “We all felt the spike in the power.”
Caleb rubbed his neck and pulled a face before admitting what they all knew already. “Chase happened. He gave me an ultimatum. Either I will him my power tomorrow at the exact moment I ascend in Putnam Barn, or he kills Sarah and Kate.”
“Well,” Tyler summed it all up rather nicely, “Shit.”
Pogue shook his head, patting the oldest son on the shoulder reassuringly. “This is what we wanted, right? Now how do we use it?”
Buffy shot Pogue a quick smile. He was usually the hardest to convince of anything, but once you had him on your side, he was game, no matter what. He would keep the others, especially Caleb and his noble streak from chickening out on the plan.
“First we got to catch him. Then we got to restrain him and then we have to make him see reason. Any suggestions?”
Tyler, ever the organized of the bunch, had apparently thought farther ahead than the rest of them. “I’d say be there early and knock him out with brute force, then use his down time to bind his power.”
“And then,” Reid deadpanned, “A two hour crash course seminar on how to be Covenant. Want me to prepare a slide show?”
Buffy simply smacked him upside the head as Caleb asked bitingly, “I don’t know Reid, do you think it would help? Or do you think he might just shove it down your throat and make you eat it in the state he’s in?”
“Guys,” Tyler complained as he leaned against a wall.
Pogue crossed his arms over his chest and joined him, commenting, “We gotta think small. If we were in his place, what would get through to us? I mean, try to get in his head. He’s a strung out junkie without relief, right? I don’t think preaching’s gonna do any good.” He turned to a glaring Reid and shrugged lightly, “Sorry man, but Cal’s right. He’d make us eat our shit.”
Buffy nodded in agreement and then asked, voice deceptively calm, “What do you think, Sarah?”
The four Sons all shot around fast enough to give themselves whiplash, staring wide-eyed at the blonde standing in the doorway leading to Kate’s room. She looked half sheepish, half scared. Shuffling her feet, she snuck a glance at Caleb before looking at Buffy and opening her mouth to say something.
“Careful,” the slayer suddenly warned, her voice still smooth, “You’ve figured out enough to know that trying to bullshit us isn’t going to end well, so think about what you’re going to say.”
Sheepish turned into angry as the girl’s eyes blazed at the challenge and the flat look that came with it. “I want to know what’s going on.” She directed her demand toward Caleb, “Kate is sick and this isn’t normal. I want to know.”
It was clear from the boys’ expressions that they were all considering messing with the girl’s mind and then dumping her at her dorm with varying degrees of intensity. Reid’s hands were twitching at his sides and his eyes flickered red occasionally as he stared unblinkingly at the newcomer. Tyler and Pogue had better control and Caleb looked as calm as anyone could look in a crisis like this.
He met Sarah’s gaze head-on for a moment before looking each of his friends in the eyes, waiting for some silent signal from them. He found it in the lack of protest. Reid growled, but that was all. Buffy was the last he looked at and she merely rolled her eyes and grinned at him.
He nodded and held out a hand for his almost-girlfriend to take. She did, looking around with obvious distaste. There was no way she had missed the silent communication. Or the fact that her request, although directed at Caleb, had been approved by all before he agreed to anything. Covenant came first and no matter what became of her and Caleb, he would always put others above her.
It was a bitter lesson, one that Joyce Summers and her fellow Covenant wives had learned too late. Or maybe they had learned but refused to accept it, had tried to fight. It was likely. People in love did such things, tried to change the ones they loved, tried to make things right.
Buffy sighed as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and watched the couple leave to get some privacy. Pogue went into Kate’s room and the youngest two Sons tugged her between them, holding her close.
“What’s wrong?” Baby Boy asked, hearing her sigh.
She shrugged and leaned into him. “Just thinking that life was easier when I could actually hate my mom for being a bitch. But now… it’s not so easy anymore, seeing what we do to people.”
She waved a vague hand in Kate’s direction but it was understood that Sarah was included in her statement. Reid scoffed and tweaked her nose, declaring in his best Russian accent, “We’re poison, baby.”
Tyler tried to smack him but he ducked and danced away, grinning widely. The problem with his statement was, Buffy figured, that they all knew it was true, despite the joking tone.
They were poison.
She wondered what the other blonde thought they were going to do once they had Chase.
In the end it was pathetically easy. Chase was so desperate, so hungry that he threw all caution to the wind once had snagged a conveniently placed Sarah from the Ball.
Caleb got there just on time, entering the barn, letting the older boy have his moment of jeering glory. Oh, his words were vile things, designed to hurt. Ugly things, the accusations and observations, the jealousy and rage spewing from them.
But Caleb remembered Reid shivering on cold turkey after he’d gone wild with the power on his thirteenth birthday, remembered Tyler barking and bitching, remembered Buffy calling them all worthless, pathetic bastards. He remembered how they had all, without fail, succumbed to their demons at one point or another, willing and ready to simply let the addiction eat them up.
Listening to Chase rant and rave he saw what Buffy had seen in him from the beginning. Himself. The others. Covenant. It was Chase’s turn to be held tight through the shakes.
Two minutes before he was scheduled to ascend, the others appeared out of nowhere. The boys distracted Chase while Buffy blasted him across the room and into a solid wooden beam before jumping down from the upper floor with inhuman ease and knocking him out with a very simple and well placed right hook. Caleb used his chance to free Sarah from the stasis Chase had put her in.
He pulled her to her feet, waiting until she had regained her footing. He let go of her and watched her take in the scene. The others were busy tying Chase’s hands behind his back. Not that it would do any good since he didn’t need his hands Use, but it might stump him if he woke ahead of schedule.
“It’s over,” the blonde breathed, relief palpable in the air around her and Caleb pitied her with the bile of guilt in his throat. He should never have involved her in this.
He shook his head as he muttered, more to himself than to anyone else, “This is the beginning.”
Sarah heard him, turning wide eyes on him. He sighed and shook his head, telling himself that if she still spoke to him after this, he owed her a very nice dinner. Or maybe to stay away from her for the rest of her life. He took her wrist in one hand, pressing his car keys into her palm with the other.
“Go. Go to my mother and tell her we’ll be fine and then go to the dance and have fun, okay?”
If possible, her eyes grew wider.
“What are you going to do? Shouldn’t you call the police or something? I mean, he killed that kid at the Dells, right?”
Right? Right. Only it didn’t matter and he couldn’t say that out loud because she might just call the cops herself then. He answered the only question he could.
“We’ll try to set him straight. Now go.”
He practically shoved her out of the old barn, closing the rickety door behind her in relief. No more innocents around. He turned back to the center of the high room where Tyler and Pogue were already drawing the pentagram on the floor while Reid was clearing away anything that even remotely resembled a weapon and Buffy stood guard over their…
He had a fourth brother all of a sudden. That would take some getting used to.
Buffy looked around the barn, trying to find any weakness in their setup and was pleased to find none. Everything seemed to be good and ready for Chase to wake up.
They had spent hours discussing this the night before, trying to figure out what it would take to get through to their lost brother. Nothing they had come up with seemed enough because there was always, always, doubt.
She remembered her first week in California, the shivering and the need. Mr. Parry and Mr. Garvin had both dropped in on her on business trips and promised that things would get easier. They had told her that everything would be fine if she just held on and didn’t give in and she remembered slamming her door in their faces, refusing to believe them because the need to Use was everything right then.
Chase hadn’t been alone for a week like she had then, or a few months, a couple of years. Chase had always been alone.
Experience told the slayer that they had to wait at least another thirty minutes before Chase started stirring and she couldn’t spend that time staring at him and doubting the success of this intervention. If she did that, she’d be a wreck by the time he came to. Besides, she should probably check on Caleb, who was very silent and determined, but also sweat soaked by now and still jittery as hell. She remembered her own ascension and damn, he was dealing a lot better than her. But then he wasn’t alone either and that was what this was all about, wasn’t it?
Pogue, thinking along the same lines, was suddenly there behind her, hugging her around the waist, his chin resting on her shoulder. “Come on,” he told her, “Reid brought cards and Caleb’s going stir crazy.”
She made a sound that was half snort, half laugh as the man in question huffed in indignation but didn’t outright protest. “While we were all gearing up for a fight, and Caleb ascended, Reid remembered to bring cards.”
Behind them, the blond clacked his tongue and chirped, “Be prepared!”
Buffy shook her head as Pogue shrugged in resigned amusement and picked her up, carrying her over to where the rest of the group was sitting on old hay balls. Caleb looked a bit worse for the wear after he had just ascended, but he’d blasted a few trees with the excess power and he was nothing if not stubborn.
Tyler’s hand was resting under his shirt, on bare skin, giving him an anchor, something to cling to while he adjusted to the new power levels inside his body. Buffy had no doubt that tomorrow would be spent in the woods, getting Caleb and his power reacquainted but tonight they had other things to do.
Smacking Pogue on the arm to get him to put her down she planted herself between Caleb’s spread legs, her back against his chest. She pulled his jeans up to his knees and maneuvered them both so their bare calves were touching. Immediately she got zapped with a spike of power that quickly settled into a semi-comfortable hum as she leaned back and watched the boys play cards around her.
So that’s what I believe in. Belonging at first sight. You look at someone, you touch them, and you feel a spark, a connection. It’s not sunshine and roses but something deeper, darker. It’s like chocolate and cigarettes and split lips.
It’s the knowledge that it doesn’t matter who or what this person is, if you like them or not. All that matters, is that they belong to you and you to them. For better or for worse, it just is.
And there’s nothing at all you can do about it.
People keep telling you that there is no such thing as fate. You make your own destiny, your own choices. The decisions you make form your life and your future.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
You have a chance, you can decide. You have power over your life. No-one rules you but you.
It gives you a sense of purpose, gives you direction. You have to take control. You can fix anything. Nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it, right?
Fortune cookies have been known to give better advice than that.
I Am Not Your Cure
Chase’s first thought when consciousness returned was Ouch. The second was Fuck.
Judging from the splitting headache centering around the right side of his jaw, he had seriously underestimated the only female Covenant member. He should have checked her background, if only to figure out her age. He had assumed that she was as old as the rest of them because she was in the same year at school. Obviously not. She was ascended and from the taste of blood in his mouth and the stink of ozone in his nostrils, she’d been for some time.
Man, that punch had stung.
He sat up slowly, gingerly probing his jaw for any broken bones. All he found was bruises and then, with his fingers still running over his face he realized that he wasn’t tied down as he had expected. There were slight chafe marks at his wrists though. So he had been all bondage fun at one point. He wondered why they’d untied him and seriously doubted that it was for his personal comfort since they were probably about to blast him to hell anyway.
He looked around and noticed first the five curious faces about fifteen feet away, watching him with hawk’s eyes. They were all sitting bundled up, looking suspiciously cozy with Caleb half undressed in their middle. Kinky, was his only thought.
Next he noticed that he was sitting in the middle of the barn, on the floor that had somehow been swept clean of dirt and hay. In its place was a perfect circle drawn in white chalk. Roughly eight feet in diameter, it had obviously been drawn around him. He was sitting smack dab in the center of the pentagram inside the circle, legs sprawled over one arm of the star.
Around the outer edge he could make out strangely swirling runes and even without trying, he could feel the power resonating in them.
His mouth was already open, ready to ask what the hell this was, when he snapped it shut again, biting his cheek in anger. Admit that he didn’t know something in front of them? No thanks. He wasn’t some privileged, old blood prodigy who’d spent his childhood pouring over books. He’d been busy running from the kids at the orphanage and later trying to hide his freakishness from his parents and teachers.
The others were moving now, abandoning their seats in the hay to come toward him. They all stopped at the edge of the circle, careful not to smudge the chalk. The boys fanned out, standing all round him and he had to grind his teeth at the fact that no matter which way he turned, he would always have someone at his back now.
Buffy on the other hand seemed less tense than her posse; she simply hitched her skirt up a few inches and then sat comfortably on the floor, at his eyelevel. She grinned at him and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
“How’s your head?” she asked.
“It hurts,” he snarled as best as he could with a vivid purple bruise blooming on his jaw. Automatically he tried to send a flare of power into his face to dull the pain and speed up the healing only to find… nothing.
It didn’t work.
He tried again and again his power refused to obey. He could feel it, at the edge of his senses, always, but he couldn’t touch it! He drew in a sharp breath, trying not to panic. His power, where was his power?! He needed -
Buffy winced as she took in his wild expression, but didn’t speak. Caleb, standing next to her and looking somewhat worse for the wear up close, suddenly spun one finger in the air to indicate the circle and said, “Right, you probably never learned that stuff. This is a binding circle. Old school. It was meant to bind a person’s power while they were on trial for crimes against the Codex. You can’t Use and you can’t leave the circle until we break it. Sorry.”
This time his snarl was loud and sharp and fuck the pain in his face. “Trial, huh? Is that what you’re doing? Putting me on trial for my evil crimes against your lily white asses?”
“No,” Buffy denied the accusation, “This isn’t a trial. This is… I think intervention is the best word for it.”
“Usually people have to give a shit for an intervention to work out.”
Pogue ran a hand through his hair and sighed, causing Chase to turn toward him like a damn dog. He scowled darkly as the younger boy offered, “Yeah, not sure why, but we do give a shit, man.”
He scoffed. “Yeah, of course you do.”
“Well,” this from Reid, “You’re family. Asshole.” The last was added almost as an afterthought than there was no more heat in it than in the insults the blond boy usually reserved for the other Sons. It made something in Chase’s chest rattle suspiciously. Family, he told himself, he was just reacting to someone calling him family. He was an orphan after all. He was predisposed to get weak-kneed at the mention of family and they knew it.
Scowl firmly back in place, he demanded, “So what you’re gonna do? Cure me of my addiction?”
“Moron,” Buffy said with force while Caleb crossed his arms over his chest and lectured, “You can’t cure an addiction, idiot.”
“Exactly,” Chase mock chirped, “Very good. So give me what I want and let me go and we’ll all be just fine. You’ll have saved me and I’ll be cured and everything’s going to be sunshine and happy endings.”
Tyler suddenly flung his arms up, face a mask of indignation. “How many times do I have to say it?!” he snarled with more force than Chase thought he possessed. But then it always was the quiet ones. “Your power is infinite. Infinity times two is still infinity. More power won’t do shit. It’ll only burn you up faster! So shut up, hold still and let us fucking help you.”
The fight went out of the youngest Son as quickly as it had entered him and Chase felt suddenly drained, too. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept, the fire in his veins driving him endlessly on and on. He was locked up, hurt, powerless and tired. So very fucking tired of being the freak, of being alone, of always having to hide and pretend and be better than anyone else so he would be left alone. He was tired of the need, the hunger, the bottomless hole inside of him that never filled up no matter how much he poured into it.
“What can you do?” he asked, the heat, the rage, gone from his voice. He looked at Buffy not only because she was the only one he could look at without giving himself a crick in the neck, but also because she was the one who was easiest. She had danced with him, had flirted and laughed with him before all this. She’d been nice to him, even, if he was honest, treating him like she did the other boys. Like he was one of them.
Sure, she’d only done it to get him to let his guard down, but she’d still been… kind. Chase hated the fact that he was pathetic enough for that to count for anything, but it did. Shit, before her, no-one had even touched him since his eighteenth birthday.
He had to ruin them, ruin all five of them, if only to take away the temptation.
She shrugged. “There are ways, tricks to keep the craving at bay. To control the addiction.”
He couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him. “What, yoga and meditation?”
“God, did you take lessons in obnoxious from Reid?” Caleb demanded, running a hand over his face, wiping sweat from his forehead. The blond complained loudly, but his voice lacked rancor. “Look, let me spell it out for you. You’re not the only addict in this room, okay? We’re all in the same boat, we’re all fucked and we’re all…. This isn’t us trying to show you the evil of your ways. This is us trying to show you how to deal better. Not as if….”
He was panting, sweating, obviously worked up and Chase suddenly remembered that the other had ascended sometime in the past hour or so. How the hell could he even stand, much less string two words together? He’d been out for the count for three days after his birthday and his adoptive parents’ deaths.
Buffy tugged on Caleb’s pant-leg, wordlessly ordering him to sit down. He did, aided by Reid, who’d been standing closest. The two boys sunk to the ground as Tyler and Pogue abandoned their posts, too and came around the circle. Chase relaxed minutely as his back was finally clear again.
The five of them all settled in a pile of limbs, Caleb at their center. Reid pulled off his fingerless gloves and stuck his hands under his friend’s shirt in a gesture that should have been sexual but wasn’t. Buffy pulled his arm against her chest, holding it close. Pogue slipped in behind Caleb, wrapping arms around his waist. Tyler sat on Reid’s other side and took the free hand in his. Chase was obviously completely forgotten for the moment.
“Breathe,” Buffy suggested.
Reid scooted a little closer and offered, “Anytime now, man. Give it here.”
And then Caleb’s eyes flared black as power rolled off him in waves and right into his friends, whose eyes changed color too, going dark.
Even inside his binding circle, Chase could feel the power flowing between the five of them and in made his palms damp, made him want to touch them more than he’d wanted anything in a long time.
Involuntarily, his eyes closed as his head fell back and he let himself be carried away by the wave of red and black.
Eventually, the eyes of those outside the circle returned to their normal colors and they all relaxed, but remained as they were. Chase blinked lazily and focused on them again, still breathing hard, feeling like he’s just run a mile in a minute and then… well, if he was honest he felt like he’d just been laid.
“What the hell was that?”
Buffy, the first to return to reality, smiled and said, “That was one of those tricks. Cal gave us his excess power, getting rid of it without actually Using. We just… siphoned it off. We all got our hit and he’s better. Lesson the first.”
“And the groping?” he couldn’t help it. He had to ask. Because Caleb really was looking better, whereas five minutes ago he’d looked like he was about to fall over and go into a coma for a week. Or maybe explode.
“We’re power,” Caleb said, eyes closed and leaning heavily against his friends. “Touching each other feeds the need. We don’t have to Use nearly as often when we’re together. Just being close…”
He trailed off and Pogue took over, leaning his chin on Reid’s shoulder. “That evening at Nicky’s, when we were all together, you didn’t Use once, did you?”
He didn’t have to answer out loud. They all knew it anyway. That day, he’d gone almost a full twelve hours without Using.
“And how exactly is that going to help me?”
Tyler groaned and asked idly, “Just how hard did you hit him, Buff?”
But the only female in the room shook her head and started disentangling herself from the pile of limbs. The boys, once they realized what she was trying to do, pulled back collectively, leaving her to kneel at the edge of the circle alone.
For a minute she just looked at Chase, their eyes meeting and clashing. He wasn‘t quite sure why he had to glare at her, why he was trying to stare her into submission, but he knew it wasn’t working. For some reason the blonde seemed impervious to his sullen rage and spite.
She nodded suddenly and stated – not asked – “You think we’re going to try and fix you and then kick you out of town.”
How exactly was it that she knew what he was thinking before he knew it himself? Yes, he believed they would kick him out with a boot to the backside. Why wouldn’t they? Everyone did. And that was not the bitter orphan speaking now. That was a fact. Chase Collins was always tolerated, always admired and envied, and never welcome. It was the manic glint in his eyes, the potential for violence thrumming right beneath his skin that turned people away, made them uncomfortable.
But, the treacherous voice of his subconscious mumbled, these people were different. Or rather, the same. The same as him. They wouldn’t squirm and make excuses to get away, would they?
He clamped down on the voice hard and snarled, “Well, won’t you? Can’t have me ruining your picture perfect jock life, can you?”
“Dude,” Reid complained, rolling to his feet, tugging his gloves back into place around long, nimble fingers. “Repeat after me: Family. Fa-mi-ly.”
“Fuck you,” Chase snarled. They were telling him exactly what he wanted to hear. He knew better than to believe them. If something looked too good to be true, it usually damn well was.
Tyler pulled a growling Reid back by the collar of his jacket, observing, “I don’t think he gets it, man. Chill.”
Buffy was suddenly standing, pulling off first one of her high heels – really not the optimal footwear for interventions in ancient barns - and then the other. It was almost comical to watch her shrink three inches in the space of several seconds. She dropped her shoes a few feet away and turned to look at Chase critically. After a moment of silent study she nodded decisively and stepped forward.
Tyler and Pogue, who were apparently trained in the art of reading minds, suddenly blocked her path to the circle with a loud, “Whoa.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Pogue demanded, arms spread slightly to make it impossible for the girl to slip past him.
She shrugged and twirled a piece of hair with her finger in a gesture that was so obviously fake and meant to broadcast ‘look how blonde and not dangerous I am’ that it was funny. The trick might have worked on someone else but not on the people she’d grown up with. Hell, not even Chase would have fallen for it. There was something too cold, too calculating in her gaze for the dumb blonde act to ever work on another predator.
Still she tried it and for some reason, the move made the tension slip from Pogue’s body. He rolled his eyes, gave a long suffering sigh and let his arms drop. “You gonna tell us the plan at least?”
Another shrug. “Chase doesn’t believe us. So I’ll just have to prove to him that we’re serious.”
“And how are you going to do that?” That from Tyler.
Buffy side stepped the two boys and quickly stepped up to the edge of the circle, standing on tiptoe between the runes.
“Like this,” she said and took a big step forward.
There was a lesson that most normal children never learned but that strange and special children always knew by heart almost as soon as they could run. It was the lesson you learned when others stole your lunch, dunked your head in the toilet and kicked you when you were down.
It was a simple lesson, really. For Chase, it has long since become an overwhelming instinct.
When Buffy stepped into the circle it didn’t matter that there was no hostile intent in the air. Didn’t matter that he was probably shooting himself in the foot. Didn’t matter that she was apparently trying to help. All that mattered was that he saw a chance and had to use it, had to seize it.
So he shot forward and up, wrapping both hands around her slender neck and toppling them both backwards where her back crashed into the invisible force that was the binding circle. They fell sideways, tussled for a moment, rolled and then came to a halt with Chase sitting on the small girl’s chest, fingers winding around her neck, squeezing.
He turned cold eyes on the four boys that looked ready to lunge at him. He wondered why they hadn’t yet and then realized that they had probably tried Using on him first. It was a knee jerk reaction after all. One that was negated by the circle he was in.
“You move and I snap her neck, got it?”
For a moment, no-one even breathed. Then, once he was convinced that they understood he meant business and had backed up a bit, Chase let up on Buffy a bit, allowing her to draw in a gasping breath.
She shuddered in his hands, so much bigger than her small pixy face. The entire attack had taken no more than five seconds and suddenly, the tables were turned and Buffy lay under him, helpless, trapped and at his mercy.
She hadn’t even tried to fight him.
“Calm down man, okay?” Caleb cautioned, arms raised placatingly, his expression that of a kicked puppy. Sweat was dripping down his neck and forehead once more and he seemed to have stopped blinking.
Chase snarled in response and gave the Daughter underneath him a slight warning shake like a dog with a bone. “Now, why would I want to do that?” he demanded.
“You don’t want to kill Buffy,” the youngest of the boys supplied, his voice oddly even, with a tremor underneath.
“Maybe I do.” He didn’t, but that wasn’t the point. He needed to get out of here before they sucked him in for good with their promises and painted paradises, before he started believing the shit they were feeding him. And Buffy was going to be his ticket out. So no, he didn’t want to kill her. He needed her alive, at least for a while.
“No, you don’t.”
“I killed the kid at the party,” he supplied, squeezing Buffy’s neck a bit tighter, causing her to choke. Her arms came up, hands pulling on his wrists weakly.
“You…” she managed to say. He let up a bit and she spoke roughly, “You were protecting the secret. Bad choice, but...” Aware that time was short, she kept to the bare minimum. “Necessary,” she finished her sentence and Chase felt himself freeze.
Of course it had been necessary. He couldn’t let the kid run off to tell people that Chase Collins could make funny things happen and his eyes changed color. So yes, necessary.
He hadn’t expected the goody-two-shoe-brigade to understand that though, much less tolerate it. Weren’t they supposed to avenge the weak and help the poor or some such shit? Protectors of the people?
But he couldn’t believe they understood the concept, because if he did, if he ever for one second believed that they understood, then there was no difference between him and them. And that would mean they really were the same. Family.
So he pulled Buffy up by the neck, grinned at her like a skull and then smacked her back into the dirty floorboards. Her gaze went vague and unfocused for a moment, not as long as it should have.
“I killed my parents too, remember?”
“On your eighteenth birthday,” Caleb said, his voice like gravel and his eyes pitch black suddenly. All their eyes were, except Buffy’s. If Chase left that circle now, if he just for one second let go of his hostage, he was a dead man. They would kill him, ascended or not.
“Minutes after ascending,” Pogue added. Chase’s gaze snapped to him.
They had fanned out again, standing loosely, ready to fight, their eyes identical. It was eerie, the way they moved as a unit without talking, the way they finished each others sentences.
“Did you really mean to kill them?” Tyler said and Chase had to twist his neck to see the youngest. He was smiling with a mouth full of teeth.
“Or did you just want them to stop bugging you?” Reid taunted, his voice sharp and grating. Chase jerked around again, glaring vile death at them all.
They weren’t taking him seriously. Alright then. He’d show them. He’d show them how serious he was. He buried his free hand in Buffy’s hair to the hilt and pulled her up yet again, her body passive against him, soft and pliant and pretty.
“I,” he slammed her head down, “will,” again, “kill,” again, “her,” again.
Impossibly, she was still conscious. “You won’t.” A croak, barely a whisper, but he heard it. Heard it and despaired because he’d done everything he could, he’d killed and threatened and hurt and taunted, had schemed and planned and done everything, everything, and somehow they still didn’t hate him.
They didn’t believe.
Why didn’t they believe?
He was evil.
He was evil.
Someone had once told him that no-one chooses evil for the sake of evil, but because they long for happiness. He’d laughed at them, laughed and walked away because they were wrong and he was evil. He was the bad guy because it was good being the bad guy. Because he wanted to be. He wanted to hurt people to pay them back all they’d done to him, wanted to make them see what he was. He wanted to fill the hole inside his soul with their pain and their loss.
He was evil because he wanted to be.
That was his choice.
Why didn’t they see that?
“You,” came the reply, a hissper under his hands, “are Covenant.”
“I am not one of your fucking little club!”
“Not a club,” Tyler corrected.
“Not a choice,” Pogue added.
“Not a game,” Reid supplied.
“Not so simple,” Caleb concluded, one foot shooting out, smudging one of the runes.
Breaking the circle.
And under Chase, Buffy reared up, a snake that had finally found its chance to strike, her eyes clear and her movements strong, not dazed, not a damsel, not his hostage, she reared up and broke his hold, her hands reaching, grasping, pulling, holding on to either side of his face, dragging him down as her eyes flashed red and turned black, as she pulled him so close he could feel her breath on his face.
“You are Covenant,” she said and kissed him.
She kissed and poured all the power, all the fire and rage and heat and hate and despair, the huntthrilljoydangersexviolencemagicpossessivenessobssessionneed into him, through him, setting his every cell on fire, lighting him from the inside out like a fucking Christmas tree burning with the fires of hell and damnation. She poured everything she was and knew and wanted, everything she loved and hated and needed and cared for into that kiss. Sent every memory, every caress, every kiss and touch and fist and kick, every taste of blood and broken bone, every night wrapped safely between four other bodies, sent everything she owned through him and into ether.
And Chase finally understood.
He was Covenant.
Always had been.
Always would be.
Not a club.
Not a choice.
Not a game.
But simple. Very simple.
The fire inside of him was the same as theirs, they burned the same way, needed the same way, craved and wanted and yearned the same way. Takes one to know one and oh, he knew.
His hands stopped pushing against Buffy and started pulling, dragging her closer still, almost inside of him as she broke the kiss and let him rest his head against her chest, held him tight.
The air discharged as the circle was broken completely and there were more arms, more shoulders and legs and knees, more hands to hold him together and the bitter, cynic laughter in his chest turned into very quiet sobs as the power around them waxed and waned like the tide, filling up the hole, filling all the spaces.
Somewhere behind his left shoulder Caleb spoke, his voice rough and low. “Welcome home. Brother.”
There is no choice. There is no control, no free will, no making your own fate. There’s only what you are, what you will be, and the way you get there. And it’s all there, from the moment you are born on. It’s written in your skin and on your soul, it’s in your eyes and hands and movements. It’s in every fiber of your being.
And you can fight all you want, you can run and hide and rage and rant.
It’s not going to change a single thing.
Run, Baby, Run
By the time Sarah woke from restless sleep, she had quite literally managed to worry herself sick. Her stomach churned, her vision blurred – though whether that was from nausea or tears was anyone’s guess – and she felt like her limbs were filled with lead.
Caleb was out there somewhere, possibly fighting for his life. He might have gotten hurt. He might have….
Calm down, she told herself sternly. Caleb would be fine. He’d had his friends with him when she’d left him at the barn and he’d said he had things under control. Chase had been knocked out and tied up. Not exactly dangerous.
But she couldn’t help but remember Kate writhing in her hospital bed, the dead kid in the newspaper, Caleb’s worried face as she woke from the weirdest dream ever with the taste of sulfur in her mouth. She didn’t think Chase was ever not dangerous. And Caleb had refused to just go to the police. What were they going to do with their errant Covenant member?
Take his powers? Could they do that? Caleb said losing the power meant losing your life. Would they kill Chase? Lock him up? She had too many questions and no answers. She’d tried getting Mrs. Danvers to talk when she’d returned Caleb’s car, but the woman had only looked at her with bleary, unfocused eyes and told her to go home. That everything would be alright.
Sarah wasn’t five anymore. She knew that things usually were not alright in the end. But Caleb…. Caleb had to be alright. And his friends too. She liked Buffy, liked Pogue. Tyler and Reid were fun, too, in a way. They couldn’t get hurt. They couldn’t die. They couldn’t….
Stop. She had to stop over-thinking things.
Sarah forced herself to sit up and look at the alarm clock on her nightstand. It was almost eight in the morning. That was good. It meant she’d slept for a while at least. But it also meant that it had been more than eight hours since she had left Caleb in that damn barn to try and deal with someone who wanted him dead. Who had held her captive.
Eight o’clock also meant she could finally do something. She dressed in jeans and a comfortable sweater, needing the comfort of something soft and warm and damn pretty to hell. She brushed her teeth, shoved her hair into a ponytail and snatched up her car keys and purse.
It took her twenty minutes to get out to Caleb’s place, where she was summarily informed by the housekeeper that Master Caleb had not come home last night and neither had any of his friends. The woman reminded Sarah a bit of a female Gorman, but she resisted asking if there was a family connection. She did weasel Buffy’s and Pogue’s addresses out of the reluctant woman, though.
She figured they had to be somewhere and they would have gone back to the dorms where Reid and Tyler lived. Neither of the boys had ever mentioned anything about their families, so Sarah was pretty sure they wouldn’t have gone home even as she found it strange that the boys lived so completely separate from their families in such a small town. Oh well.
At Pogue’s place, no-one answered after five rings of the door bell. That left only Buffy’s home. The woman who opened had to be the blonde’s step mother, who looked at her in confusion until she introduced herself and stated her cause.
Immediately the woman’s gaze shuttered and her face became curiously blank. “I don’t know where Buffy and her friends are,” she said, very carefully, “But I wouldn’t worry if I were you. They can look after themselves.”
Sarah studied Mrs. Summers’s face for a moment before deciding to take a risk. “It’s just that, Caleb promised to call me as soon as he got home because they… they did something dangerous last night. And I’m worried.”
If the brunette didn’t know about Buffy’s secret, this wouldn’t tell her. But from her expression, she did know something at least. She shook her head. “Like I said, they can look after themselves, dear. Just go home and wait. Your Caleb will turn up.”
Then she smiled in goodbye, crooked and strange, and closed the door before Sarah would say another word. She got the impression that she had just been told to go home and forget about Caleb. What was that about?
The blonde returned to her car, laying her forehead on the steering wheel, thinking frantically where else the boys could have gone. There was no way they were at the barn anymore. The roof looked like it held off water as well as prayers and paper and it had rained all night. And even if they were Harry Potter on crack, they couldn’t fix the weather, could they? No, they had gone somewhere else after dealing with Chase. And she wasn’t even going to consider the hospital.
So what was left?
She went through all the places she’d been with Caleb in her mind and almost smacked herself. The old mansion! It was close to the barn, inhabited and dry. Why the hell hadn’t she thought of that hours ago?
With a quick prayer to the god of engines she started her old VW and kicked it into gear as fast as the tired machine would allow. Caleb was at the mansion. He had to be.
Gorman opened the door after an agonizing minute, glaring at Sarah with something akin to hate in his beady, half blind eyes.
“Miss Sarah,” he greeted, his voice disdainful in that bland way servants in the old movies had. He didn’t like her, but he also knew that his opinion didn’t matter. At least in theory. In reality, the look he was giving her made her stomach churn again, just like it had when she’d woken up, sick with worry. Because the old man looked at her like she was something bad. Something nasty.
“Good Morning, Mr. Gorman,” she returned, forcing a polite smile onto her face. “Is Caleb here?”
She knew he was. She’d felt a wave of relief so great it had made her knees weak when she’d found the end of the gravel road blocked by Buffy’s convertible and Tyler’s SUV. The Covenant was here. Now it was just a matter of finding Caleb and making sure he was alright. Making sure, too, that Chase was dealt with and they could get on with their lives now. No more magic. No more bad guys and no more spiders. She could finally sleep again.
The man hesitated before confirming, “Indeed, he is, Miss.”
“Can I see him?”
Hesitation again. And then a small, quick smile before the old man said, with something oily in his voice, “Of course. Come in. They should be in the kitchen, right down the hall, last door. Make yourself comfortable, Miss.”
He grinned a grin of crooked teeth and left her standing there in the open doorway, heaving old bones up the rickety stairs.
Sarah slipped inside, closing the heavy oak door behind her as gently as the rusty hinges would allow, mindful of Caleb’s father just above. The hall was dark and full of the kind of grime that doesn’t just cover things but eats into them, becomes them. She hitched her bag up higher on her shoulder in a sort of defensive movement and quietly made her way through the twilight of the old house.
There were voices coming from the door at the end of the hall and maybe it was fear, maybe apprehension or tension or elation that made Sarah stop in front of it, peering inside the big room while keeping her own body in shadow.
The kitchen was large and old fashioned, counters and cupboards taking up most of the right hand corner and the far side of the room. The middle of the room was taken up by a table that wore a hundred years of water stains, scars and even burn marks with the dignity of sturdy, hand-crafted furniture. There were elaborate chairs, almost thrones, at either end of the table and benches along its sides.
Pogue was lounging in one of the chairs, one leg thrown over the arm rest. He looked like some sort of wicked prince with his hair falling in his eyes, wearing only jeans and a tight shirt, looking sleep-tousled and heavy-lidded. Sarah tore her gaze away from him with a blush. Buffy was standing at the counter, waving a spatula about as she waited for something in a pan to finish frying. She was wearing a t-shirt that definitely belonged to one of the boys, seeing as it was almost long enough to cover the skirt she had worn the night before. As Sarah watched, she used her spatula to smack Reid, who was perched on the counter next to her, on the fingers. The blond howled in faked agony, causing Tyler to laugh, drawing Sarah’s attention to his end of the table. He sat on one of the benches, sipping from a mug, looking sleepy but somehow content. Sated.
Caleb stood behind him, leaning against a fridge that looked like it was straight out of the sixties.
“I’m hungry!” Reid remarked indignantly, still cradling his injured hand to his chest.
“You can wait for your breakfast, just like everyone else,” Buffy scolded, without heat.
He grumbled, the other boys laughed lazily and then the door to the left opened and the last person Sarah expected to see stepped out, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, barefoot and clearly only half awake. “I heard someone mention breakfast?”
Pogue sat up straighter – but not in alarm, why weren’t they tensing, getting ready to fight? Why did they look like it was okay for Chase - Chase to be standing in the middle of the room? – and warned, “Careful. We tend to let Reid try anything Buffy cooks before ingesting it ourselves.”
Reid kicked out uselessly with one foot, missing his friend by a good four feet. “Asshole,” he growled.
Buffy raised her spatula and added, “Seconded.”
Chase frowned and asked, “Why?”
Tyler came out of his coffee long enough to shrug and comment, “Let’s just say that she learned her potions before ever setting foot in a kitchen. And it shows.”
Why were they talking to Chase? Why were they not fighting him, not punishing him, not – wild laughter and crazy eyes that shone like diamonds in the dark, a glint of teeth and madness – not doing anything. Just sitting there. Like it was okay.
But it wasn’t.
“No breakfast for Baby Boy,” the Buffy sing-songed and Chase laughed while Sarah stood in the doorway, still unnoticed, and stared at the boy that had tried to kill her less than twelve hours ago. She remembered his hands trailing down her face, clammy and cold with sweat, his hisspers in her ear, promising fire and loss, remembered how he had jeered and gloated about Caleb’s weakness, his human plaything. She remembered being called a pet and something inside of her tensed and clenched.
Chase flopped down next to the youngest of the boys and asked idly, “So, potions? Those actually exist?”
“Yep. Never saw the point, though. I mean, we can do anything. Why use cheap tricks?” Pogue shrugged and leaned back in his chair, yawning.
“Still. Sounds interesting. You gonna teach me?” Like he was making plans. Like he was going to stay. Like he belonged here, with them, murdering, homicidal, fucked up, junkie killer, who kidnapped people, who put spiders in them and left their corpses in the woods to be found by whoever, who called her an animal, a dog.
And Sarah made a keening sort of noise at the back of her throat and six heads shot around in her direction, six sets of eyes widening in recognition.
“You said you’d deal with him?” The words bypassed her brain completely and slipped out without permission, flat and weak. Not angry, not accusing. Scared.
His face only inches above hers, eyes bright with anticipation as he flicked a finger and made her dance.
“I said we’d set him straight,” Caleb corrected, his voice just as flat, face blank. He didn’t move from where he was leaning, relaxed and remote.
“He tried to kill me. And Kate.” Made it so spiders crawled all over her, made them bite her and eat her in tiny, tiny bits.
“I know.” Calm. Why was he calm? Buffy turned the stove off and put the pan to the side, turning so she was leaning against the counter with one hip. The shirt she was wearing was Chase’s. Reid slid forward on his perch. Pogue straightened.
And Sarah finally found her nerve and said, some spine back in her words, “He should be gone.”
There was a long, long silence before Chase muttered something under his breath and pushed away from the table, not meeting anyone’s gaze, moving to stand. Sarah’s blood turned to lead and ice in her veins but he wasn’t coming for her, no, wasn’t cashing in on all those promises he made – fire and pain and toy and dog and worthless – but turning toward the back door. Leaving.
Good. Make him go away.
But Caleb and Tyler were there, the former laying a hand on the other teenager’s shoulder, the latter gripping his arm, both holding him in place. Buffy moved without hurry, slipping past Caleb, climbing over the bench and settling beside Chase, her legs in his lap. Pinning him. Making it very clear that he was not going anywhere.
Sarah’s gaze automatically returned to Caleb, who gave Chase’s shoulder one last squeeze before releasing him. “Let’s talk outside,” he said and led the way to the backdoor without waiting to see if Sarah would follow.
There was no way she was staying in the same room as Chase and a bunch of people who suddenly looked at her like she was an interesting specimen of some long lost race of man. A bug. Not useful, not worth anything, but amusing.
Caleb held the door for her but the motion wasn’t the gentlemanly charm he usually exhibited. It was simply automatic. His gaze went to each of the kitchen’s occupants, receiving either shrugs or nods from every one of them.
Like he was asking permission to talk to his girlfriend. In a flash of hindsight, Sarah understood Gorman’s slick expression as he’d directed her toward the kitchen. He’d known this would happen. He’d known and enjoyed the idea of it.
She followed Caleb to a dilapidated wooden bench, half hidden behind the overgrown flower beds. He touched it with a single digit, eyes flashing, and it was suddenly dry and clean enough to sit on. Sarah jerked, her gaze fixing on his eyes that still held a trace of darkness. He bared his teeth for a moment, face scrunched up in concentration. The blackness faded.
She flinched in fear and covered it up by commenting, “It’s going to kill you.”
“Exactly,” he said with a shrug and a grin that belonged on Reid’s, or maybe Chase’s face. “So why fight it?”
This Caleb was very different from the one she knew. Too different. The potential for violence hung about him like the threat of rain.
“Chase tried to kill me,” she reiterated. Because there was nothing else to say. Because she remembered all that he had done and planned to do and no-one else seemed to.
“He did,” Caleb confirmed, slouching on the bench, too comfortable by far.
“Then why is he here?”
Family? Family? Family did not try to kill each other? Family did not murder random people, did not… did not… “He’s a monster.” She almost choked on the words.
“So am I.”
Sarah stood abruptly, feeling dizzy and too small in her skin. She took two steps forward, one back, turned to look at Caleb. The added height over him did not help her shaky nerves at all. “I can’t accept that. He killed his parents. He killed that kid you went to school with. I can’t pretend that he’s like everyone else. He belongs in a cage.”
Away from her. Away from them. So they could be safe.
Caleb threw his head back to rest on the back of the bench, mouth open, the picture of sin and despite herself, she felt the need to touch him. “Cages don’t hold people like us, Sarah. Chase is Covenant. That’s all there is to it.”
And the ground just dropped away. “I can’t… I can’t accept that.”
He nodded and she felt the numbness seep into her bones, turning her to rock and tears. He didn’t even try to fight for her. Just nodded. Just let her go. Smooth, like a predator on the prowl, Caleb pushed to his feet and stepped around her, back toward the open kitchen door, where Reid and Pogue stood, watching.
He stopped halfway between here and there, between her and the people he loved so much more.
“I’m sorry it had to turn out like this,” he said, not looking at her.
She looked at his back long and hard, looked at his friends – his family, his everything – lurking in the doorway. Beyond them, in the dimness of the old house, she could make out Buffy, still clinging to the murderer like he wasn’t a vile and tainted thing. Like he belonged to them.
Worse, like they belonged to him.
She looked at all of them and then her turned her gaze to Caleb, who stood, still and strong and unbowed. He felt none of the grieffearpanicdespairpain that was digging its trenches deep into her heart. None of the terror that melted her spine at the sight of Chase.
“No,” she whispered, “You’re not.”
His only answer was to resume walking, his path unerring. Pogue patted him on the shoulder and followed him inside, leaving only Reid in the doorway.
“Run,” the blond said, his voice curiously empty for once, “Run.”
Like a dog.