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Chosen One

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India plastered on a smile and waved enthusiastically to the studio audience as she crossed the sound stage. She was on her fifth press junket; and if she had to smile one more time, she was going to scream. The crowd cheered and clapped as she walked across the stage and took a seat across from Ellen DeGeneres. “Hi, Ellen. Hi Everyone!” India greeted her host with a warm smile.

“Hey, India! First of all, it’s nice to meet you,” Ellen said, leaning casually in her chair. “And for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last three years, this is India Cohen The Chosen One aka our current Slayer.” Ellen paused to allow the crowd to clap and cheer. “I know right!” she said, motioning toward India. “So, do I call you The Chosen One or Slayah? I wanna act like I know you.” The audience laughed with them.

“I would say my friends call me India, but they don't really speak,” she replied with a smile still plastered on her face.

“That’s right! You recently adopted a fur baby,” Ellen said. A picture of India’s Japanese Akita appeared on the screen behind them.

“Yep! It was a gift from my Watcher, Kit. Hi Kit,” she said, waving at one of the television cameras.

“Aww how cute. So, tell me about your furry little friend. Isn’t he just cute, guys? " Ellen said to the audience. "Or is it a she?”

“It’s a she, and I named her Mariposa. She’s a year old and a bit of a firecracker.”

“I hear you two are like peas in a pod; you usually like bringing her along on interviews and photo shoots.”

“That’s true. I love her. She’s one of the bright spots in my life.”

“Awww, how nice,” Ellen said with a smile. “So, speaking of bright spots, I know you’ve got a tough job. We’ve all seen some of the videos and those TMZ photos. You don't always do fun things like this as a Slayer.”

“No. It can be tough, but it’s my calling. I was born for this. Literally.”

“That’s right. She alone…”

“Correct.” India smiled at Ellen and then at the audience.

India hated this part; the sympathetic head nods from people who couldn’t fathom what it meant to be a Slayer. She knew Ellen meant well, but she had no idea that India was just a cog in the Slayer machine. They had no clue how much of her life was scheduled and planned for their consumption. The moment India became a potential she had signed her life over to Wolfram and Hart and the Slayer brand. India’s life was more scripted than "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

“You’re one of the more popular Slayers with approval ratings we haven’t seen since Samantha Jamison. Congratulations,” Ellen said, and the crowd clapped on cue.

“Thank you. That means a lot to me. Every night I get out there, and I do what I do for all of you.” India motioned to the crowd.

Ellen reached over and grabbed some cards. “I’ve got some numbers here. Your vampire slay count is well into the thousands, and the number of demon kills keep climbing. As of the latest report, you’re at three hundred and seventy-two.”

“Three ninety-five,” India faked a chuckle, and the crowd laughed with her.

Ellen held up her hand. “As my good friend Cardi B would say, Okurrr,” Ellen said, and the crowd laughed again. “Wow, that’s something. You know, every little girl grows up pretending to be a superhero, and you’re living the dream. What’s that like for you?”

India smiled once more and tried to keep her face neutral. She didn’t hate being a Slayer. Most nights she loved the thrill of slaying, and she liked helping people. When India was a potential, she used to fantasize about the difference she could make as a Slayer. She believed in her calling even if Wolfram and Hart had turned the Slayer name into a cash grab. Kit had tried preparing her for this when they trained together. As a potential, she had received some notoriety, but it didn’t compare to the type of attention she garnered as a Slayer. Every so often India wished she and Kit could just run off together and live off the grid. They could get a little cottage in the country and raise dogs together while she slayed at night. It was a nice dream.

“Amazing thanks to people like all of you,” India replied on autopilot. “Being a Slayer is the most important thing I’ll ever do in life. And while it may not be a very long one, I’m grateful to have been Chosen. I don’t see myself as a superhero, but as a servant of my global community,” India recited. She glanced off stage and made eye contact with Lilah Morgan. The lawyer mouthed the words with her and gave India an enthusiastic thumbs up.

“If you weren’t a Slayer, what do you think the fates would have had in store for India Cohen?”

“Hmmm, good question.” India laughed nervously. “I like animals. Maybe a zookeeper?"

“India Cohen, the zookeeper. Chosen to protect all our furry friends. Quick, what’s your favorite animal?”

“Uh, uh, tiger!” India blurted and the crowd laugh.

India forced another chuckle and relaxed in her seat. Ellen was one of the more personable interviewers. She liked it better than the radio interviews; those tended to get a bit rowdy. Most of the radio hosts wanted to grill her about her relationship with Kit. When India’s fans learned about her romance with Kit, they had spun a fairy tale only Disney could have written. Lilah had freaked and threatened to assign her a new watcher until the numbers showed her relationship with Kit was favorable. After that, Wolfram and Hart had gone on a marketing frenzy the likes she’d never experienced before or since. Once the novelty of her affair with Kit began to wane, the firm urged the two of them to “dial it back.” Wolfram and Hart was ready to move on to the next big thing they could capitalize on.

India plowed through the rest of her tv spot with Ellen and ended it by performing a front aerial flip. When she was done, India waved to the crowd and shook Ellen’s hand before making her way off the stage.

“You were fantastic,” Lilah gushed as soon as India was within earshot.

“Thanks,” she said, taking a bottle of water from a stagehand and thanking him quietly.

“No, I mean it,” Lilah said, looking down at her Blackberry. “Your Twitter mentions have increased within the last ten minutes and you’re trending.”

“Rah, rah,” India said as she walked toward the green room.

“You know, you could show a little more gratitude. The partners were getting nervous about your performance, and I assured them that it was just a hiccup.”

India slumped down on one of the sofas and sipped her water. “I’m sorry, Ms. Morgan. You’re right. Thank you.”

“That’s more like it,” Lilah said with a smirk and took a seat across from her. “Kit, be a dear and grab me a water,” she ordered the Watcher.

“A 'please' would be nice,” he said while walking toward a mini-fridge that sat in a corner .

India gave him a slight shake of her head. She wasn’t in the mood to get into a verbal sparring match with Lilah. All she wanted to do was get back home, so they could play with Mariposa and binge watch something on Netflix. Kit indicated his understanding and handed Lilah the water.

“Okay, let’s post this selfie with you and Ellen. Then we’ll take one more post-show pic, and we’ll share that to Instagram.” Lilah handed India her cellphone, and India snapped a few candid shots of herself.

“Oh no, not you, Kit,” Lilah said when he moved behind India to get in the shot. “We want the focus on India going forward. She is the Chosen One after all. There’s nothing in the prophecy about the Chosen One and her Watcher.”

“Cool it, Lilah,” India said, speaking up. “I took the picture. Can we go now?”

Lilah checked her Blackberry. “Your flight is at six this evening. But I think we have you scheduled for a demon slay in The Hills. One sec and I will confirm,” Lilah said while digging in her briefcase. She pulled out a dark blue folder and handed India her slaytinrary. “See, your three o’clock is a Gacknar. It goes by Dark Lord of Nightmares. If you flip the page, you can see what it looks like.”

India looked down at the sheet of paper and read the caption under the photo of the Gacknar demon. “Actual size?” she questioned Lilah with a raised brow.

“Don’t worry about that,” Lilah flicked her hand dismissively. “I’ll film it in a way that makes him look much bigger. I can see the Youtube hit count now.” She beamed.

“Great,” India said chagrined. “I’ll be ready.” Her eyes met Kit’s, and her Watcher gave her a sad smile.

++++

Buffy checked her reflection in the bathroom mirror and pursed her lips. “You know, I’m thinking I’m more of a spring than autumn,” she said, rubbing lipstick from her lips with a tissue.

Her friend Tiffany joined her in front of the mirror and eyed Buffy’s reflection. “Yep, you’re definitely a spring kind of girl.” She raised her chin and checked for any signs of blemishes on her smooth face. “What do you think of this new foundation? It’s full coverage.”

“Cute,” Buffy complimented her.

“You think?”

“Definitely.”

Tiffany beamed at Buffy’s through the mirror and washed her hands. “So, have you decided what you’re going to do about Tyler?”

Buffy rolled her eyes and applied some clear gloss on her lips. “I think he needs to grovel just a little bit more.”

Tiffany giggled and dried her hands with a paper towel. “You are so evil.”

Buffy shrugged. “Hey, don’t blame me. He deserves a little bit of his own medicine. We call that karma.”

“Well, it’s working. You should have seen the way he was looking at you in biology. Those cute little puppy dog eyes,” Tiffany said, making her eyes wider.

“Did he really have puppy eyes?” Buffy asked, interested in the tea her friend was serving.

She and Tyler had been on and off again since the beginning of the school year. Buffy had finally decided to take charge of the relationship. She wasn't just any girl; she was Buffy Summers, May Queen and Captain of the cheerleading squad. She didn’t chase after boys; boys chased her.

“Oh yeah. You really stuck it to him when you got your Molly Ringwald on and started dating Pike,” Tiffany said, referencing the John Hughes cult classic.

Buffy’s brow knitted together in a slight frown. Pike was her rebound du jour; he was cute, fun, and short-lived. She hadn’t used him per se, but it didn’t hurt that dating him had made Tyler go crazy. Or so she heard. Pike was the John Bender to her Clair, a small delicious act of rebellion. If it hadn’t been for the influence of her friends, she might have kept dating him. Those two weeks had been pretty epic. But she couldn’t take another fish joke. Her friends were so lame.

“Well, I think I might give him a break if he’s as broken up as you say he is.”

“Oh yeah, he is totally heartbroken.”

Buffy smiled at her reflection again. “Hey, you wanna hit the mall after school? I need a new lipstick,” she said, tossing hers in the trash bin as they exited the bathroom together.

++++

As soon as Tiffany’s mom dropped her off, Buffy ran up to her room and hid the lipstick she had (accidentally) stolen from Sephora in her sock drawer. Her cheeks were stained pink with shame and embarrassment. Buffy hadn’t meant to steal the lipstick. One minute she was trying it on and the next she was distracted by Tyler and his friends. She hadn’t even realized she pocketed the lipstick until the security alarm went off. Panicked, Buffy and Tiffany took off running and didn’t stop until they reached the other side of the mall. Too afraid to go back inside, they waited for Mrs. Jacobson to pick them up outside of Macy’s. Buffy looked down at the lipstick, tucked beneath her yummy sushi socks and groaned. She could never wear it now; it was her secret shame. Proof that she was a lipstick thief, a criminal.

Buffy closed her drawer and laid faced down on her bed. She couldn’t bear the watchful eyes of India Cohen looking down on her. “I didn’t mean to steal it,” she explained to the poster of the Slayer on her wall. She had gotten it at Walmart three years ago when India was Chosen. Before India, the space had been occupied by BTS during her K-pop phase. She remembered when BTS was life. Now, she was into the Slayers, and India was her favorite. She liked a few of the potentials like Whitney Porter, Priya Khan, and Laurel Smith, but India was the Chosen One. She was special, a real-life superhero. Buffy wanted to be just like her. She often fantasized about being a Slayer. Most of her friends weren’t aware of her Slayer fangirling; she liked keeping that part of her life private. Slayers were popular, but she was certifiably obsessed. Buffy followed India on Instagram and Twitter. She watched her youtube videos dozens of times and even owned some Slayer memorabilia. If her friends found out, she’d never hear the end of it.

“Buffy!” Joyce Summers called Buffy from downstairs.

“Coming, mom!” Buffy yelled back and dragged herself from the bed. She hoped her mom was in a better mood than she had been the last few days. Joyce had been crabby over Buffy’s grades. Three C’s and a D wasn’t that bad. One might call that average. She was an average student. Average wasn’t bad. Average was…well, average.

“Have a seat,” Joyce said cheerily, instantly putting Buffy on alert. “I thought we’d have pizza tonight and catch up on some daytime tv. I DVRed Ellen. She had the Slayer on today.”

Buffy eyed her mother suspiciously. “Okay, where’s my mom, and what did you do with her?”

Joyce chuckled and patted the cushion next to her. “She’s been body-snatched. I’m just the pod person taking her place,” Joyce teased. “Kidding. Come on, have a seat. Your father’s working late again, and I thought we’d have a mommy-daughter night. What do you say?”

Joyce didn’t have to ask her twice. Pizza and Ellen sounded like heaven after the day Buffy had. Maybe if her mom was in a good mood when the police came to haul her off to juvie, she wouldn’t get so upset. Buffy slid on the sofa beside her mother and reached for a paper plate.

“Mmm, extra cheese,” Buffy said, inhaling deeply. She grabbed a slice of pizza and placed it on her plate.

“So, how was your day? Anything interesting happen?” Joyce asked as she scrolled through the DVR.

Buffy finished chewing her bite of pizza and swallowed hard. “Nope. Just another boring day at school.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Joyce said, preoccupied with the television. She scrolled for about another minute before she found that day’s recording of Ellen. “Ah! Here we go,” she said triumphantly.

Buffy settled back in her seat and watched Ellen dance across the screen before introducing her guest. She took another bite of her pizza and curled her legs beneath her hips. Buffy studied everything about India from her stylish dark hair to the shoes she wore on her feet.

“She always looks so put together,” Joyce said, watching the television. “Even when she’s slaying. I really like this one, Buffy.”

“Uh-huh. I hear she always does her own hair and make-up even on photoshoots.” Buffy was practically a walking encyclopedia on India.

“She’s way more personable than the last Slayer. What’s her name… Courtney something. No wonder she didn’t last very long.”

“Mom!” Buffy said in shock.

“Well, it’s true. She had no real zest for it. India really seems like she enjoys slaying. I like seeing that in a Slayer. Makes me feel…safer, knowing there’s a Slayer out there who enjoys her job.”

“I don’t think they really call it a job, mom. It’s more like a calling. A destiny.”

“Oh, that sounds so sweet. Either way,” she said dismissively. “India has a certain… je ne sais quoi. I think this girl is going to be around for a long time,” she said before taking a bite of her pizza.

++++

“Ready! Okay!” Buffy yelled out. Her voice bounced off the walls of the gym. “How funky is your chicken?!” Buffy flapped her arms. “How loose is your goose?!”

“Our goose is very loose!” her squad called back.

“Come on all you offense!” She swung her hips in time to her pom-poms.

“Come on all you offense!”

“And shake your caboose!” Buffy yelled.

“And shake your caboose!”

Buffy jumped high in the air and shook her blue and gold pom-poms enthusiastically. “That was great, guys! Now, let’s practice our pyramid. Janice, you were a little shaky our last game.”

“That’s because Kimberly and Tiffany were having a hard time holding me up.”

“Yuh, because you’ve gained like ten pounds. Maybe if you laid off the burgers, we’d be able to lift you,” Kimberly said.

Buffy winced. “Guys, no body shaming, okay? This is an inclusive team,” Buffy scolded. “I’ll be the flyer. Janice, you’ll be my back spot. Tiffany and Kimberly, you’ll be my bases,” she instructed.

Buffy watched as the girls scrambled into place before they hoisted her high in the air. She raised her arms above her head and plastered a wide grin on her face. “Go! Hemery!” Buffy yelled. She continued waving her pom-poms wildly and fought back the sudden bout of dizziness that clouded her vision. Buffy lurched forward just as a surge of energy passed through her body, knocking her backward. She fell back and hit the gym floor with a hard thud.

“Oh my God, Buffy! We are so sorry!” Kimberly said, crouching down beside her.

Buffy shook her head and focused on her friend’s anxious face. “What happened?” she asked weakly.

“It was her fault!” Tiffany pointed at Janice.

“No, it’s not! I’m just the back spot,” Janice protested. “You’re the one who let her fall,” she accused Tiffany vehemently.

Buffy sat up on her elbows. “Really, I’m fine guys,” she deadpanned. “I got a little dizzy.”

“Oh, it must be vitiligo,” Tiffany said knowingly.

“You mean vertigo?” Janice corrected.

“That’s what I said.” Tiffany rolled her eyes. She huffed and looked at Buffy. “Do we need to get coach?”

Buffy climbed to her feet. “No, I’m okay.” She looked around the empty gym.

Buffy wasn’t sure what had happened up there. One minute she was fine and the next she was tumbling to the floor. She had hit the ground hard, but she had barely felt any pain. She’d seen girls take that same fall and break bones. Buffy rotated her shoulder and frowned. She was fine.

“O-okay, let’s try that again,” she said with less confidence. Buffy had been cheering since she was five, and this was the first time she’d taken a tumble that bad.

“Are you sure, Buffy I could be at the top,” Tiffany offered.

“No, I can do it,” Buffy said and braced herself as her teammates hoisted her to the top of the pyramid again.

Chapter Text

Lilah stared at the row of headshots she had spread across her desk. They were her top five power rankings among the list of potential Slayers who could take India’s place. Each potential had excellent, marketable qualities, but she had her heart set on Whitney Porter. She stared down at the smiling teen and studied her perfectly symmetrical features. Whitney screamed cornfed blonde and harkened back to the idea of good American values. Lilah could practically see the mass appeal she’d have with right-wingers and the ultra-patriotic. She’d stylize Whitney as an American Sweetheart; the ultimate girl next door who could also kick anyone’s ass. Lilah was aware some of the other members of the firm were secretly running an office pool. It seemed like Faith Lehane had a small following. Lilah hoped Faith wasn’t the next Slayer. That girl had caused them trouble since the moment they plucked her off the streets. No, Whitney was a safe bet in the current climate. She wondered how the Slayer would fare if they stationed a few of her slays down at the border. The press would go nuts if she slayed a few of those border-crossing vampires. Lilah smirked and placed Whitney’s photo neatly in her file. Now that India was out of the picture, she hoped she could make partner soon. Lilah had worked too damn hard to allow one Slayer to kill her career. It was a shame because India had been so promising. Then the missteps began, and they didn’t stop. Her relationship with Christopher “Kit” Botwell had been the final straw. While the public seemed to eat up their romance, Lilah saw it as an obstacle. India became sloppy and preoccupied. And that damn dog…

Lilah pulled up India’s final Instagram post with her, Kit and Mariposa. It was so…domestic. A Slayer wasn’t domestic. A Slayer was a hunter, fierce and deadly. Wolfram and Hart had built the Slayer brand on that image. India was her responsibility, and she had let the Senior Partners down when she allowed that relationship to get so out of control. India was a good a Slayer; she had lasted three years. Some of her predecessors hadn’t been so lucky. But all good things had to come to an end eventually. Sometimes, it just needed a tiny push.

India’s final battle with Lothos hadn’t been as unexpected as it seemed. Lilah had to do a lot to make that deal with the master vampire of L.A. She left the details up to him, but the result was India’s death and the rise of a new Chosen One. Even she hadn’t expected the plan to be so tragically delicious. Wolfram and Hart could dine on India’s death for years. Some cities had already begun erecting monuments in her honor. She was scheduled to cut the ribbon at the renaming of Jefferson High School to the India Cohen High School. So, while her personal life had left much to be desired, India’s popularity was a huge asset to the firm.

Now they were entering into a new era. The Senior Partners had scheduled the unveiling of the new Slayer for the following week. Lilah was anxious to find out who the new girl was immediately. She had less than a week to prep her for her new life, and then the media circus would begin. Lucky for her, she’d already begun preparing Whitney for her new role. Lilah had no idea if the Kentucky native was going to be their new Slayer; she just had a hunch. Whitney made the most logical sense. Although Lilah was aware that magic was often illogical.

“Well, don’t you look like the cat that ate the canary?” Lindsey McDonald said from her doorway.

Lilah looked up from her desk and rolled her eyes. “I guess we’ve forgotten how to knock around here.”

“Your door was open, Li,” Lindsey said and strolled into her corner office. He took the empty seat across from her and sat down.

“Yes, well, that isn’t an open invitation.” Lilah folded her hands together and peered at her colleague. “Well, what do you want? I don’t expect this to be a social visit.”

“Of course not. Did you see my press conference about your girl, India?”

“No, I haven’t had the time to watch your little press conference.”

Lindsey shrugged. “I knocked it out of the park. In fact,” he said grabbing the remote to her television. “It’s playing on loop.” Lindsey switched on the tv and grinned as his face appeared on the screen.

“Yes, the entire Wolfram and Hart family is deeply saddened by Ms. Cohen’s death. She was a wonderful Slayer, role model, and human being. She will be missed.”

“Mr. McDonald!” A reporter from the press pool yelled out, capturing his attention. “Can we have any more details surrounding India Cohen’s death?”

“While details are still emerging,” Lindsey responded with his usual aplomb, “here is what we do know. Two nights ago Christopher Boswell, Ms. Cohen’s Watcher, was brutally assaulted and kidnapped by a group of vampires who allegedly work for the master vampire Lothos. In addition to Mr. Boswell, their family dog was also taken. Ms. Cohen pursued the vampires back to Lothos’ point of operation where she was allegedly murdered by the vampire.”

“Are there any updates on Mr. Boswell’s condition?”

“Mr. Boswell is currently being treated for his wounds and is expected to make a full recovery.”

“What about Mariposa?!” Someone called out.

Lindsey’s lips spread into a thin smile. “Mariposa is fine and is being taken care of by a member of our support staff while Mr. Boswell is in recovery. Last question,” Lindsey said, pointing to another reporter.

“Any idea on when we will know the identity of the next Slayer?”

“That’s a great question. And we look forward to revealing the identity of the new Slayer shortly. Thank you all for your continuing support. There’’ll be no further questions at this time,” Lindsey said and backed away from the podium.

“Smooth,” Lilah said, keeping her face passive.

“I told you I knocked it out of the park, and I think I smell a promotion.”

Lilah let out a scoffing laugh and walked over to her wet bar. “In your dreams, McDonald. Your last Slayer died within months of being called. You don’t exactly have the best record.”

“That was circumstantial. But I think my luck has changed. Guess who got an email today from the Senior Partners regarding the next Slayer?”

Lilah paused as she poured herself a drink. “Me, because I got that email.”

Lindsey smirked and bridged his hands together. “Then I guess unless there are two Slayers, we’re working on this one together…partner.”

Two Slayers. What a joke. Lilah gave him a curt smile and took a sip of her drink. The bourbon burned a hot trail down her chest and warmed her belly. Goddammit! She was going to have to work with Lindsey. Lilah tried to hide her frustration as she finished her drink. She busted her ass at Wolfram and Hart for years, and the partners still felt she needed a man to hold her hand. It was bad enough she made less than Lindsey when she was far more competent at her job than he was or any of her male counterparts were. This was the partners sticking it to her once again because of what she had between her thighs. Typical.

“I won’t hold my breath,” Lilah said, taking a seat behind her desk.

“So, who do you think is the next unfortunate soul?” Lindsey asked, referring to the potentials.

“I don’t know. It’s not like we will ever know these things; unless you’ve got a direct line to the PTB that I don’t know about.”

Lindsey chortled and shook his head. “If I did, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

“Touché,” Lilah responded. She sat quietly behind her desk and stared at Lindsey for a moment. “Well.”

Lindsey stood up and buttoned his coat, realizing he had overstayed his welcome. “I’ll see you later, Lilah,” he said, exiting her office.

++++

Lilah checked her appearance one final time before she headed to the conference room to meet with Marcus Hamilton. As the liaison to the Senior Partners, he was the face every junior partner in the firm communicated with. No one had ever seen the Senior Partners, and Lilah learned to stop questioning their existence ages ago. At any rate, she respected Marcus and had developed a special rapport with him over the years. She hoped the liaison would deliver good news to her that afternoon, but she had vowed to make the most out of whatever Slayer she’d get. Lilah was a winner and she was determined to win.

As the first to arrive in the conference room, Lilah took her usual seat close to the head of the table and waited for the rest of her colleagues to arrive. Although she and Lindsey were to lead on this assignment, the remaining junior partners were also tasked to support them. Lindsey arrived next, and Lilah gave him a curt smile. More junior partners filed into the office, chatting amongst each other. Lilah pretended to be engrossed in her phone, avoiding making small talk with people she had no desire to speak to. As far as Lilah was concerned, they weren’t her support, they were her competition.

“Thank you all for your prompt arrival,” Marcus said, as he walked into the boardroom. “I’ll wait until everyone is settled before we begin.” The room grew quiet as they waited for him to continue. “As you all know we lost India Cohen a few days ago. Let’s have a moment of silence for our fallen Slayer.” Marcus paused for a millisecond before continuing. “Alright,” he said, clapping his hands together. “I know you all have been anxiously awaiting the identity of our new Slayer. Many of you have expressed certain interests in our current roster of potentials. I know you’re all interested to find out if your favorite little potential has been called among The Chosen ones. Well, without further ado, I present to you our next Slayer,” Marcus said.

An image of a blonde girl appeared on the flat screen behind him. Everyone sat in stunned silence for a moment as they struggled to place the unfamiliar face with a name. Lindsey made eye contact with Lilah and lifted a quizzical brow. He was just as much in the dark about the new girl as she was.

“Uh, Mr. Hamilton,” Joanne from the 15th floor hesitated. “Pardon my ignorance, but who is that girl?”

Marcus’s lips spread into a smile. “A surprise,” he answered truthfully. “As you know our ability to track down potential Slayers is a process that requires some of our most talented warlocks and witches. Occasionally, a girl or two slips through the cracks. As in the case of our Buffy Summers.”

Buffy, Lilah mouthed. God, she was going to represent a Slayer named Buffy. She might as well start typing up the girl's obituary.

“Buffy. Her name is Buffy?” Joanne asked, echoing Lilah’s thoughts.

“Yes,” Marcus confirmed. “Buffy Summers age, sixteen lives in Los Angeles County with her parents Hank and Joyce Summers. Our Buffy currently attends Hemery High School where she is a cheerleader. Ms. Summers currently holds a grade point average of 2.0 and has an average performance academically. She is approximately five foot four and weighs 110 pounds. As of two days ago, Ms. Summers was imbued with the power of the Chosen One.”

“And I’m guessing she has no clue,” Lilah said.

“You would be correct, Ms. Morgan,” Marcus confirmed her suspicions. “I know as her representation that might seem concerning. She hasn’t had any preparation or training as a Slayer. But I trust you and Mr. McDonald will work together and produce a product that we can be proud of,” he said with a confident smile.

“And we’re certain she is the Slayer?”

“Yes,” Marcus said. “I’ll expect you and Mr. McDonald to make contact with her as soon as possible. In the meantime here is a list of Watchers the Senior Partners believe will complement our new Slayer. Please review their credentials and submit a name to me by the end of the day, so we can get the ball rolling.”

“Of course,” Lilah said and bit back a sigh.

“As for the rest of you...although you are not leads on this particular assignment, you all are tasked with supporting Lilah and Lindsey. If you have any questions or concerns, remember my door is open.”

“Mr. Hamilton.” Joanne raised a tentative hand to speak. “I’ve been working with Shuji Nakayama and recently arranged a sneaker deal with Under Armour. Now that she’s out of the running as the Chosen One, does that mean I should terminate the contract?”

“Of course not. Our potentials are just as marketable as the Slayer. She may not have been chosen this time, but that doesn’t mean she won’t ever have that opportunity. While the focus will be chiefly on Ms. Summers, we still want our potentials to feel like they are part of the Slayer family. Although they are branded differently, potentials have a rather sizeable following. So, continue fostering that relationship with Under Armour. If at any point it conflicts with Ms. Summers, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you,” Joanne said with a relieved sigh.

“If there aren’t any more questions…” Marcus said, looking around the boardroom. “You all are free to go.”

Lilah sat in her seat for a moment. She was still processing the unexpected news she had received just moments before. Lilah wasn’t sure which was worse, receiving some obscure girl with no experience or one of the undesirables, potentials who did not fare well in the public eye.

“Ms. Morgan, is everything alright?” Marcus asked.

“Yes. Of course. I was just thinking about how I can spin this.”

“I’m sure you and Mr. McDonald will do a fine job.”

Lilah smiled and gathered her belongings before exiting the conference room with Lindsey hot on her heels. He followed her back to her office and closed the door behind them.

“So, what do you make of this?” Lindsey asked.

“What do you mean? Someone screwed up and now we’re screwed.”

“Not necessarily,” Lindsey said with a smirk. “I’m surprised the queen of spin is unable to see the potential in this little turn of events.”

“Oh, I can see the potential, Lindsey. Potential for disaster and ruination. This girl is untrained. Raw. And now she’s our little pet project. If I wanted a Build-A-Bear, I can go to the mall.”

“The fact that you don’t see how this can work in our favor tells me that you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

“Fine,” she said, sitting behind her desk. “Paint this bigger picture for me.”

“When did Wolfram and Hart co-opt The Watchers Council?” Lindsey began.

Lilah rolled her eyes. “I didn’t know we were playing trivia.”

“Humor me.”

“I believe it was back in the late 90's.”

“Right, and the first Slayer we marketed as a superhero was Samantha Jamison. Do you know what was so special about Sam? Nothing,” Lindsey said, shaking his head. “Samantha was an average Slayer, and by all accounts unremarkable. But do you know why people liked her? Because she was new. Different. People like new and different. They like to be entertained. How else do you think the Kardashians become insanely popular?

“Sex tapes,” Lilah answered.

“Well yeah, that, too,” Lindsey smirked. “Slayers aren’t new anymore. But people still like them because they like being entertained. All we have to do is sell Buffy Summers as something fresh and new. Imagine, an untrained Slayer going out on her first slay. The public will be a witness to all her firsts. First slay. First love. First kill. They’ll witness all her failures and her triumphs. They’ll root for her. They’ll cry when she cries and smile when she smiles. They’ll follow her on this journey of discovery and maybe learn something about themselves along the way,” he said, ending his speech.

Lilah sat quietly for a moment. Lindsey McDonald was so full of shit, but he could paint a pretty picture. Lilah nodded her head and began a slow clap for her partner. “Well done,” she complimented him. “It’s all a crock of bullshit, but we force-feed the public bullshit every day.”

“And they beg us for more,” Lindsey said.

“So, you’re saying we turn Buffy Summers into everyone’s pet project.”

“Exactly. And the finished product will be something they can feel proud of. They’ll talk about Buffy Summers one day, and that school teacher in West Bumfuck, USA will say she was there to see Buffy Summers come into her own.”

“That could work,” Lilah said begrudgingly.

“I know it can.”

“How do you propose we build a Slayer?”

“We surround her with an interesting cast of characters. We’ve got her parents, her schoolmates, and we find her a Watcher. Then we create those hot takes and other twitter worthy moments for her.”

“Alright,” Lilah said warming up to the idea. “We take this girl and build her up.”

“Then we can knock her down.” Lindsey stuck out his hand, and Lilah grasped it in hers.

“Well, now that we are in bed together,” Lilah said, “how about we find that Watcher.”

++++

Lilah tapped her pen against her legal pad and studied the list of names Marcus had given to them. She had no idea who would make a good watcher for Buffy because unlike the other potentials, she had no footprint. They were working with a blank slate. In the years since Wolfram and Hart had taken over The Watchers Council, they had had very few missteps. The firm worked hard to maintain control over the Slayers and the Watchers they kept on retainer. Lilah joined the firm after the acquisition, but she knew that turning the Slayers into a gimmick was about power. The Senior Partners had effectively tipped the scales in their favor, turning Slayers into nothing more than figureheads. They slayed, but everything was regulated. The Watchers Council, once an organization of trained protectors of the Slayers, had sold their souls to the devil to preserve what little power they had left. Now it was up to people like Lilah and Lindsey to exploit them.

“I’ve narrowed it down to Timothy King and Paulette Staine,” Lilah said, looking down at her notes.

“What’s your pitch?” Lindsey asked and rolled up his shirt sleeves.

“Timothy has been with the Watcher's Council since he was nineteen. His uncle was also a watcher. He’s proficient in the art of Kung Fu, Judo, Wushu, and Kendo. He speaks three languages, and his thesis garnered a lot of respect while he was still in training. Paulette is a woman. So, rah-rah, girl power,” Lilah said.

Lindsey smirked and shook his head. “Those sound…good. But I was thinking we go in a different direction. I’ve pretty much narrowed my choice to Merrick Jamison-Smythe. Merrick comes from a long line of watchers. He studied at the Watchers Academy and graduated top of his class. He’s already trained five slayers, so we know he can whip our Buffy into shape. Merrick is a little mature, which may test well with older fans. And provide that additional strong male figure in Buffy’s life,” he said, sliding Merrick’s photo to Lilah.

Lilah frowned at the glossy image. “He looks like Mr. Belvedere,” Lilah groused.

“Well, I was going more for Mr. Feeny. Everybody loves Mr. Feeny.”

Lilah shrugged. He had a point.

“We’ll use Merrick to get Buffy into shape and take it from there,” Lindsey finished his pitch.

Lilah looked down at her choices. They did the cute young watcher thing with India, and that had been a bust. So maybe it was best to take it in a different direction. Lilah liked the idea of a woman watcher, but everyone did love Mr. Feeny.

“Alright, Merrick it is.”

Lindsey clapped his hands together. “Perfect. I’ll take the name to Hamilton.”

“We’ll take the name to Hamilton,” Lilah corrected.

“We’ll take the name,” Lindsey repeated with a smirk. “Once we get the approval, we’ll contact him.”

“Meantime, we’ll take a trip to L.A. County and meet Buffy and her family. I’ll draw up the contracts and have those ready by end of business tomorrow.”

“Great. We can make a day of it,” Lindsey said.

Chapter Text

Buffy was in total shock. She knew Slayers didn’t live very long, but the news of India Cohen’s death had surprised her. No, it did more than surprise her. It devastated her, and Buffy couldn’t quite understand why. She hadn’t known India personally; the Slayer was an image on her wall or a face in her news feed. Yet, she had felt India’s death as profoundly as she felt her cousin Celia’s. Her grief was natural. As a fan of the Slayer, she grieved with everyone else. But there was something particularly macabre when the deceased person was so young. Just that week, India had been alive, making videos for her fans on social media.

Buffy had learned the news of India’s death while scrolling through her Twitter feed. Fans poured out their expressions of grief throughout the hour. Ironically, the first tweet she had seen belonged to the president who was not a fan of India. The president had tweeted his condolences in his twisted way, writing: My warmest wishes and condolences to the family of the Slayer, India Cohen. Hopefully, the next Slayer can avoid such a tragic ending and serve this country better.

He was still salty about some comments India had made about him earlier that year. Buffy hadn’t believed the news until her publicist tweeted the official news.

Buffy played a clip of India from her Instagram page and watched with sadness as the fallen Slayer playfully rapped along to “Alone” by Halsey and Big Sean. She lifted Mariposa to the screen and cuddled the dog while she sang. “Say hi,” India instructed Mariposa and waved the dog's paw at the camera. A few seconds later Kit came into the frame. The Watcher kissed India on her temple and waved at the camera. India stuck her tongue out while throwing up a peace sign, and the video ended shortly after.

Buffy realized she would never see another video from India again. This was it, her last message to the world. Buffy stared at the poster on her wall for a long time and blinked away the moisture in her eyes. Was it too soon to take it down? Would it be mean if she did? Buffy stood and walked over to the desk in the corner of her room. She picked up her India Cohen Funko Pop figurine and burst into tears. Buffy wasn’t sure how long she cried, but she didn’t stop until she heard the sound of her father’s voice behind her. Buffy quickly wiped her eyes and turned around to face Hank Summers.

“Buffy, are you alright?” her father asked gently.

Buffy nodded her head. She wondered how long her father had been standing there. The thought of him watching her ugly cry caused Buffy's cheeks to warm with embarrassment. “Yep. Peachy with a side of keen,” she answered, and her voice wavered.

Hank stepped into the room, and his eyes zeroed in on the poster of India Cohen hanging on Buffy’s wall. “Your mother told me she recently passed away,” he said, nodding toward the over-sized photo.

“She was killed by a vampire,” Buffy sniffed.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I know you liked her.” Hank sat on Buffy’s bed and motioned for his daughter to join him.

“Yeah. I know it’s stupid,” Buffy admonished herself.

Hank placed his arm around her shoulders. “No, it’s not. You were a fan, and in many ways it felt like you knew her. I remember when John Lennon died. I might have felt the same way you’re feeling right now.”

“Really?” Buffy asked, leaning her head on Hank’s shoulder.

“Really.”

Buffy’s lips curved into a watery smile. She didn’t feel all that weird anymore crying over a girl she had never met. “Dad?”

“Hmmm.”

“Who’s John Lennon?” Buffy asked.

Hank leaned back and looked down at her. “You’re kidding me, right?”

Buffy shrugged, indicating she had made a serious inquiry.

Hank slapped his palms on his thighs. “John Lennon is one of the greatest musicians of all time, and I am shocked, shocked, I say, that my daughter doesn’t know this.”

Buffy laughed at her father’s mock outrage. John Lennon was old people music. Buffy was aware of her parents’ record collection, but she never showed interest it. “Sorry?”

Hank laughed and gave Buffy a smacking kiss on the top of her head. “How about this? Let’s get some ice cream, and I’ll give you a crash course in music history.”

“Will there be chocolate chip, peanut butter involved?” Buffy asked with mock apprehension.

“Whatever you want.”

“Okay! I’m in!”

++++

Buffy ran through the empty halls of Hemery High School. Her feet slapped hard on the linoleum floor, echoing loudly as she ran. She had been feeling strange over the last few days, and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Buffy stopped in front of the weight room and peered inside. She knew it would be empty during that time of day, but she wanted to be sure. She had to conduct her experiment in absolute privacy. Buffy wasn’t sure what exactly she was going to do in the weight room, but she had to know if tossing Kimberly across the gym was a fluke or… something else.

The thing with Kimberly had been an accident. Buffy wasn’t even sure how she was able to throw her that far. Kimberly weighed just as much as Buffy. I mean, I can barely lift a french fry, she thought to herself. Buffy locked the door behind her and eyed the different weight machines around the room. She was familiar with the free weights. Her coach made all the cheerleaders do some basic weight training. But the rest of the equipment was as foreign to Buffy as her Spanish homework. Buffy zeroed in on the bench press in the corner of the room. She’d seen Tyler and his friends use it a few times, and it seemed easy enough. Buffy walked over to the machine and lifted one of the large circular weights, sliding it on the bar. She repeated the same action on the opposite side. Feeling nervous, Buffy laid flat on the bench and curled her fingers around the cool, steel bar. She clenched her eyes shut and…pushed up! Buffy’s eyes flew open, and she looked at the bar hovering above her head by her own strength. She couldn’t believe it. Buffy lowered the bar and marveled at how easy it was to push it up again. She did this several more times before placing the bar back on its landing.

Buffy stood up and quickly added two more weights on each side of the bar and took her place on the bench once again. She closed her eyes and pushed skyward. Buffy sat up and looked at the bar in confusion. She’d never lifted that much weight before; it was more than she had ever seen lifted. Her curiosity getting the better of her, Buffy added even more weight to the bar until there was none left. She sucked in a sharp breath and pushed the bar up once again. It took more effort, but Buffy found she could easily complete a few reps.

How? she thought to herself. Could she always bench press that much weight? Or had something happened to her? Buffy didn’t recall getting bitten by any radioactive spiders or getting zapped by Kree tech. She buried her face in the palms of her hands. Don’t freak out! Don’t freak out, she told herself. There had to be a sane and rational reason for her sudden burst of strength. Buffy drank milk; and they said, “milk does a body good.” She also ate a lot of vegetables. Okay, maybe not a lot of vegetables, but there were some leafy greens in her lunch. Buffy stood to her feet and counted the plated weights on each side of the handlebar. How could she explain this to anyone without looking like some kind of freak? Buffy backed away from the bench press and almost tripped over her feet. She needed to get out of there before someone saw her! Buffy could imagine everyone laughing and calling her some kind of She-Hulk. She’d have to sit with the freaks or the band geeks at lunch.

Buffy rushed out of the weight room and plowed into Billy Fordham' chest, almost knocking him into a row of lockers across the hall.

“Woah, Buffy. I hear Hemery needs a new linebacker, but I didn’t know you were trying out,” he said, rubbing his chest.

Buffy’s cheeks flushed, and she looked down self-consciously. “Sorry, I was just—” She cast a furtive glance behind her and grimaced. “Pumping some, some iron,” she finished, raising and lowering her right arm. “Five pounders!” she added quickly. “Yep, nothing more than five pounds. Whew, so heavy.” She feigned fatigue.

Billy gave her a strange look. “Oh, okay.”

Buffy switched from foot to foot. Once upon a time, Billy Fordham had been one of Buffy’s closest friends. One might have even called him her best friend. She also had a crush on him for a while. But once they got to high school, Buffy went one way, and Billy went the other. Now she had no idea what to say to the boy she’d once talked to every day.

“Well, I’m going to...” she said, pointing down the hall.

“Sure. I’ll uh, see you around, Buffy.”

Buffy gave him a strangled smile and took off down the hall. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and that weight room as possible.

++++

Buffy went straight home after school. She didn’t want to be around any of her friends until she had figured out what was wrong with her. Buffy hoped whatever changes she was going through were temporary. When she arrived home, Buffy saw three cars parked outside of her house. Two of the cars belonged to her parents, but she didn’t recognize the third. I didn’t know we were having company, Buffy thought as she let herself in through the front door.

“Buffy is that you?” Joyce called out from somewhere in the house.

Buffy slipped off her shoes and placed her backpack on the floor by the door. “Yeah, Mom it’s me! Your one and only daughter.”

“Come here for a minute. Your father and I are in the kitchen.”

Confused, Buffy headed toward the kitchen trepidatiously. It was still early in the evening and her father was never home before dinner time. Usually, when her parents wanted to speak to her together, it meant she was in trouble. Buffy thought about the unfamiliar car parked on their driveway and wondered if this impromptu meeting had anything to do with it. Buffy peeked into the kitchen and saw her parents sitting with a man and a woman she didn’t recognize. She looked at their clothes, and her heart began to thump loudly in her chest. They were detectives coming to bust her for the lipstick she had stolen from the mall!

“Buffy,” Hank said, pressing his lips into a thin smile. “This is Lilah Morgan and Lindsey McDonald,” he introduced the pair to his daughter.

“Why don’t you have a seat, honey?” Joyce said, patting an empty chair between herself and Hank.

Buffy moved from the doorway with lead feet and sat stiffly between her parents. “Look, if this is about the lipstick from the other day, I swear I meant to pay for that.”

Lilah smirked and crossed her legs under the table. “Don’t worry, we aren’t here about a lipstick, Buffy.”

Buffy looked at the woman and the man sitting beside her. She’d watched enough NCIS to know what a narc looked like. Buffy shifted in her chair and glanced nervously at her parents. Hank smiled reassuringly at her, and some of the tension ebbed from her tight shoulders.

“Buffy,” Joyce began gently. “Ms. Morgan and Mr. McDonald are here to discuss something very important with you.”

Buffy looked at her mother and noticed for the first time that her eyes were red-rimmed as if she’d been crying. “Okay.” Her voice was small.

“Don’t worry, Buffy. You aren’t in trouble. Ms. Morgan and I represent a firm called Wolfram and Hart,” Lindsey said.

The name sounded familiar to Buffy, but she couldn’t think of where she'd heard it before. “Okay…”

“I’m sure you’re familiar with India Cohen, the most recent Slayer. We are the firm that represented her.”

Buffy looked at Lindsey incredulously. What did any of this have to do with her? She didn't know India.

“And we’re here because we’ll be representing you," he continued.

Buffy’s chin jerked, and she blinked her eyes in confusion. “What? You guys aren’t getting divorced, are you?” Buffy asked her parents.

Hank placed his hand on Buffy’s shoulder and smiled sadly at his daughter. “No, Buffy, your mom and I aren’t getting a divorce. They’re here because you’re a Slayer.”

“The Slayer,” Lilah corrected. “After India Cohen died, the power of the Slayer was passed down to you. You’re the Chosen One, Buffy.”

Buffy looked between the two adults sitting across from her. They were kidding, right? They had to be kidding. The Chosen One? The only thing she’d ever been chosen for was May Queen. “Yeah, I don’t think so,” she said, looking at her parents for backup. If she was the Slayer, wouldn't she have known about it a long time ago? Wouldn’t her parents have known? “I’m not even a potential.”

“We should have found you much sooner,” Lindsey said, his tone uncharacteristically gentle. “But there were…complications. You’re right, you should have been taught. Prepared.”

“I still don’t understand how this could have happened,” Hank said, irritated. “Buffy is sixteen.”

“You can’t think she’s remotely ready to take on this…this big responsibility with no training!” Joyce piped up, her voice shrill.

Lilah smiled sympathetically. “As we mentioned before, Joyce, it was through no fault of our own that this oversight occurred. However, Wolfram and Hart is committed to rectifying the situation as expeditiously as possible. In fact, the wheels were set in motion once we realized that Buffy was the Slayer.”

Buffy sat rooted to her chair, stunned by the news and confused by what the two lawyers were saying. There were so many words. Slayer, oversight, rectify. None of that meant anything to her. She was the Slayer? The Slayer. As in she who dies really young. Buffy thought about all the times she had fantasized about being a Slayer when she was a kid. She was old enough to understand what happened to Slayers. They died. And they died horribly.

“I know this is a lot to take in, Buffy. But this is your birthright,” Lindsey chimed in.

“The trust I inherited from my grandfather is a birthright. This is—”

“Your destiny,” Lilah said with a slight edge to her tone. Buffy could tell she was getting impatient.

“Maybe this is a mistake,” Buffy said nervously. “Mistakes happen all the time. Once I mistook a bottle of Nair for conditioner; and OMG, you have no idea what a disaster that could have been.”

“It’s not a mistake, Buffy,” Lindsey said. “Tell me, do you ever dream you’re someone else?”

“Yeah, I guess. I once had a dream I was Lady Gaga.”

“Not like that. In the past. A girl…maybe a Maygar peasant?” Lindsey prodded.

“A what?”

“An Indian princess?

Buffy’s eyes narrowed at Lindsey. He was talking the talk of a crazy person. “No. I don’t have those kinds of dreams,” she replied haughtily.

Lindsey glanced over at Lilah, and she scribbled something on her notepad. “So no dreams?”

“Nope. Just your run of the mill, hormone-induced imaginings of an adolescent girl. You know, filled with sex and more sex.”

“Buffy…” Joyce said, finally emerging from her coma.

Buffy shrugged at her mother. She was sixteen. What did her parents expect? “Sorry, guys. I don’t have freaky dreams about meager pheasants. Guess you’ve got the wrong girl. Nice meeting you both; don’t let the door hit you on your way out,” Buffy said, pushing her chair away from the table.

Lilah rolled her eyes and walked over to the rack of dishes sitting on the counter by the sink. “Buffy,” she said.

Buffy huffed out a long, exasperated sigh and turned around just as a knife went flying toward her head. On reflex, Buffy caught it within inches from her face. Her eyes widened in disbelief as she stared at the knife. “What the hell is wrong with you?!” she burst out. “You threw a knife at my head.”

“I had to test you,” Lilah said with a casual shrug.

“But you threw a knife at my head,” Buffy said, her tone clipped.

“And you caught it.” Lilah took her seat at the kitchen table again. “Only the Chosen One could have done that.”

“Or like any knife-catcher person,” Buffy huffed.

“Tell me, Buff, can I call you Buff?” Lilah continued without waiting for a response. “Are you one of these knife-catcher people?”

“No,” Buffy muttered.

“Have you ever trained to be a knife-catcher person?” Lilah’s voice was saccharine.

“No,” Buffy muttered again.

“And you’ve never caught a knife before, have you?”

“Fine! No,” Buffy spat.

“Then if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…It’s probably a Chosen One.”

“Or a duck,” Buffy murmured, contrarily.

“Listen, Ms. Morgan, I know you were trying to prove your point. But Buffy has a right to feel the way she does. You threw a knife at her head. She could have been seriously injured. And I should throw you—both of you— out of my house,” Hank said.

“Not seriously injured, Hank. She could have killed her,” Joyce interjected.

“Let me be the first to apologize,” Lindsey said. “My partner can be a bit…unconventional. But that only proves she’ll go above and beyond for your daughter. I know you all are concerned, because Buffy hasn’t had any training. But that’s what makes your daughter special. Lilah threw a knife at her head. And you know what? She caught it. No training, no experience, nothing. She caught the knife. That’s not something any girl can do. Buffy is special. And Wolfram and Hart is committed to making sure Buffy is taken care of as one of our Slayers.”

Hank rubbed a tired palm down his face. “I still don’t know about this…”

“I know it’s a shock,” Lilah tagged in. “I get it. I really do. But Buffy doesn’t have a choice in the matter. This is her destiny. It is her responsibility to…well, protect everyone. Without the Slayer, do you know what this world would be like? The world can’t do this without her. It needs Buffy Summers."

Buffy stood at the kitchen door with the knife still in her hand. Everyone was talking about her like she wasn’t standing right there. Didn’t she get a say in any of this? What if she didn’t want to be a Slayer? What if she didn’t want to catch knives on reflex and lift hundreds of pounds without breaking a sweat? What if she wanted these people to get out of her house and never come back?

"Wait," Buffy said barely above a whisper. No one heard her.

Lilah reached over and took Joyce's hand in hers. "I know as a mother this is hard for you. I couldn't imagine what I'd be thinking if someone dropped this kind of news on me. So, I commend you for handling it so well. Both of you," Lilah said. "But take a moment and think about all those times when people have been reported missing. Maybe someone you knew, a friend? Chances are this happened because of a demon, and there was no one there to stop it. But what if there had been? Maybe they'd still be alive today. Buffy is that what if." Lilah leveled her eyes toward Buffy. "You are that what if."

"Hank..." Joyce said. She was cracking.

"If you'll excuse us." Hank stood to his feet. "Buffy why don't you sit down. Your mother and I will only be a moment," he said and guided Joyce to the hallway outside of the kitchen.

Buffy avoided eye contact with the two strangers at her kitchen table. Instead, she strained her ears, so she could hear what her parents were saying.

"...I don't know about this, Joyce," Hank said in a hushed tone.

"What can we do? Ignore it? Pretend like she isn't the Slayer? How long do you think that will last? That Lilah said Buffy didn't have a choice."

"What do you think they can do, Joyce? Sue us? Fine. We will get an attorney. She's our little girl. She's not a, a weapon."

"Hank, you know as well as I do these Slayers don't have a choice. They said it was her destiny. What if she's right? If we prevent Buffy from doing this, innocent people could die. I don't know if I'm willing to shoulder that responsibility."

"So, what do you propose we do? Sign our daughter's life away? I don't trust these people, Joyce."

"Neither do I!" Joyce whispered harshly.

"So, where does that put us?"

There was a long pause and Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her seat. If she could hear her parents arguing, so could Lilah and Lindsey.

"So, Buffy," Lilah said. "I hear you're a cheerleader. I was captain of my squad, too. All-state." She smiled proudly.

Buffy rolled her eyes. She hated when adults did that thing when they tried to be relatable. So, what if Lilah had cheered a million years ago. She was just another adult trying to control her life.

"Sorry about that," Joyce said, returning to the table. "Would you like more coffee?” She asked the two attorneys, and they both declined. "Hank and I talked it over, and we aren't sure this is something we want Buffy to do. The last Slayer... It just doesn't seem safe."

"I understand your concerns," Lilah said. "But please rest assured, Wolfram and Hart does everything it can to ensure the Slayer's safety. Unfortunately, the nature of the job can make it challenging. However, we have several things in place that will aid in keeping Buffy safe."

"Each Slayer receives training from a highly qualified Watcher," Lindsey chimed in. "Additionally, the Slayer is provided a detailed itinerary. We like to call it a slaytinerary. As long as Buffy sticks to it, she'll be fine."

Hank sighed heavily. "Well, that's a little reassuring... Still, she's only sixteen. A child. My child."

Lindsey turned to Buffy. "I'm sure you've seen some of India's videos on YouTube. What did you think about them?"

Finally, someone had included her in the conversation about her life! "Well, she always wins or at least kicks major as-- butt."

"Right,” Lindsey said. “We've all been sitting here making decisions for Buffy, but none of us asked her what she wants." Lindsey smiled sympathetically at Buffy. “Wouldn't you want to be out there, kicking major butt?”

That’s right! No one had asked her anything. "I, uh, I don't know...”

After India’s death, Buffy didn’t know what to think about the whole vampire slayer gig. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be the Chosen One. Buffy wasn’t sure she wanted to spend the rest of her life chasing after vampires. She just wanted to graduate high school, go to Europe, marry Harry Styles, and then die. Hopefully at the ripe old age of 95. That may have been too normal for the stiffs in the suits, but it was her life. Buffy looked at her parents for help.

"How about this," Lilah glanced at her watch, then looked at Lindsey. "Why don't we take them on a slay. There's a cemetery not too far from here."

"That might be a good idea," Lindsey said thoughtfully. "Of course, it's up to Buffy and Mr. and Mrs. Summers. What do you think Buffy?"

Buffy still wasn’t sure what to think. Lindsey was the only adult at the table who had considered her opinion. She could go on this one slay, and if they saw her suck at it, maybe they’d leave her alone. "I mean, I guess we can go," she hesitated. Buffy looked at her parents. "If it's okay with you."

Joyce eyed Hank over Buffy's head, and they communicated silently with their eyes. "Okay, I suppose we can go. But if it gets too dangerous, we're leaving."

"Of course," Lindsey said obligingly.

Joyce glanced at her daughter. “Buffy, take a jacket, honey. The temperature drops at night,” she said as they headed out the kitchen.

++++

Buffy looked up at the sky and tried to identify the cluster of stars above her head. She didn’t know much about astrology, only that she was a Capricorn on the cusp of Aquarius. Buffy looked down at her fingernails and wondered if her mom would take her to get a manicure if she brought her grades up. After the night she was having, she deserved a little pampering. The cemetery was empty except for Buffy, her parents, and the two Wolfram and Hart attorneys. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were close by. After an hour of waiting, boredom began setting in. Buffy’s mind drifted to her friends, Tyler, her run-in with Billy Fordham... I guess I won’t be slaying any vampires tonight, she thought just as the ground began to shift beneath her. Buffy sat up straight, her back stiffened in alert. A low moan came from beneath the fresh grave she sat upon. Buffy gripped the stake Lilah had given her and looked around.

The moans grew louder. Buffy thought she could hear something scraping under the dirt. Nails? The moans grew stronger until it sounded like someone screaming. Buffy jumped at the sound of wood splintering, and a few minutes later a hand pushed through the moist dirt. Frightened, she scrambled away from the fresh grave, clutching a cross in one hand and a stake in the other. The man pushed himself through the ground. His face and clothing were covered in dirt. Buffy recognized the yellow eyes and the ridges on his face. He was a vampire! The demon leaped out of the ground and stalked toward Buffy with a manic look in his eyes. Beneath her, the ground began to rumble again, and another hand shot out of the dirt. It took Buffy a moment to realize the hand belonged to a child. Shocked, Buffy scooted away from the graves. Another grave trembled indicating a third vampire was about to rise.

No, no, no, no, Buffy thought panicked. She was going to die out here. Where were her mom and dad? Why weren’t they helping her? The male vampire laughed at the frightened look on Buffy’s face and loomed over her, his fangs bared. Buffy closed her eyes and braced herself for the pain. But just as she was about to give in to the fear, instinct kicked in. Buffy’s leg shot out, and her foot connected with the vampire’s shin, making a sickening crack. The vampire tumbled to the ground, and Buffy drove her stake through his…stomach!

“Not the heart.” She panicked. Buffy yanked the sharp piece of wood from the vampire’s gut and plunged it into its heart.

A few seconds later, she was covered in a cloud of dust. Coughing violently, Buffy crawled away from the grave.

But it wasn’t over. By then, a woman had crawled out of the third grave, and she ran toward Buffy with murder in her eyes. Buffy grimaced as the woman plowed into her, knocking her to the ground. She was dead, taken out by this unnamed vampire. A few moments later, Buffy opened her eyes tentatively and looked around. The woman was gone. She had run directly into Buffy’s stake, staking herself. Buffy sat up and dusted herself off. The last vampire had made it out of her grave and was standing a few feet away. She had guessed right, the hand belonged to a child. The little girl was covered in dirt from head to toe, and matted hair covered her face, shadowing it from Buffy’s view. The little girl looked up, her green eyes wide with confusion and fear.

“I’m so hungry,” she said in a small voice. “I can’t find my mommy and daddy. Can you help me?” the girl asked Buffy.

Buffy looked around. Were the two vampires she slayed the little girl's parents? A wave of guilt washed over Buffy, and she took a tentative step toward the girl.

“Buffy, step back,” Lindsey said from behind her.

“She’s just a little girl,” Buffy said with her back to him.

“No, she’s not. She’s a demon in a little girl’s body.”

The child looked up and smiled. She was missing her two front teeth. Buffy couldn’t believe a demon was in there. She was so…small. Maybe they could do something to help her? With an unworldly crunch, the girl’s face contorted into a bumpy ridge across her forehead. She ran toward Buffy, but this time Lindsey intervened, stepping in front of her. He held up his cross, and the little girl hissed before running away.

Buffy shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. She’d never seen a child vampire before. It was unnerving. “She was so small,” Buffy said in shock.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Lindsey said sympathetically.

“I didn’t know vampires turned children,” Joyce said, stepping out of the shadows with Hank and Lilah.

“They usually don’t. But it happens occasionally,” Lilah informed her.

“She was just a baby.” Joyce sniffed back tears.

“Buffy,” Hank wrapped his arms around his daughter. “Are you alright?”

Buffy nodded and buried her face in her father’s chest. She was safe now. Joyce clung to both her child and her husband, resting her cheek on Buffy’s head. Buffy looked up from her parents’ embrace. “Is it always like this?” she asked in a tiny voice.

“No. Tonight was different,” Lilah assured her. “You had to see and know what this world is up against. And why we need you.”

Buffy thought about the little girl crawling out of her grave. She must have been so afraid. “Alright,” she said firmly. “I’ll do it. I’ll be the Slayer.”

Chapter Text

Lindsey exchanged glances with Lilah as Hank and Joyce comforted their daughter. Lindsey masked the smile on his face by pretending to cough. “Come on, let’s get you back home,” he said to Buffy, leading everyone out of the cemetery.

The two attorneys were quiet on the drive back to Summers’ residence. They had come prepared with the necessary documents for Buffy and her parents to sign. Both attorneys had been confident in their ability to persuade the young girl and her family to join the Slayer brand. Lindsey had a gift of finessing his way through even the toughest clients. While Lilah often tried to ball-bust her way through. Lindsey didn’t care for the whole knife-throwing bit; that had been too risky in his opinion. But he was able to smooth it over and get the family eating out of the palm of his hand. He knew Lilah was gunning for a promotion, but with missteps like those, she was practically gifting it to him. This was an opportunity to show the senior partners that he had what it took to push Wolfram and Hart even further. Since his last foray with the Slayer didn’t go well, then this was his opportunity to redeem himself. So far, he had been doing a great job.

“It’s late, Mr. McDonald,” Hank Summers said once they returned to the house. He stood in front of the door, blocking the entrance.

“We understand, Mr. Summers. But it’s very important we get these documents signed,” Lindsey explained. “Now that Buffy has decided to come on board, you’ll want her to have every benefit, protection, and legal representation that she needs.”

“Well, I’m still not sure this is the right choice for my family. Let us sleep on it, and then we can get back to you tomorrow.”

“No, dad. Let’s just get it over with. I’ve already made up my mind,” Buffy interjected.

Hank glanced at Joyce and she gave him a slight nod. He let out a heavy sigh and stepped aside, allowing the attorneys to enter his home. They followed Hank to the dining room where, a much longer table sat in the middle of the room.

“I figured you’d need a bigger table,” Hank explained.

“Good thinking. Thank you.” Lindsey flashed him a smile and winked at Buffy before taking a seat on the opposite side of the Summers family. Lilah sat on the chair beside him and reached into her briefcase. She slid the first document over to him, so they both had a copy. Next, she presented a copy to each member of the family.

“First things first,” Lindsey began. “This is a nondisclosure agreement. The purpose of this NDA is to ensure everything that's occurred and is discussed this evening stays between the five of us. The NDA stipulates what can and cannot be discussed about this evening or anything else going forward. Please take the time to read it and let us know if you have any questions.”

Lindsey watched quietly as Hank and Joyce carefully read over the document. They looked up a few minutes later, indicating they were finished. “Do you have any questions?” The couple shook their heads no. “Great. Lilah,” he said looking at his partner.

Lilah smiled at the family and laid three small stone bowls on the table and along with three fountain pens. “Hand, please,” she said to Hank.

“Why do you need my hand?” he questioned.

Lilah pulled out a small needle. “For your signature.”

Hank was quiet and stared at the bowls for a long time. “Wait, you expect us to sign these contracts in our blood?”

“Don’t worry, Hank, it’s standard procedure at Wolfram and Hart,” Lilah said in a soothing voice. “We are dealing in matters beyond this world, and these agreements must be solidified securely. Unfortunately, a Bic pen won’t do it.”

Hank looked over at his wife, and Joyce curled her fingers around his arm; a worried expression creased her face. “I don’t know about this…”

“Mr. Summers,” Lindsey chimed in. “I know this must all seem foreign to you. But please take comfort in the fact that this is being handled by Wolfram and Hart. Your family--Buffy-- is being represented by the best firm in this country and across several dimensions.”

“What?” Joyce asked.

“We’ll explain in further detail at a later time,” Lilah said. “Just know that we wouldn’t do anything to cause harm to you and your family. We’re here for you.”

Hank looked between the two attorneys. “Alright. Fine,” he said, placing his hand in Lilah’s.

Lilah pricked his index finger with a large sewing needle and squeezed tiny droplets of his blood into the bowl. She followed the same process for Joyce and Buffy until each bowl was filled with their blood. The family dipped their pens into their respective bowls together.

“Gross,” Buffy muttered.

“Sign here and here,” Lindsey instructed, pointing to the signature lines.

“Excellent,” Lilah said with a predatory smile. “Here are blank copies for your reference,” she said, handing each member an unsigned replica of the same document. They continued with the process over the next hour. Each time Hank or Joyce gave them any pushback, Lindsey or Lilah tagged in to quell their fears. Buffy was quiet and reserved throughout, barely saying a word as she signed each document robotically.

“This is an example of a slaytinerary,” Lindsey explained. “As you can see, it is an itemized schedule of Buffy’s daily activity. It includes time for her academic studies, training, Slayer duties like studying her Slayer Handbook, and slaying. The scheduled slays are chosen based upon Buffy’s skill level, proximity, and threat level of the various demons. As Buffy progresses through her training, the level of threats will increase and become more difficult.

“That makes sense,” Joyce murmured.

“But you’ll make sure they aren’t too dangerous, right?” Hank asked. “The last slayer died—”

“Because she went off book,” Lilah said. “Which is the case for most slayers who meet an early demise. As Lindsey stated earlier, as long as Buffy follows the slaytinerary, she'll be fine. Think of it as your Bible, Buffy.”

“Which reminds me; you all aren’t religious are you?” Lindsey asked.

“Hank and I were both raised Protestant,” Joyce explained. “But no, we aren’t particularly religious.”

“Great. We had a Muslim Slayer some years back who refused to hold or wear a cross. Which, of course, was her right. At Wolfram and Hart, we respect all faith-based practices.”

Buffy raised her hand to speak, “I don’t see cheerleading on this. I’m the captain of my team. I have to be there for practice, competitions and games,” she said.

“Which brings us to our next order of business,” Lindsey said. “If you all would refer to your contract. I’d like you to look at line item one twenty-five. Because Buffy has missed several years of training, she'll need to dedicate most of her time catching up. Unfortunately, this means any nonessential activities must be eliminated from Buffy’s schedule.” Lindsey looked at Buffy and his lips pressed into a thin, sympathetic smile. “I know that must suck to hear, but we want to make sure you’re ready.”

Buffy shook her head. “It's not fair. But I'm guessing you really don't care,” Buffy muttered.

“Additionally,” Lindsey continued. “Wolfram and Hart will handle the remainder of Buffy’s academic studies. She will be provided a qualified private tutor and will finish her school year under the guidance of that tutor.”

“Now wait a minute,” Hank interjected.

“Once again, Mr. Summers, this is all for Buffy’s good. It will be difficult for her to maintain her social and academic life at a public school while training. As we mentioned, she will need to go through at least eight weeks of intensive training with her Watcher. Which you all agreed to,” he said pointing to their signatures. “When Buffy has completed her training, and if we feel she has met our level of preparedness, then we can discuss Buffy returning to school for the following school year.”

“Mr. McDonald, Wolfram and Hart seems to be taking over every aspect of Buffy’s life. I’m not so sure this healthy for her,” Joyce said.

“Well, she could end up dead. That seems more unhealthy than receiving training, so she doesn’t die the first night she’s on her own,” Lilah said.

“That was a bit harsh,” Lindsey said, undercutting his partner. “What Lilah is trying to say is, these are important steps for Buffy. I’m sure as her parents you’ll appreciate the care that we are taking to ensure her safety.”

Hank and Joyce looked at one another. “It’s only temporary, Buffy,” Hank said to his daughter.

“Sounds like I’m being grounded for life.”

“I doubt you’ll feel that way once you’re asked to do appearances or start getting free shoes and clothes from different sponsors,” Lilah said.

“Wait, did you say free shoes and clothes?” Buffy asked, perking up for the first time since they started.

“Yes, that’s one of the perks of being a Slayer. Designers practically trip over each other to get you to wear their clothing. It’s free advertisement for them, and you get to look super cute,” Lilah assured her.

Buffy sat back in her chair, pacified. “Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Well, discuss the tutoring and training in more detail later. Tonight, let’s try and get through this contract. We don’t have much left,” Lindsey said. “So, as part of Buffy’s contract, she is required to make certain public appearances. She may need to travel. All travel expenses, clothing allowances, and dietary needs will be supplied by the firm. Buffy will go through a complete physical, and we will have a dietitian assist with creating an eating plan based on her nutritional needs. Buffy will also be provided daily supplements and vitamins that she is required to take. These cannot be skipped under any circumstances.”

“But if I’m already super strong, why do I need to take vitamins and supplements?” Buffy asked.

“Because strong bones, makes a strong Slayer,” Lilah said. “The vitamins aren’t bad. I take some every day. We can even get them in fruit flavors.”

“Yummy,” Buffy deadpanned.

“I’m telling you, Buffy, it’s not as bad as it all sounds,” Lindsey said. “Now come on, let's get through the rest of this. We have some big days ahead of us.”

++++

Lindsey slid into the driver's side of his Mercedes Benz and grinned at Lilah. They did it; they had gotten the Summers to agree to every term and condition on the contract. The parents were usually compliant. Even the ones who insisted on having their attorneys look it over. “The Senior Partners should be pleased,” he said as he pulled off.

“Yes. That was easier than I thought it would be,” Lilah agreed.

“The cemetery clenched the deal. After that, I knew there wasn’t anything in that contract they wouldn’t agree to.”

Lilah snickered and checked her lipstick in the mirror. “Did you see the mother? ‘That poor baby,’” Lilah whined mimicking Joyce. “I swear, I couldn’t have written that better myself. Nice touch on the vampire family,” she said, flipping the visor back in place.

“I called in a favor,” he said with a grin.

“I was expecting one vampire, but a whole family… you’ve outdone yourself.”

“I told you, Lilah, I want to win.”

“I see. I always pegged you as a softy, McDonald. That conscience of yours is a weakness that I don’t have. But that little girl…” Lilah shook her head.

“She had leukemia. We did her a favor,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road.

Lilah shook her head. “Welcome to the big leagues, Lindsey. You’ve finally made it.”

++++

Lindsey looked out into the city. Most of the people were unaware of the dangers they faced every day. They knew about vampires and demons, sure. But they had no idea how the world worked. He gazed down at the busy street below. They were all just players in Wolfram and Hart’s twisted game. He was, too. Lindsey knew the role he played, but he hoped the game would fall in his favor, so he could reap the benefits. Lindsey planned on taking Buffy to the extent of her limits. He was going to mold her into the model Slayer for Wolfram and Hart. After he made senior partner, Lilah could do what she wanted with her.

“Knock, knock,” Lilah appeared, tapping on his door.

Lindsey turned to greet her. “Right on time,” he said looking at his watch.

“I turned in the contract to Marcus, and he said everything looks great.” Lilah took a seat in front of his desk. “Now, we contact Merrick and get everything into motion.”

Lindsey pressed a button on his phone and a few seconds later his assistant’s voice filled the room. “Ms. Parker, please get Merrick Smythe on the line.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. McDonald,” she said. A few moments later, Lindsey heard the soft click of the line switching over.

“Merrick Jamison-Smythe,” the man greeted them. His accent was clipped and precise. British.

“Mr. Smythe, this is Lindsey McDonald—”

“And Lilah Morgan,” Lilah chimed in.

Lindsey glanced at Lilah and shook his head. “And my colleague, Lilah Morgan.”

“Yes, yes, I know who you are,” Merrick said.

“Perfect, then we can cut the introductions short. Mr. Smythe, you’ve been selected as the Watcher for our new Slayer Buffy Summers.”

“Buffy Summers? I’m not familiar with her.”

“No, you wouldn’t be,” Lindsey said. “Buffy was only identified as a potential Slayer a few days ago, after India Cohen’s tragic death. After careful consideration, we’ve selected you as the most qualified Watcher for Ms. Summers. We’d like for you to fly out to Los Angeles immediately to begin your duties as her Watcher. Wolfram and Hart will assume responsibility for any expenses incurred. You’ll also receive a monthly stipend on the Wolfram and Hart Company card for you to spend as you please.”

“This Slayer… you say she’s had no training?”

“No. She’s as green as a fresh spring day,” Lilah interjected.

“But we’re confident in your ability to train her,” Lindsey said.

“Well, I’ll have to pack and make preparations for my home and my—”

“We’ve already purchased your ticket. Your flight leaves at 3 p.m. your time tomorrow. A car will pick you up and drop you off at the airport,” Lindsey said. “Any preparations need to be made before then. If you find yourself unable to meet that deadline, we’ll have someone from the London office assist you after your departure.”

“That’s rather assuming of you,” Merrick said.

“We apologize for our haste, Mr. Smythe. But the partners are eager for Buffy to begin her training as soon as possible,” Lindsey said.

“Surely, there are other qualified Watchers that are closer. Or if you’ll allow me to settle my affairs, I can be in the states within a few days.”

“Merrick, you’ve trained five Slayers in the past and they've all lived into their 20’s. We chose you for a reason. As I mentioned before, Buffy must begin her training as soon as possible. If you’d rather not be her Watcher, then I’m sure the senior partners can make some accommodations for you.”

Lindsey waited for a beat. The threat was mild but effective.

“No, no need, Mr. McDonald. I’ll have my bags packed tonight. I assume I can always send for more of my effects if need be.”

“Of course you can.”

“Very well then. I look forward to meeting Buffy Summers.”

“Terrific,” Lindsey said clapping his hands. “I’ll send you Buffy’s electronic dossier for your review. Please have a look at it and come prepared with any questions you may have. We’ll see you when you arrive,” Lindsey said and disconnected the line.

Lilah stood and helped herself to a drink from Lindsey’s minibar. “Contracts signed, Watcher on board. Phase two, revealing the Slayer to the public. I was thinking we do a promo spot that will run nationwide through Slayer TV on Youtube. A short sixty-second spot should be enough to generate some interest. Then we begin her training.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll make some calls. We’ll need a photographer and videographer. I’m also thinking some billboards off prominent exits on the expressway.”

“I thought it would be good to show her off at the fundraiser next week. That way some of the shareholders can get a good look at Buffy. We can show the Youtube spot during the event. Plus, it’ll give our little Slayer a taste of the good life. Some of the girls just eat that stuff up.”

“You’re good at this,” Lindsey complimented her.

“I’m a woman. Give a girl some couture, and you’ve won her heart.” Lilah looked at her wristwatch. “I’m going to make those calls.”

Lindsey watched as Lilah retreated from his office. He sat at his desk and picked at the manila file he had on Buffy Summers. It was the first time he really looked at the girl. She was prettier than the last one. India had been an unconventional beauty, but Buffy would appeal to the modern teenager. He and Lilah had to market her in a way that would gain mass appeal.

Lindsey's phone buzzed, breaking the silence.

“Hello, Vanessa,” Lindsey answered his cellphone.

“Lindsey,” Vanessa Brewer said from the other side of the line. “It’s done.”

“Thank you. I’ll wire the rest of the money in a few minutes.”

“Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. McDonald. Until next time,” she said and disconnected the line.

As promised, Lindsey wired the money into Vanessa’s account for her services. It hadn’t been an expense he accounted for, but he hadn’t planned for the little girl to be turned along with her parents. Lindsey had paid the vampire for the adults. He didn’t know the child would meet the same fate as her parents. If he’d known…Lindsey shook his head. It didn’t matter. It was done. The girl served her purpose in the grand scheme of things. Feeling guilty about her death was counterproductive. He had a Slayer to prepare the world for.