Chapter 1: Chapter One
It’s beginning to get dark. You suppose that that’s fitting – this is a funeral, after all. Everyone is sad, so it isn’t surprising that the sun has decided to make it just that little bit gloomier.
You aren’t sad, though. Oh, you’d liked Celia, of course – she was your cousin – but while you’re certainly feeling things, sad isn’t one of them.
Powerless is, though. You’d been there when she died. You remember calling for help, yelling, hoping that someone, anyone would come. No one had. You’d been alone, with her, and the great crushing thing that had killed her. You’d saved her so many times before, but that had been make-believe. When it had been real, there’d been nothing you could do.
Scared is another. You don’t like being alone, now. What if the same thing happens to you, and there’s no one there to help? You could die screaming and no one would know. Fortunately, your parents seem to feel the same thing. These days, they rarely let you out of their sight.
That’s how you know that they’re a little worried that you haven’t cried yet. They think you should be sad, and you haven’t dared tell them that you’re too busy feeling other things to mourn. You’ve heard them talking, saying that you’re very young, maybe you don’t really know what death is. You hadn’t liked that. You’re eight, and you’re a grown-up now. You have grown-up worries.
When they start lowering the coffin, you look away. You know what it looks like when something heavy weighs you down until you can’t breathe. How much worse would it be to be buried, to feel like that all the time? You’re scared of being alone, but being buried is so much worse.
You see a hand reach out of the soil in the distance. It’s pale, pallid, streaked with dirt. It feels the soil around it as though looking for something. Apparently not finding it, it then waves, as though that were a perfectly natural thing for a mostly buried hand to do. It seems so natural, in fact, that you’d probably wave back if it weren’t for the fact that you are at a funeral. Then it retreats below the surface as though it had never been there. You don’t know if it found what it was looking for. You aren’t even sure that you really saw it at all.
Your mom makes a sound like a hiccough next to you, which you suspect was a stifled sob, and you-
“Hey! Hey, you! Buffy!”
Buffy blinked, focusing on the woman in front of her. She had messy short brown hair and big headphones around her neck. “Hi, Lenny. What’s up?”
Lenny poked her. “Where did you go? Sunnydale again? Rome?”
Buffy shook her head. “LA. I was eight. A hand came up out of the ground in a graveyard.”
Lenny grinned widely. “Wild.”
“Sure, I guess,” Buffy rubbed the back of her neck absently. She wouldn’t describe it as wild. Dissociative episodes like that was why she was in Clockworks, after all. Drifting off and finding yourself in an alternate reality where you hunt vampires was the kind of thing that psychiatric hospitals were for. “Did you want something?”
“Uh huh. This new girl showed up in therapy today. Made quite the upset. Gotta say, I like her spunk.”
Buffy focused on the here and now. “Ooh. What’s the sitch, do you think?”
“Well, she’s not a touchy-feely type, I know that. Kissinger’ll hate her. David likes her though. Asked her to be his girlfriend, right then and there.”
“No!” Buffy said. There weren’t a lot of interesting things to be found at Clockworks, which was why she liked Lenny. The girl could have fun with anything, from someone drooling in their chair to the man who spent all his time hiding in the shrubbery. She couldn’t wait to hear some actual, honest-to-God gossip. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard any of that.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Cordelia said, sniffing. “I tell you things all the time.”
That, of course, was the other reason that she was in Clockworks. She knew Cordelia wasn’t there. She didn’t even exist. But that didn’t mean that the chemicals in her brain or whatever knew it. In fact, despite all the drugs and the therapy, her brain just didn’t seem to get the message.
Buffy listened as Lenny gave her a play-by-play of the first encounter between David and the new girl. She had no doubts that it wasn’t a particularly accurate one, though, so she didn’t focus too hard on what the other woman was saying.
With her ears safely on autopilot and Cordelia ignored (not that that took much effort, she was raptly listening to the gossip herself), Buffy thought about David. Out of all of the people here, he was the one who was most like her. Things happened around him. Things that didn’t really make sense. He had a tendency to be in places that no one really expected him to be, and sometimes he’d know things before being told. Once, she was sure that he’d made a plastic cup move within reach with his mind, but that had just been Lenny bumping into the table while she was dancing.
Things like that happened to Buffy too, sometimes. Or, in a way, they didn’t. Sometimes people told her things. People who weren’t there. She’d fixed a broken chair leg once, despite knowing nothing about carpentry or wood glue or anything like that, because Xander had told her how. Except that Xander didn’t exist. Giles often told her things, some of which even turned out to be true (a large portion of them involved demons, though, which had never been helpful).
Plus there were the things that happened in her dissociative episodes. Not all of them were in the present – some, like the one that she’d just had, happened when she was much younger. While most of them seemed to be focused on her late teens and early twenties, occasionally there were moments from later on, too. Sometimes the things that happened in them happened in real life. Not things like making out with a vampire, of course, but the background events. Things that happened in the bits of the world that weren’t based on vampire hunting.
“That’s them over there,” Lenny said, pointing.
Buffy looked. The new girl, who she had yet to learn the name of (Lenny had referred to her by a series of nicknames such as ‘the girl with guts’) was standing next to David. She was wearing a black jacket which was zipped up to her chin. It was slightly too big for her, so her hands were hidden mostly in her sleeves (“Good way to hide weapons,” Giles told her, “best look out for that.”) She wore a soft floppy hat, which had long blonde hair coming out from underneath it. It was, as Lenny had said, the kind of clothes that someone who wasn’t into touchy-feely stuff would wear.
The most noticeable thing, though, was that they’d each wrapped a single length of fabric around one of their hands, with a length of it dangling in the air between them. Given David’s goofy grin, Buffy supposed that this was the Clockworks equivalent of holding hands.
Seeing them looking, David waved, then looked abashed as he realised that he’d inadvertently waved his girlfriend’s hand too. They walked over.
“Hey, Buffy,” he said, as he moved to flop down in a nearby seat. He paused for a moment, trying to work out the logistics of sitting with a length of fabric attaching you to someone else, but by that point the new girl had already sat down. “This is Syd.”
“Hey Syd,” Buffy said. “I hear you made a ruckus in Kissinger’s group therapy earlier.”
“I never said ‘ruckus’,” Lenny interjected. “I said something about a monumental upset of the status quo, the kind of thing that people will talk about for generations to come. Speaking of – a little birdie told me that’s it’s your birthday, David.”
“Congratulations,” Buffy said. She didn’t wish him a happy birthday – he was here, after all, and Clockworks wasn’t really the place for happiness.
David smiled sheepishly. “Thank you.”
Not wanting to dwell on that any further, as she’d had her own share of birthdays here, Buffy changed the subject. “What did you say to Kissinger, anyway? If everyone’s gonna be talking about it, I don’t want to be left loopless.”
Syd fidgeted with the edge of her sleeve. “Just, you know, that maybe our problems aren’t all in our heads.”
“Oh, I can’t believe it! The human made a good point!” Glory said. “My problems aren’t in my head, they’re in that little worm Ben’s, with his twitching and his breathing and his humanity. Good Me, everything is his fault. I, of course, can’t be-”
“If you could not with the ranting, that would be great,” Buffy muttered.
“What?” Syd asked.
“My current problem is a whacko hell god, sitting just over there in a slutty red dress,” Buffy replied. “Given that she hasn’t gone all Valentine’s Day on everyone just because we’re here, I kind of think that she’s in my head.”
Glory nodded. “It is such a mess in there. Honestly, you should see an interior decorator.”
Syd blinked, clearly unsure what to make of that. Buffy couldn’t blame her.
“So I hear there’ll be cherry pie tonight,” David interrupted awkwardly.
“It’s Thursday,” Lenny pointed out. “There’s cherry pie every Thursday. Every single one. No change. No chocolate. I miss chocolate, you know, the way it was.”
“It’s not as good as cherry pie.”
“I don’t like cherry pie,” Syd said.
David looked at her as though she’d grown a second head. “How can you not? It’s got everything that you need, like, um, cherries for one and there’s also the crust, and then you can break the crust to find the cherries and-“
“I just don’t like things that taste of cherries.”
As fascinating as the discussion was, Buffy would rather talk about something else. If she didn’t then she was pretty sure that the word ‘cherries’ was going to lose all meaning. If that happened then there might as well be no Thursdays, and if there were no Thursdays – well, that way madness lay. Or more of it, at least. “Sorry to interrupt this incredibly interesting conversation, but, um, Syd? What did you mean when you said that maybe not everything is in our heads?”
David opened his mouth, probably to continue to talk about cherry pie; after all, if they were talking about cherry pie, then they couldn’t be talking about anything difficult. Syd, however, spoke first. “We’re here because we’re different. Not the same. Not normal. They think that if we’re here long enough then we’ll end up normal again, but what if we just aren’t the same as them? You know, what if we actually are different? If the difference isn’t just something in our heads?”
Buffy tried to pay attention, she really did. She wanted to hear what Syd was saying – it seemed important, somehow. She heard a few words (different, not normal, normal again), and she felt like she got the gist of it, but she wasn’t sure.
The reason that she didn’t hear everything was because Spike had materialised in front of her and was singing at the top of his lungs, the kind of prolonged, absurdly loud singing that was only really possible if you didn’t need to stop for breath. The fact that he had sprouted fangs didn’t seem to impede him at all, and the malicious glint in his yellow eyes told her that he knew exactly what he was doing.
“Oh, don’t deceive me…”
David, who obviously hadn’t wanted to have this conversation, looked from Buffy to Syd and back again. When Buffy didn’t immediately respond (she was trying every technique she knew to get Spike to shut up, short of yelling at him, which never worked anyway), he stood up. “Come on, Syd. I’ll show you the dining room. See if I can convince you that cherries aren’t all bad.”
Syd looked back at Buffy, who had by that point clamped her hands over her ears. Seeing that she was clearly not paying any attention to them at all, she waved goodbye to Lenny and got up to follow David.
At that point, Spike stuck his foot out. It was the kind of thing that people did to trip people over, but it shouldn’t have done anything, it couldn’t, he wasn’t there – but nevertheless Syd stumbled. She tried to balance herself, but one hand was tied to David and she couldn’t quite manage it. She fell.
David tried to catch her, to pull her up, but one hand was full of fabric and besides, he’d been facing the wrong way. Still, he reached out and grabbed her, but her too-big sleeves had ridden up and he caught her by the arm.
There was a sound like thunder and breaking things, and the ground below Buffy cracked, opening wide like some kind of terrible maw with teeth of jagged rock, devouring the room from below. She was falling, falling, and above her all she could see was Spike looking down at her, yellow eyes glittering. The last thing she heard, louder even than the cracking ground and the crumbling walls, was his voice.
“Oh, never leave me…”
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
You don’t notice that, at first. The first thing you’re aware of is that you hurt. You feel as though you’ve fallen off a building, but that’s nothing compared to the fact that your bones feel like molten metal scorching you from within. Your skin feels as though it is crumbling away, as though the fire inside you is so hot that you are disintegrating. That’s the first thing that you feel. You feel that before you are even realise that it’s you who’s feeling it. For an eternal moment, all you are is pain.
The moment passes, and you take a breath. The air is stale, stagnant, and it tastes like dirt. You take another, trying to calm yourself, but breathing is more difficult than it should be. As though there isn’t much air.
Then you realise that it’s dark, and you suddenly grasp why it’s dark and the air smells of soil. You reach out tentatively, hoping that you are wrong, but you aren’t. You’re familiar enough with coffins to know one when you’re in one. Your stomach is a ball of roiling terror – you’re buried alive. You scratch and scrabble at the lid like a cornered animal, and you aren’t thinking. Not really. The only thing running through your mind is a single word, repeated over and over again.
But you’re the Slayer. You aren’t going to die. Not here. Not like this. Not like this.
Coffins aren’t built to stop something breaking out of them, and besides, you’re strong. The lid is nothing to you.
Dirt falls on you, getting in your eyes, your ears, your mouth. But that is nothing compared to the suffocating darkness of a moment before, and you claw your way to the surface, sweeping dirt behind you-
Buffy sat up, and the world span around her. Not that she had any reference point for that, of course, because she couldn’t see a thing. The only things that she knew was that her head hurt, and that there was a writhing pit of nausea in her stomach. She’d hit her head.
She reached up to touch it tentatively. She winced at the contact, and her hand came away covered in something sticky. Okay then. So she was hurt, and it was dark, and she was bleeding. She took a deep breath to calm herself. The air was thick and still, but it also smelled strongly of something sweet. Cherries, she realised after a moment. She must have hit her head harder than she’d thought.
She levered herself upwards, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the floor seemed to be slightly curved and covered in the same sticky substance as her hair. She must have bled a lot. She knew that she should be worried about that, but she couldn’t quite seem to manage it. Shock, she supposed.
She felt her way around. The room was small, the walls were curved. She didn’t think that she could be in Clockworks – which made sense, given that the last thing she remembered was the building collapsing around her as she fell. The weirdest thing, though, was that the walls were still covered in that same sticky stuff. She couldn’t have bled that much, she was sure. She would know. She was sure of that. Almost.
She brought her hand to her face and sniffed it. She knew blood when she smelled it, and this wasn’t it. It smelt like cherry.
“Am I inside a giant cherry?” Buffy said aloud.
“Just think what Freud would say,” a voice replied jovially.
Buffy turned to see Willow sitting cross-legged in mid-air. Her hair was long, white, and swept back in a messy ponytail. She was faintly luminescent – not enough to see the room by, but enough that Buffy could clearly see her. “Why would Freud say anything?”
“Oh, you know. Stuck inside a giant cherry in the dark, underground.”
Buffy frowned. “Nope. Not getting it.”
“You know, you really should’ve paid more attention to Professor Walsh’s classes. This is literally Psych 101.”
“I never met Walsh,” Buffy said. “I never met you, either. You’re just in my head.”
“That’s no reason not to do your classwork.”
“Kind of is.”
“Fine,” Willow pouted, “be that way. I was going to help you out, but if you’re going to treat me like I’m not even here then I might as well go.”
“You aren’t here.”
Willow vanished with an audible pop. Buffy sighed. Talking to people who weren’t there went against years of therapy, but on the other hand she’d hit her head (she couldn’t think of any other explanation for being in a giant cherry), and she could use the company. “Come back, Will. If I’m going to be stuck in a giant cherry I might as well do it with a friend.”
There was a rush of air as Willow reappeared. It reminded Buffy that not only was she in a cherry, but she also seemed to be buried. Soon there wouldn’t be any air at all. Willow smiled at her. “Seeing as you asked so nicely.”
“Don’t suppose you know a way out of here?” Buffy asked. She didn’t have much hope. Stupendously powerful witch Willow might be, but she also wasn’t there. Magic was all very well and good, but it didn’t exist.
She ignored the idea that it was the only reasonable explanation for her current situation.
To her surprise, Willow nodded. “Of course! Why do you think I’m here?”
“To make really bad jokes about Freud?”
“No! Well, maybe a little bit,” Willow said sheepishly. “Mainly I’m here to remind you about what you said when we decided to call all the Slayers. Do you remember?”
Buffy shook her head. “Not really. I didn’t really like myself at that point, so I try not to think about that whole time period.”
“You know, ready to be strong, yada yada? You gave a whole speech. Very inspiring.”
“Oh yeah, that. What about it?”
Willow drifted forward. “Well, are you ready to be strong?”
Buffy shrugged. “Not really. Honestly I feel sick and kind of woozy.”
“Work with me a little here, will you?”
“Fine,” Buffy said, “sure. I’m ready to be strong.”
“Good,” Willow replied. “You’re going to need to be.” Then she reached out and touched Buffy on the forehead.
It didn’t feel like anything. That’s not to say that Buffy felt nothing – it felt like someone touching scar tissue. There was a sense of pressure, but nothing else. In short, it felt like being touched by someone who wasn’t there.
Buffy felt as though all warmth left her body in an instant. Her arms felt heavy, her legs buckled. Her breath steamed in the still air. She felt tired, more tired than she had ever felt. Her head was a throbbing mess which felt like it was going to burst, which was fine, because if it burst then she could rest, she could sleep-
She almost missed the cracking sound as the wall next to her ruptured. Almost. But not quite.
As it was, she saw the hands reach through it. They were small, and bloody. Buffy was no expert, but she was sure that several fingers were broken. Nothing could bend like that and be whole.
But then nothing could break through a stone wall like it was made out of paper, either. Even if the wall was covered in crushed cherries.
Or nothing human anyway.
Something tumbled through the gap. It was human - or rather, it had been. One arm was clearly dislocated, and there was an actual dent in its head, which was covered in matted blood. The back was also clearly snapped, leaving the thing a twisted heap of broken pieces.
None of that seemed to bother it much. It moved in jerky, uncoordinated movements, like something being moved by a puppeteer who didn’t really know what they were doing. It stood straight, more or less, its back singing a chorus of pops and grating bones. It grinned at Buffy, baring bloody teeth in a smile that was disconcertingly cheerful.
Buffy recognised the smile. She recognised the eyes – or rather eye, given that one of them was a ruined mess. She recognised the hair, matted and dirty as it was.
Lenny bowed, her wrecked arm sweeping across the floor. It was Lenny, even though she was definitely, indisputably dead.
Buffy was confused. This had nothing to do with her being strong. This thing, the thing that had been Lenny, that was strong. But it had nothing to do with her. It was a zombie, or something like it. If this was magic, it was crude and dark. Not like Willow at all. Or at least, not like the Willow with the white hair.
The Willow who wasn’t around anymore, either.
Buffy looked back at Lenny, who was grinning at her expectantly. Obviously she was waiting for something.
Buffy sighed. She had no idea what was going on. She didn’t even know if anything was going on. For all she knew, this might be going on inside her head. She supposed that she might as well go with it. It wasn’t as though she had anything else to do. “Okay then. I guess we’d better get out of here.”
Without a word, the thing that had been Lenny reached up and began tearing through the stone as though it was wet clay, shunting it aside effortlessly despite being obviously broken. It left a tunnel behind her – small, cramped, but still big enough for Buffy to climb through. So Buffy followed, and thought that anyone up there was about to see something much, much worse than a hand reaching out from a grave and waving.
Buffy knew the instant that she breached the surface. She could tell because a light seemed to be shining right in her face. She blinked and covered her eyes, blinded by a sudden rush of tears. As she did so, she staggered backwards, letting loose a cascade of rubble. She froze instinctively, but nothing happened. She wasn’t buried in an avalanche of detritus. After taking a few moments to adjust, she opened her eyes and looked around.
Clockworks was gone. Oh, there were a few walls here and there that were more or less intact, but they were few and far between. The place looked like it had been hit by an earthquake – which, Buffy rationalised, is what must’ve happened. It was dark, but someone had set up gigantic lights all over the area so that the rubble was lit as clearly as if it was daylight.
In the light, Buffy saw two things.
The first was that there was a complete absence of Lenny. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t there – there was no sign that she had been there. There were no tracks leading off somewhere else. There wasn’t even a corpse. If it wasn’t for the tunnel, Buffy wouldn’t have known that she had ever been there at all.
The second was a man. He was wearing some kind of military uniform, and was leaning against one of the lights just a few feet away from her, and he had a gun in his hands. He was also looking directly at Buffy.
Buffy flinched automatically, but the man didn’t react at all, didn’t even blink. Buffy paused and waved a hand in front of her, but he still didn’t move. It wasn’t that he didn’t see her – it seemed more like he he wasn’t there. His body was there, but his mind was somewhere else.
Buffy crept towards him slowly. She knew how these things went. If there were people with guns around, and you had a chance to take one, then that’s what you did. Well, in her experience, it was actually usually people with swords, but the same principle applied.
(It probably didn’t, in the real world, but she was going to do it anyway.)
She was about halfway there when she heard a voice behind her. “Hey! I’ve got one!”
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
There are two things that you don’t like about being a Slayer.
Actually, no. That’s not true. There are lots of things you don’t like. There’s the fact that it kills your love life, usually literally. There’s the universal law which states that whenever you buy some cute clothes, you will get them covered in demon goop. There’s also the whole thing about being the only line of defence against things that go bump in the night, which is never fun.
But those are things that every Slayer hates. The things that you hate, as The Leader, are a little different.
Neither of them, technically, are to do with demons or witches or even Slayers. It’s the Slayer families that you hate.
The first thing that you hate is telling a family that their daughter, girlfriend, wife, mother, has died. There had been a time when it had been you telling them that, every single time, because if someone died then it was your fault – after all, you’re the one in charge. If you make a bad call, or you’re too slow, or too weak, then it’s your fault. You’re the one that they should blame, and you make sure that they know that. Usually, they do. They rant and rail and scream and cry. You hate every second of it, but that’s not the worst of it. Worse still is when you tell them what happened, how you were stupid and you got their loved one killed, and they hug you and hold you and tell you it isn’t your fault. Some demon did it. There was nothing you could do. That makes you hate yourself more than anything, because there’s always something that could have been done. How dare they forgive you? You can’t.
These days, though, it isn’t always you who has to tell the families. You’ve gotten too big - there are Slayers out there that you’ve never even met. So the people who did know them give them the news instead. You know this shouldn’t make you feel relieved, but it does.
Even so, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is finding a new Slayer, and telling the family. Usually, they’re relieved. Now they know why their mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter is terrifyingly strong, why she has dreams of people dying, why she barely ever sleeps. There’s a reason. They’ve been chosen. You don’t tell them about some old dudes who decided to stick a force of primordial darkness inside a young girl so they could save their own skins. They’ll find that out later, probably, but for now its best if they think that they’re one of the girls in all the world, chosen to fight the forces of darkness.
Then there’s the dread when the family realises what that means. Demons are real, vampires are real, magic is real, and almost all of that wants you dead. You and the rest of the world with you. Sooner or later, they know that you or someone like you will come knocking, and tell them that you were stupid and you got their loved ones killed. Their lives go on pause as they wait for that day. They were a family - now they're a ticking time bomb.
That’s what you think of, when one of the people tasked with finding a new Slayer comes up to you and tells you they’ve found one. You think about how you’re the person who’s just dropped into their lives and torn it apart. That’s all you-
Buffy blinked. It wasn’t the time for that. Not when there were people with guns around. Not when there was danger.
Not that that had ever made a difference. There was a reason that Buffy didn’t drive.
She turned around.
The person who’d spoken wasn’t military, or at least didn’t look like it. He was wearing a flat cap and three-piece suit, and though he was armed, it was with a large, old-fashioned gun which didn’t look anything like the rifle that Buffy had been about to steal.
The most important thing, though, was that the gun wasn’t pointed at her. That was something of a surprise, given that Buffy was covered in dirt and blood and there was a seemingly incapacitated soldier a few feet from where she was. If she’d been him, she would definitely have the gun aimed at her. She’d probably have fired it, in fact, and not even bothered to say anything to give her position away.
Buffy frowned. That was a good point, actually. She looked like something out of a horror film, and this guy didn’t even have the courtesy to point a gun at her. Obviously something was going on, and she had no idea what it was. “Who are you?”
It seemed like a good place to start. Buffy hadn’t actually expect an answer. “Ptonomy,” the man replied. “This your work?”
“Is what my work?”
He gestured eloquently at the ruins of Clockworks. “All this.”
“Are you seriously asking me if I caused an earthquake?”
Ptonomy looked at her shrewdly. “Is that what this is?”
“What else could it be?”
He shrugged. “Generally earthquakes don’t limit themselves to a single building. Plus there’s everything else.”
He tilted his head. “So this wasn’t you?”
“I told you,” Buffy said exasperatedly “I can’t make earthquakes. Or whatever it is that you think this is. I don’t know what’s going on, who you are – is Ptonomy your name, or your organisation, or-”
He smiled at her. “My name. Ptonomy Wallace.”
Buffy took a deep, shaky breath. “Okay then. Ptonomy, I’m going to ask you a question. I’d love it if you could answer.”
“Shoot,” he said. “Metaphorically speaking, of course.”
“What is going on?”
“Ah. One of the big ones.” He focused on something going on behind Buffy. “You want to handle that one?”
Buffy turned around again. She began to feel as though there was going to be something creeping up behind her no matter which way she was looking. Sadly, that was something she was used to feeling. It was just that she was normally a Slayer when she felt it. Not an ordinary if mentally unstable human.
When Buffy turned around, she was almost certain that she was hallucinating. For one thing, she saw a young Native American woman, probably in her late teens. For another, she had a sword strapped to her back, an honest-to-God sword. For a third, everything about her just screamed Slayer, from the way she held herself to the way she moved.
Buffy didn’t recognise her, but that wasn’t terribly unusual. Buffy the vampire Slayer had years and years of experiences, and Buffy didn’t remember all of them. Sometimes she hallucinated people and had no idea who they were, and she had to wait for them to tell her.
For a moment, Buffy looked around, trying to find the person that Ptonomy was talking to (she ignored the idea that he might be a hallucination too), before the young woman gently prodded the catatonic soldier, making him topple sideways. His didn’t seem to notice. If it wasn’t for the fact that Buffy could see him breathing, she would have thought that he was dead.
“Don’t play with the soldiers, Kerry,” Ptonomy said tiredly. Buffy got the distinct impression that that wasn’t the first time that he’d had to say that.
Kerry straightened. “Sorry.” Buffy didn’t believe that for a second. Kerry nodded at Buffy. “This the one?”
“Sure looks that way,” Ptonomy replied neutrally.
Kerry looked at Buffy, sizing her up. Buffy had/hadn’t done that enough to know what it looked like. Then she smiled in a way that was obviously intended to be comforting, but just looked strained instead. “You’re a mutant.”
Ptonomy gave an amused snort from behind her.
“Mutant,” Kerry said, as though it explained everything. “You have a gift. We’ll teach you to hone your gift so you, uh, aren’t a walking weapon of mass destruction who makes giant cherries underground.”
Buffy stared at her for a long moment before turning back to Ptonomy. “You want to translate?”
She ignored Wesley, young, clean shaven, suited and an utter dork, who rolled his eyes and said “One girl in all the world… get with the program. What has Rupert been teaching you?”
Ptonomy paused to compose his thoughts. “You know how people can have, hmm, something wrong with their genes? Something like Huntington’s or sickle cell anaemia, problems caused by an abnormality at the genetic level. Well, sometimes people’s genes let them do… something different.”
“Like collapse buildings with a thought,” Kerry supplied helpfully.
“Yes, like that,” Ptonomy agreed.
“You’re talking about magic,” Buffy said. She felt ill. Magic didn’t exist. Couldn’t exist. She had spent years and years trying to believe that, taking drugs and talking to therapists until she’d gotten to the point where she believed it. At least some of the time. And now these people were saying that she had a gift – oh sure, they were spouting science talk as well, but then they’d said that Tara was magical because she was half demon. This was the kind of thing that people did with things that they didn’t really understand.
“No, no, it’s not-“ Kerry started, but Ptonomy held up a hand.
“Sure. It’s magic. If that’s what works for you. Kerry and I can do things. These people, the soldiers, they don’t like people like us. They think that because we do things that most people can’t, we aren’t really human. We’re different, so we can’t be human.” He bared his teeth in something that would probably have been a smile if it hadn’t been quite so bitter. In the harsh glare of the lights, his teeth looked very white against his dark skin. “I’m sure you know that story.”
Buffy flushed and looked away. “You… you think that the thing that I can do is… what? Destroy buildings?” She didn’t mention anything about the cherries, because that seemed a little too wacky even for magic. She also didn’t mention being rescued by Lenny’s broken corpse, because that seemed like it would raise a lot of questions and, given that the corpse wasn’t around, Buffy didn’t think that she could answer them.
“Someone did,” Ptonomy answered simply. “There was no sign of explosives. No earthquake. Nothing. The earth just opened up and the building fell down. To us, that sort of indicates that a person did it. Division Three – the soldiers – obviously think so too.”
Buffy scratched her head. To her extreme mortification, this dislodged a lump of mud. “Okay then. Okay. Right. And you said something about cherries? Please tell me you said something about cherries. Because weapon of mass destruction, sure, death is my gift, whatever – but cherries?”
Ptonomy nodded. “So far, Division Three has recovered almost two dozen bodies. Every one of them was found inside an enormous cherry.”
“Seriously cherries?” Buffy shook her head. “Freud would have a field day.”
Ptonomy snorted in laughter. Kerry made a confused noise. Wesley shook his head and began admonishing her for levity in a dangerous situation. Buffy silently thanked Willow.
“Cherries,” Ptonomy confirmed solemnly after a moment, only his eyes giving away his mirth. “Has anything like this happened to you before?”
“I can honestly say no to that one. I’d be really surprised if anyone had been through this before.”
“Normally mu- people with magic make stuff happen around them. Sometimes without meaning to. Have you ever, I don’t know-“
“Oh, sure. Tonnes of times. But only in my delusions where I hunt vampires and demons.” Buffy shrugged. “I live in a… lived in a psychiatric hospital. Crazy stuff is the norm. Just, generally, it’s me that the…” Buffy trailed off.
Buffy blinked. “How did you know his name?”
“I know the names of everyone who lived and worked at Clockworks. What about David?”
“Things… happened when David was around. Like, he’d be places that he shouldn’t be. Know things. I swear he moved something with his mind once, but that was just-“
“Did they find David’s body?” Kerry interrupted.
Ptonomy shook his head. “Not yet.”
Buffy stumbled a little bit over the idea that David might be magical. Or a mutant or whatever. Then something that Ptonomy had said caught her attention. “Wait. Hold on a second. What do you mean, not yet?”
Ptonomy rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Clockworks collapsed two days ago.”
“And if you’ve survived buried underground for two days, then we’re pretty sure you’re a mutant,” Kerry added blithely.
“No. No no no. That doesn’t make sense. I was down there, what, ten minutes? Sure, maybe I was unconscious for a bit, but… two days? No, no no. You’re wrong.”
But then Buffy thought about how long it would take to set up the lights, to dig up nearly two dozen bodies, to identify them…
Two days in the dark. Buried. She should be dead.
She looked up at Ptonomy, so sure and certain, and thought about how Kerry had seemed to think that telling Buffy she was a mutant would be a relief. It wasn’t. She knew what it was like to tell someone that they were a part of something, and that people would hunt you because of it. She wasn’t dead, but she might as well be.
“I did say you’ll need to be strong,” Willow whispered gently in her ear.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
You’ve just ripped the door off one of the cupboards in your kitchen. You hadn’t meant to – it’s always been a little bit stiff, and you’re used to having to pull it pretty hard in order to open it. What you aren’t used to, though, is being much, much stronger than you should be. You'd pulled it rather harder than you had planned.
This isn’t the first accident that you’ve had. You’ve accidently ruined three door handles. You broke the lock on the bathroom door – you hadn’t even realised that it had been locked in the first place. It had taken Dawn screaming for you to figure it out. Yesterday, you pulled one of your drawers clean out, and only your absurdly fast reflexes had kept it from slamming into the wall behind you. And that was just some of the things that had happened around the house. It had been just as bad in school.
Your dad is beginning to get annoyed by all of this. At first it had been funny. There had been jokes about moving house before it fell apart – surely if Buffy, of all people, was breaking things left, right and centre, then it was one step away from complete disintegration. But around the time of the bathroom door there had been an edge to the jokes. When he talked about moving, your dad didn’t smile and your mom just looked sad.
Of course, now you know why you keep breaking things. The house isn’t going to collapse, like Dad thought. You aren’t some freak of nature, which is what you had thought.
Well, maybe that last bit isn’t strictly true. You aren’t natural – no one gifted with the strength, speed and skills to hunt vampires is.
Dad begins making disgruntled noises – you’ve ruined his breakfast, he’s going to have to call someone to get it fixed, honestly, is this house even worth it? Mom flutters around anxiously. Dawn reaches past you for the cereal which would have been your breakfast, if it wasn’t for the fact that you’ve just lost your appetite. She doesn’t miss the opportunity to make a snide comment about you ruining things as she does so.
You nod, which seems to surprise Dawn. You do ruin things. Being a Slayer does tend to put a damper on things, and you’ve only known about that for a few hours. You haven’t even gone hunting yet.
You haven’t even told them what you are yet. You don’t know how you can – you just know that you have to. Things are falling apart, you can feel that, and Dawn can feel it too – she blames you, you know that. She just said as much.
But you won’t tell them yet. It’s a school day. Now isn’t the time. You can afford to wait. You-
“-haven’t heard a word I said, have you?”
Buffy frowned. “Sorry, what did you say?”
Ptonomy looked annoyed that she wasn’t listening. Buffy got the impression that he would have crossed his arms in irritation if it weren’t for the gun that he was holding. Even so, Buffy thought that there was something else as well. Concern, she suspected. After all, she was covered in blood, mud, and cherry.
“He was asking if you knew anything about wh-“
Ptonomy interrupted Kerry. “We’ve got a boat nearby. Do you want to come with us?”
“What?” Buffy asked.
“We’re here to catch whoever did this,” Kerry added. “We chase them, then we catch them. We don’t just pick up the nearest person and call it a day.”
“Kerry, if it was David who did this, then he’s probably long gone. It’s been two days. If he is buried somewhere around here, chances are he’s as dead as everyone else. Everyone else died in the building collapse, or suffocated inside the cherries. We’ve got a lead, now, but more importantly we’ve got someone who didn’t die in the fall and didn’t suffocate.”
Kerry sighed. “Fine. Whatever. But we’ll head out again as soon as we drop her off.”
Ptonomy smiled briefly. “Sure.”
“Hold on a second,” Buffy said, “why do you think that I’d want to come with you? I don’t even really know who you people are.”
“For one thing, once we leave the soldiers will wake up-”
“-they’ll take you in for interrogation-”
“-for another you’ve got a nasty head wound-“
“-no one likes a mutant with a headache-“
“-but, most importantly, we’ve got showers,” Ptonomy finished with a grin.
Buffy looked down at herself, and then promptly wished that she hadn’t. Not just because it made her head spin. She looked like – well, she looked like she’d just come out of an exploding cherry factory. She didn’t have any money on her, and looking like she did she wouldn’t be able to get very far even if she did avoid the soldiers. “You might have a point there.”
The words were barely out of her mouth before Kerry was moving past her. Despite the rocky, unstable terrain and the fact that having a sword strapped to your back couldn’t be good for your balance, she moved as easily as though she were simply walking down the street. Ptonomy waited for Buffy.
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Buffy was quiet largely because she wasn’t a Slayer and therefore couldn’t effortlessly pick a way through the rubble, especially not with her head feeling like there was a small grenade going off inside of it. She also didn’t say anything because she didn’t have anything to say.
She had spent years trying to deal with the fact that she didn’t have superpowers, that she didn’t have friends with superpowers, that there were no such things as demons or vampires or witches. Technically all of that was still true, but mutants with strange genes that gave them superpowers was almost as bad. She didn’t have anything to say because what could you say, when you were presented with something like that?
But, after a little while, Buffy realised that she couldn’t just say nothing. There were things she needed to know. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” Ptonomy replied. “I suspect you probably have a few.”
“Mmm. I just wanted to know – you said the soldiers would wake up when we left.”
“Ah. You want to know what happened to them?”
Buffy paused. She didn’t want to know. She really, really didn’t. The answer was, without a shadow of a doubt, going to be something that she didn’t want to hear. She didn’t want to know about superpowers or mutants or anything like that. But it seemed like she needed to know, and anyway, it wasn’t like she wasn’t familiar with knowing things that she didn’t want to. “Yeah.”
“I… remember everything. Every second. Every moment. Every little thing, flawlessly. Everything. You understand? I even remember being born. I can, if I touch someone, look through their memories. I can see what their past is, or at least the subjective thing that they think of as the past. I can make people sleep, and remember. That soldier, the one you were moving towards? He was remembering his first kiss with his high school girlfriend. He was there, in that moment – or, rather, in his memory of that moment.”
Buffy digested that for a few moments. “I’m sorry.”
Ptonomy blinked in surprise. “Why?”
“I know what that’s like. A little. Sort of, maybe. To remember things that are… difficult. To be there, in that moment, as though it was fresh and current,” Buffy shrugged sheepishly, “I mean, the thing that happens to me isn’t quite the same but… well, yeah, you know.”
“What – can I ask, what is the thing that happens to you?” Ptonomy said, in a carefully neutral tone.
“Well, um, you know that Clockworks is - was a psychiatric hospital, right? The reason that I was there was… I have these moments, when I remember not being me. Well, I am me, but not this me. I’m me, but if I lived in a world of magic and demons and stuff, and I was a girl with superpowers who fights vampires. If you remember – of course you do – earlier, when I wasn’t listening to what you said? I wasn’t here. I was a fifteen year old girl, who’d just torn the door off of a cupboard. My family was upset, and I was thinking about… anyway. I was there. I was then.”
Buffy waited for a few moments, to see if he would say more. She waited a few more moments, just to make sure. He still didn’t speak. “Uh, could you, you know, say something? Like, could you say ‘Hey, Buffy, don’t worry, we deal with that sort of stuff all the time’?”
“You didn’t tell me your name before.”
“I didn’t know your name was Buffy. So no, I couldn’t say that.”
“Right. Okay. And if we can not do the whole point missing thing, that would be so great.”
“Honestly? I have no idea what to do with what you just told me. I’m not an expert on these things. At a guess, I’d say you were some kind of psychic. Things can get pretty rough if you have psychic powers and don’t know it. Wouldn’t surprise me if that’s your brain coping with the stress.”
“Uh huh. That’s great. I’ll call home and tell Mom that I’m only crazy because I’m, oh, Mystic Meg, and once I get a handle on that I’ll be fine and dandy and ready to join the circus. That won’t get me committed. Again.”
“You should really talk to Cary,” Ptonomy said in a placating tone.
“What, little miss Slayer? Pretty sure that isn’t going to help.”
“What? Oh, you mean Kerry?”
Buffy looked at him. “Uh, yeah? You did say Kerry, right?”
“Kerry is… difficult to explain. You might want to wait until we get back.”
“Speaking of that – where are we going, exactly?”
“Place called Summerland. It was set up, oh, decades ago as a safe place for mutants. People won’t look for us there. We’ve got people there who can help you find out what you can do.”
“Right,” Buffy said doubtfully.
“Honestly!” Ptonomy reassured her. “You aren’t the first mutant we’ve helped.”
“Bet I’m the first to have been buried in a cherry for two days though, huh?”
“Yes, that is new.”
At that point, Buffy stumbled as a stone shifted beneath her feet. She would have fallen, but Ptonomy caught her almost before she had even begun falling. It wasn’t the neatest of saves – the butt of his gun somehow managed to catch her under the chin, which sent white flashes dancing across her eyes as her head re-exploded – but she didn’t fall.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Buffy muttered, trying very hard to keep her head still. She was sure that moving it would probably kill her. As a result, it took her a few moments to realise that it hadn’t been Ptonomy who’d spoken.
Giles peered at her, looking far more concerned than anyone who didn’t exist had any right to. “I’ve had my fair share of head injuries, Buffy. Seems like you’ve got a concussion. You need to rest.”
Buffy glared at him as balefully as she could. She suspected that she was about as threatening as a kitten.
She dimly heard Ptonomy speak. “The boat’s about a minute’s walk from here. Do you feel up to it?”
Buffy did not turn to look at him (movement of the head would lead to death), but she said “Yes.” She sounded far more certain than she felt, and she didn’t sound very certain.
“Given that we’re going on a boat,” Giles said, “it’s probably safe to assume that there’ll be some water nearby. There are numerous spells to summon spirits of the water to heal or protect. Some are said to be able to make boats travel faster, too. I’ve never cast any of them myself, but I know the forms. If you want, I can always cast one for you?”
Buffy grunted. It wasn’t a yes or a no, just a grunt. Her head hurt, and she didn’t want to think, let alone talk to someone who didn’t exist about things that existed even less than he did.
Nevertheless, Giles seemed to take it as a yes. He began chanting under his breath, his hands moving in complex, fluid patterns. It looked like he’d braid his fingers together at any moment. Buffy caught a handful of words, none of which she understood – Anahita, Njord, undine.
Giles finished chanting just as they reached the boat. It was a much larger boat than Buffy had expected – if it had had any sails, she probably would have called it a yacht. It might in fact be a yacht. She wasn’t an expert in these things.
The spell, to no one’s surprise (except possibly Giles, which, Buffy reflected, was still no one), did absolutely nothing. Giles looked at her ruefully, and then vanished.
Kerry, who had reached the boat some time ago and seemed to have been doing some nautical things to it to make it ready to do boat things, jumped down from the deck and then helped the pair up. Buffy was in too much pain to resent her for having Slayer powers when all she had was a throbbing headache.
Ptonomy settled her in a cabin before heading back onto deck in order to do, presumably, some more nautical things. Buffy closed her eyes, and tried to not to hate the boat’s engine thrumming beneath her too much. She wasn’t terribly successful at that. She was even less successful when the boat actually started moving. She’d never been on a boat before, and she was already beginning to feel seasick.
However, when the boat sped up so drastically that she was flattened against the wall, and the whole boat began juddering as though it was about to break apart at any second, Buffy stopped being angry and started being terrified.
Then the boat did break apart, and she wasn’t even that. That was the point where she lost the capacity for thought. There was only the waves and the great crack of the ship tearing apart, the stuttering of the dying engine, the calls from Ptonomy and Kerry, and then there was the endless weight of the water bearing down on her.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
You love her.
It shouldn’t surprise you, really, but it does. Though she’s frustrating and wayward and not at all like any of the Slayers that you’ve studied, you still love her.
That’s what makes this difficult. You love her – you love her too much, and not enough. You look at her as she stares at the crystal, hypnotised. The syringe dangles loosely from your hand. You can imagine what your father would say if he could see you now – though you don’t have to imagine what Quentin would say, because you know. He’s said it already.
Buffy’s powers have already begun to wane, and she’s started to notice. At the moment she just thinks that she’s a little off, like maybe she’s coming down with a cold or something. But with each injection, her powers will fade just a little bit more.
If you loved her less, all of this would be done by now. You wouldn’t have had to worry about Quentin’s threats. The Cruciamentum would already be over, for better or for worse, and you – well, you would have already sent her off to what’s probably going to be her death.
If you loved her more, then you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing now. You wouldn’t be putting a needle in her, filling her blood with drugs and herbs and just a dash of magic. You wouldn’t care about anything that the Council could do to you, because she’d be safe.
But you do care. You know that you can be deported in a heartbeat, and that’s only if the Council decides to follow legal channels. You can’t leave Buffy alone, not now. Not ever, if you have your way. You tell yourself that she needs you, which is true – but you need her too. If you’re gone, then there would be no one to take care of her, and she’d have to do this anyway. Just without you. That doesn’t bear thinking about.
You look at her for a moment longer, then put away the syringe before you wake her. You hope that she can forgive you for this. You wish that she could know what you think, what you feel, because if she could then everything would be okay, and you-
Buffy opened her eyes. It took her a moment to remember that she was underwater. She could feel the salt in her eyes. It didn’t sting, which would have surprised her, if she was capable of surprise. It just felt like pressure on her eyelids. It wasn’t noticeably different from the feeling of the water surrounding her. There was pressure all around her. She felt as though she was going to be crushed. Her head was going to burst, and her chest was going to implode, and there was just no way that she would be able to swim up to the light glimmering so far above her. There was too much pressure for her to even think about it. All she could do was drift down into the depths and wait for the moment that she broke apart.
She breathed out. She didn’t intend to do it. She didn’t really intend anything – she didn’t really feel capable of thought. Her head was too full, stuffed with saltwater and pain and a few other things besides.
No rush of air escaped her tortured lungs. No bubbles made a wild dash for the surface.
Instead, a deep, inky black oily substance leaked from her mouth. It just kept flowing and flowing. Even in the darkness, she could see it trailing away from her, a ribbon of shadow snaking away as it followed the current. It kept pouring out of her – if she had been breathing out normally and actual air had been leaving her, then she would have emptied her lungs several times over.
And then it stopped, and the stuff was washed away, and she could think again. She knew that if she didn’t get to the surface soon then she would drown, and she wasn’t going to do that, not now. Not after everything that she’d been through. Besides, she’d been quite the swimmer when she was younger. It was part of her training – you never knew what might crop up in the line of duty.
So Buffy began swimming powerfully upwards. She let loose a steady stream of bubbles from her mouth as she swam – she remembered that being important, so that carbon dioxide wouldn’t build up, or something like that. She wasn’t really sure, but she did it anyway.
She noticed that the bubbles seemed to form into tiny hands which helped drag her to the surface, but she was sure that she was just imagining that. She’d never seen any bubble-handed things in her alternate life as a Slayer, she was pretty sure, so she had to be imagining them. It was probably just a trick of the light, or something.
Never mind the fact that there wasn’t much light to begin with.
It wasn’t long before she reached the surface. She took a deep breath.
There wasn’t much boat left. There were a few fragments here and there, but even all together they wouldn’t come close to being a whole boat. She hadn’t seen any boat bits when she was underwater, either. Not that she had really been in any condition to see much in the first place. Plus there had been that whole inky cloud thing…
Anyway, she couldn’t see Kerry. She could see Ptonomy, though. He was floating a little way away from her.
Buffy swam over to him, and tried not to think about what would happen if he was unconscious, if he was… or if she couldn’t get him to shore. She was a good swimmer, she’d trained to be a good swimmer, but she was small and the waves were big. She wasn’t a Slayer. She might not have the strength to do what needed to be done.
With some difficulty, she turned him over. He didn’t seem to be hurt, as far as she could tell. Admittedly, the only thing she was sure of was that there was no blood in the water. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t some kind of injury that she couldn’t see, though. She wasn’t sure how to check if he was breathing, not out here in the water. She couldn’t remember. She knew it was something that she had known, but it was fuzzy, distant. She supposed it was the pressure of the situation. After all, this was the first time that something like this had happened to her.
As it turned out, though, Buffy needn’t have worried. Moments after she got Ptonomy’s face out of the water, he did a creditable impression of a geyser. Water shot out of his mouth, he coughed, he spluttered, he flailed. In fact, he flailed so much that he almost knocked Buffy underwater again. She barely managed to keep out of the way.
“It’s okay!” Buffy said, in what she hoped was a reassuring way. “You’re okay, there was just a… I don’t really know what happened, maybe some kind of explosion, but-“
“I know what happened,” Ptonomy interrupted. His eyes were wide and he was breathing hard. He’d lost his hat. “I remember.”
“Of course you do,” Buffy replied. “Do you know where Kerry is?”
Ptonomy shook his head. “No. But if we’re okay, chances are that she is too. If anyone could survive something like that, it would be her.”
Buffy jack-knifed out of the water so that she could see over the waves. “Shore's over there. Not far. Do you feel up to it?”
Ptonomy nodded tiredly, and began swimming in the direction that she’d pointed.
Buffy swam after him. She realised, as she did so, that she didn’t need to follow him. She could easily take the lead, if she wanted to. She could power through the water like a miniature speedboat. She felt amazing. Her headache was gone, and she no longer felt bruised and broken. She felt full of energy and as clear as a bell. She hadn’t felt like this since… well, since before Clockworks, since before she’d been full of drugs and tension and everything else that came with her mind working the way it did.
She remembered Giles telling her that there were spells to invoke water spirits, to speed up a journey or to heal someone. Before the boat had broken apart, it had been moving ridiculously quickly. That was probably why it had broken in the first place. And she did feel better. She’d breathed out… something, and the current had swept it away, and now she felt great.
But that would mean that a figment of her imagination had summoned something magical, and that just didn’t make sense, not at all. Not even in a world of mutants and people who remember everything.
Not even in a world that had someone who seemed to be a Slayer, complete with sword.
The shore was a small, rocky beach that was barely more than a few feet long, with a cliff rearing up behind it. Kerry was waiting for them, sprawled on her back, propping herself upright with her elbows. Buffy was about to ask why she hadn’t come out to help them – Kerry was the closest thing to a real life Slayer that she’d ever seen, if Ptonomy had been unconscious she could have towed him ashore – but then she saw her leg.
It was covered in blood, for one thing. For another, it was bent at an angle that legs shouldn’t really be bent at.
“You took your time,” Kerry remarked. Her voice was carefully light, but Buffy could hear the pain in it. She recognised that voice. She’d heard it a lot, when she trained Slayers. She’d even used it herself.
“Dislocated?” Ptnonomy asked, breathlessly. Buffy glanced at him, to see if he was okay, but he seemed fine. He was a bit out of breath, and he’d lost his gun, but he was standing normally and he didn’t seem to be twisted in pain.
“Yup. I was at the front of the boat. I was thrown clear, but a bit of wood hit me. Tore up my leg a bit too, but it looks worse than it is.”
Ptonomy nodded. “Right then.” He knelt down by her side. “Okay. We’ll need to flex and straighten your leg. It’s going to hurt a bit.”
“Really? Never would’ve guessed.”
“Here, let me help.” Buffy knelt beside Ptonomy. “You straighten the leg and I’ll put pressure against the side of the knee.”
Ptonomy looked at her in surprise, but shifted so that she had better access. She caught the look and flashed a smile at him. “You pick up a thing or too, when you’re training to be a… well, never mind. Just push. Slowly now. Hold on, Kerry.”
There was a slight popping sound as the kneecap slid back into place. Kerry grunted, but otherwise gave no sign that she was in pain.
“Okay then,” Buffy said, “just stay off your feet for the next couple of days and you’ll be fine.”
Ptonomy looked at her. “Next couple of days?”
“Yeah, sure.” Buffy paused for a moment. “Hold on. People don’t normally heal that quickly, do they?”
“Not normally, no.”
Buffy sagged. “I-I think, um, I think there’s something wrong. In my head. I remember… things, things I know, things I’ve done but… it wasn’t me doing them. I remember learning first aid, how to treat physical trauma and stuff like this, but I never learnt that. I was always in a psychiatric hospital. I didn’t really get the chance to learn those things. Plus, in my other life I was kind of scared of hospitals, after the whole thing with my mom, and…”
Kerry stared at her, brow furrowed. “I’m not the only one who didn’t really get that, right?”
“I remember fixing a dislocated knee once, out in the field. But the hands doing it aren’t my hands. The memory isn’t mine. Now that I think about it, it feels fuzzy, like a dream, but while I was fixing your knee it was so sharp.” Buffy shrugged awkwardly. “I think I’ve got Giles’ memories in my head. Some of them, at least.”
“Who’s Giles?” Ptonomy asked. “I know he’s not someone who was at Clockworks.”
“He’s someone from my other life. The one where I fight vampires, you know, the one I told you about. But it never happened. He doesn’t even exist.”
“You want to fill me in on this-“ Kerry began, but Ptonomy touched her hand gently, and her eyes unfocused for a moment. A moment later, Ptonomy let go and she was back. “Oh.”
“Just sharing my memory of what you told me while we were walking to the boat,” Ptonomy explained.
“So, this world with magic and demons and stuff… is it also a world with gigantic hands made out of water which shove boats so hard that they break apart?” Kerry asked.
Buffy shrugged again. “I don’t know. The magic thing wasn’t really, well, my thing. I just hit things, mainly. I don’t remember any things with water hands. But, um, before we got to the boat, Giles appeared. He cast a spell that was supposed to make the boat go faster. And heal me, too, I think. I was kind of out of it.”
“We should really get you to Cary,” Kerry and Ptonomy said, almost in unison.
“You mentioned Cary before. Who are they?”
Ptonomy looked down at Kerry. “Do you want to, or-“
“I’m fine.” Kerry shuffled slightly on the rocky beach. “So, uh, once upon a time two Native American people had a child. He was white. There was some problems with that – accusations of cheating, things like that. But the tests said that he was their child. It was just some freak genetic thing. They called him Cary. Then, when he was about eight, he woke up one morning to find a girl playing with his train set.” Kerry smiled. “That was me. We are two people in one body. He does all the boring things, eating, sleeping, sciencing. When there’s nothing to do, I’m inside him. When there’s people to catch or anything like that, I come out. When I dislocated my knee, he’ll have felt it. He’ll find us.”
Buffy digested that as best she could. Two people in one body sounded weird to her, especially if one of them could come out every now and then and not be two people in one body. But then again, she regularly saw people that didn’t exist, so who was she to judge?
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
It was a little over an hour before they heard people moving at the top of the cliff above them. By that point, Ptonomy had begun shivering violently. Buffy had suggested that it might be a good idea to get out of his wet clothes, or at least some of them – wearing a three piece suit meant that he had several layers of wet clothes clinging to his skin, and if anything was conducive to hypothermia, that was it. Ptonomy had categorically refused, though, even though Buffy had tried to convince him. She’d thought it was shock or something until she caught Kerry’s expression, which told her that this was definitely not a subject to continue.
Kerry herself seemed surprisingly okay. Although she was clearly in some pain, she’d managed to bind her leg so that it wasn’t bleeding anymore, and though she was cold she didn’t seem to be on the verge of hypothermia. Buffy had asked her about that, and she’d said that Cary shared some of her physical issues, even when they were far apart.
Buffy was doing the best of the three, which, admittedly, wasn’t saying much. Although Giles’ memories were fading rapidly, the sense of wellbeing and strength that had come over her after all that icky black stuff had left her was taking longer to dissipate. She hadn’t had any dissociative episodes, and there hadn’t been any visits from people who didn’t exist.
When Buffy heard the voices above them, she looked to Kerry for two reasons. The first was the same reason that she always looked at people she was with when she heard voices – she wanted to check if they heard the voices too. She second was to see if she should call out for help. Though Kerry had said that Cary would be able to track her down, she had also said that it might take her some time. For all she knew, it could be Division Three, or even someone who saw their boat burst apart.
Kerry’s expression, though, told her quite clearly that help had arrived. “Cary! Cary! We’re down here!”
“See, I told you she was here,” someone, probably Cary, said.
“What you actually said was ‘She’s around here somewhere, I don’t know where, but definitely here’,” a male voice responded dryly.
“Now isn’t the time for nitpicking, Rudy. Now, do you want to bring them up or not?”
“I don’t know if they’re injured or not. It might be better if I didn’t move them. I should probably send you down instead.”
Although Buffy couldn’t see Cary, even from where she was she could sense the anxiety radiating from him. “Kerry? Anyone else injured?” Buffy noticed that he didn’t ask if Kerry was injured herself - although it was dark and neither of the two seemed to have brought any flashlights, he just seemed to know that she was.
“No, but Ptonomy is shivering a lot,” Kerry said, after a pause.
“See! Now can you bring them up?"
“Sure, sure,” the other person - Rudy? - replied. “You all ready down there?”
“Yes!” Kerry shouted enthusiastically.
“Yeah,” Ptonomy said, his teeth chattering.
“What about you?” Rudy called.
Buffy didn’t reply for a couple of seconds before she realised that the only person he could be talking to was her. “Uh, sure, I guess so.” She didn’t know how he could be seeing her. Maybe he was some kind of mutant that could see in the dark. Slayers could, so maybe mutants could too. What did she know?
What she did know, but didn’t believe, was that Ptonomy was now slowly floating through the air. When they’d mentioned bringing them up, Buffy had thought that it was probably going to involve ropes, or something like that. If ropes were involved here, then they were invisible.
Kerry, for her part, reacted like this was perfectly normal and didn’t seem to catch that Buffy was utterly bewildered. Because of that, Buffy didn’t think that she was able to ask about what was going on. For all she knew, it wasn’t really going on and was in fact just something in her head. It wasn’t any less crazy than a furiously singing Spike or an extremely dead Lenny.
After a few moments, Kerry too was being hoisted aloft. Although she grunted in discomfort, she wasn’t dangled. Now that Buffy thought about it, it was more like she was in an invisible elevator.
And then it was Buffy’s turn.
It was really, really weird. It didn’t feel like there was anything below her, moving her up. It didn’t feel like anything at all. She was just moving upwards, and there didn’t seem to be any reason for it. It was just what she was doing.
And then she was up at the top, and she screamed.
She’d expected people, ordinary people. Sure, they were mutants, but as far as she knew that didn’t mean that they didn’t look like people. The two people at the top of the cliff definitely didn’t look like people. Their eyes, for one thing, jutted several inches out from their heads and had an unearthly green glitter. One of them was crouched over Ptonomy, wrapping him in something (a cocoon?), while supporting itself on a massively long arm that spread into three prong-like fingers. Kerry was nowhere to be seen - surely they couldn’t have eaten her already?
At her scream, the two of them flinched, looking about wildly.
It was only then that Buffy realised two things.
Firstly, they were wearing night vision goggles.
Secondly, she was stupid.
Of course they were wearing night vision goggles. How else would they be able to see in the dark without flashlights? And one of the figures didn’t have a creepily long arm – he just was using a walking stick. Kerry hadn’t been eaten, either, she’d probably just been… reabsorbed, or whatever the right term was, which explained why he was using a walking stick. Cary was dealing with Kerry’s injuries.
She hoped that night vision goggles couldn’t pick up the look of absolute mortification on her face, but just to be doubly sure, she covered it with her hands in embarrassment. Buffy the Slayer wouldn’t have made that mistake. “Sorry! Sorry, I just saw the goggles and didn’t get that they were goggles at first, because it’s dark, and I thought you were some sort of bug people or something and I… well, anyway, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” replied the person that she was pretty sure was called Rudy. “People have had worse reactions to seeing us.” Although he sounded like he was on the verge of laughing, there was still a certain edge to that last sentence.
“I’m Rudy, by the way,” he added, extending a hand for her to shake.
“Buffy.” At least he had the grace not to look amused by her name. “How did you get us up the cliff like that?”
“Telekinesis. I move things with my mind.”
“Speaking of,” Cary said behind them, “Ptonomy is ready to be moved to the jeep.”
“Right, if you’ll excuse me a moment…” Rudy turned around to face Ptonomy and gently lifted a hand. Ptonomy began hovering in the air as well and, when Rudy made a slight pushing motion, he began moving towards a big car a few hundred feet away.
It was strange, Buffy thought. While you could do something like that with magic, most people didn’t. At least not without some invocation of some sort, or something. Unless you were Willow, of course. But this didn’t feel like magic. When she’d been lifted into the air, it hadn’t felt like she was being lifted by anything. It was just a thing that was happening. It wasn’t magic. He wasn’t using any kind of energy to move things through the air. He just wanted them to do so, and a little thing like gravity wasn’t going to get a say in the matter.
“So, Buffy,” Rudy said casually, as though he hadn’t casually levitated someone hundreds of feet with a wave of his hand, “what happened to the boat? Was it Division Three?”
“I, uh, think I might have, sort of, accidently, wrecked it. A little bit.”
Buffy saw Rudy’s eyebrows rise up behind his goggles. “Well, okay then.”
The drive to Summerland was pretty awkward. For one thing, Ptonomy was pretty out of it. For another, once Cary took off his goggles, Buffy saw that he was much, much older than Kerry. He was probably closer to seventy than anything else, and Kerry was probably barely twenty. Buffy didn’t understand how that worked. If they were two people in one body (at least usually), shouldn’t they be the same age? She had quite a few questions, but she didn’t really feel comfortable asking them. She didn’t think she could just come right out and ask him why he was so old.
Plus, they kept asking her questions that she couldn’t answer. She didn’t know how her powers worked – she didn’t even feel as though she had powers, she just happened to know some people who did. She was pretty sure that she hadn’t been the one to destroy Clockworks, although given the whole boat incident she wasn’t as sure of that as she had once been. She thought Clockworks had been David, but again, she wasn’t really sure about that. She couldn’t even tell them where David might be, although she did remember that he had a sister. She told them that, if she was in David's shoes and she’d just broken out of a psychiatric hospital, the first thing she’d do would be to go and see her family. That had made them be quiet, at least for a little while.
Buffy realised that she actually had broken out of Clockworks. Of course, the building had been almost entirely destroyed and she’d been buried beneath it for two days – oh God, her family probably thought she was dead.
She ignored the little, mean voice at the back of her head that doubted that they thought about her at all. Joyce was the queen of head-in-the-sand thinking – she’d probably trained herself to ignore the fact that she had a daughter who saw things that weren’t there. Hank had been half out the door anyway when her problems had first started, and chances were he hadn’t even thought about her since then. They’d never visited. And Dawn, of course, didn’t exist.
She had to be practical. She had to be. She didn’t have a choice. She was not going to break down, here and now. She wasn’t. Sure, she didn’t have access to any drugs to help deaden the pain, but then Buffy the Slayer hadn’t either and she’d survived far worse. Admittedly, not with the healthiest of psyches, but then mental health wasn’t exactly high on Buffy’s lists of priorities. Until she was able to do something, she was just going to bottle everything up.
Yeah. Yeah, that sounded healthy.
And then they were at Summerland, and Buffy stopped thinking about that. Well, she didn't, but the thoughts just started running at the back of her mind, a rumble of a distant underground train. At some point it was going to pull into the station and all hell was going to break lose, but that wasn’t going to happen just yet.
“Home sweet home,” Rudy said. “What d’you think?”
Buffy had expected… well, she wasn’t really sure what she’d expected. Some sort of secret underground bunker, probably. That seemed like the kind of place where people hiding from the government should live.
This, however, was a beautiful building, long and low. There were dozens of windows looking out onto the forest, and Buffy was sure that, in day time, the view would be breath-taking. It looked more like the summer retreat of someone ridiculously wealthy than the kind of place that took in and protected people with powers.
“I told you,” Ptonomy said. It was the first thing he’d said for quite some time, and though his voice crackled a little bit he sounded much better than he had before. “We’re people. Just… humans, who are different. We shouldn’t have to hide ourselves away underground like animals. So we don’t.”
“It’s perfect,” Buffy said.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
There was a room ready for her. Buffy had been somewhat disconcerted by that until Cary had told her that the room hadn’t been prepared with her specifically in mind – Ptonomy and Kerry had gone out looking for the mutant that had destroyed Clockworks, and the room had been made ready in case they were able to bring them back.
They obviously hadn’t had a clue about what that mutant might be like, Buffy reflected, as she found a shirt that was longer than she was tall in a chest of drawers. But there was a shower, and that was pretty much the best news in the entire world. Although Cary told her a few things about Summerland, she wasn’t listening. Every fibre of her body was focused on the prospect of being clean. Even so, she caught a few words – Melanie, tests, something about a bird. After a few minutes, though, Cary seemed to pick up that she wasn’t listening to a word that he’d been saying, and wished her good night.
Buffy was in the shower almost before he’d left. She was in there for a long time. The hot water went a long way towards soothing away the various aches and pains that developed from sitting on a rocky beach in cold, wet clothes. It was even enough to make her not care when she found that, though there were still traces of blood in her hair, there was no actual wound.
But eventually she got out, put on one of the comically oversized shirts and got into bed, her hair still damp.
Sleep had never been something that Buffy was good at. Usually, she blamed her insomnia on the regimen of drugs that the psychiatrists at Clockworks had foisted on her. Sometimes, usually on bad days, she wondered if her mind was so used to being up every night fighting monsters that it just wouldn’t let her body sleep. Occasionally, she thought that it could be as simple as the constant low light everywhere in Clockworks, which was just bright enough to make sleeping difficult.
As a result, Buffy hadn’t expected to get to sleep easily. She’d thought that the prospect of finding out what was wrong with her in the morning would be enough to keep her up. But she was wrong, because she was asleep pretty much as soon as her head hit the pillow.
It wasn’t a particularly restful sleep. She tossed and turned. Her mind was full of muddled images, thoughts and feelings that were only partly hers. When she awoke, she couldn’t remember any of them specifically. Just that they had happened.
Though the sun had risen, that didn’t really mean much to her, as she’d been awake most of the night. It wasn’t until she looked at the clock on her bedside table that she realised that it was closer to dusk than dawn. She’d slept through almost the entire day, and she felt about as rested as someone who had taken a brief nap.
Worse than that was the fact that Drusilla was sitting across the room from her, cross-legged on the floor with her back against the wall. She had blood on one hand which had run down her wrist, and she was licking it like a cat. Buffy was absolutely certain that the blood didn’t belong to the vampire.
“You’re awake. Finally.”
“Yup.” Buffy got up stiffly and began looking for clothes that actually fit her. Idly, she wondered who owned Summerland. Had someone told her already?
“He’s waiting for you, you know. The man with the girl inside him.”
“Well, tell Cary he can wait a bit longer. If I don’t get some coffee soon, someone’s gonna die and it’ll probably be me." Buffy squinted at Drusilla. “Any chance you’ll go away while I hunt for some?”
“I can hear that one pacing,” Drusilla said, completely ignoring Buffy’s question. “His leg aches when he’s still too long, and though he knows that he should be still, there’s too much inside him. He’s restless, yes, and he’s waiting.”
“I’ll take that as a no.” Buffy found some clothes, shot a look at Drusilla, and carried them through into the bathroom. She even locked the door, although she knew that that wouldn’t have stopped the vampire even if she’d been real.
“She’s a twitchy little thing, the girl inside him,” Drusilla said. Though her voice wasn’t particularly loud, Buffy still heard it easily through the door. It had a curiously penetrating quality. “Always likes to be out and doing things. He doesn’t like to do things. He likes to be, to exist, to learn. He knows that he should be patient and wait for you, that he shouldn’t be swayed by her – after all, they aren’t the same – but he is anyway. He wants to know what you are.”
“Great. Good to know,” Buffy mumbled as she pulled a shirt over her head. She knew she didn’t have to speak loudly. Drusilla’s vampiric hearing was more than good enough to pick up every word.
Plus, there was the fact that Drusilla actually only existed in her head.
“Do you think she’s a worm?”
Buffy blinked, thrown by the non-sequitur. “What, Kerry? I can safely say no to that one.”
“But she lives inside other people.”
“Worms generally live in the ground.”
“Do they? How dull.”
Buffy stretched idly, her back popping as it arched. She didn’t want to take a test with Drusilla around. While there were definitely people in her head who would be worse, there weren’t that many. Plus, the vampire’s loopy rambling had always unnerved Buffy. It made her feel uncomfortable - she was always worried that she sounded the same.
But she did want to see Cary, and she did want to find out what she could do.
As though she’d read her mind, or perhaps more accurately as though she lived inside it, Drusilla chose that moment to speak. “Are you done yet?”
“How about now?”
“Why are your nos still? Don’t you move back and forth, negating here, negating there, a dance of no no no?”
“Nope. Still not ready, by the way.”
“You were much faster when you were the Slayer.” The pout was audible.
Buffy didn’t bother to reply. Instead, she took a deep breath, unlocked the door and then walked out.
Drusilla applauded wildly. “Come on! Time to go.” She propelled herself to her feet in one smooth, sinuous motion.
Buffy walked out of her room. She was in a corridor – there were several other doors leading off of it, but they were all closed. There were no signs that she could see. She wondered if Cary had given her directions or something yesterday and she just hadn’t been paying attention. “I, uh, have no idea where to go.”
Drusilla spoke right next to Buffy’s ear, causing her to jump. “You know, if I had breath in my lungs, I’d sigh.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Buffy muttered. She decided, purely arbitrarily, that the right hand corridor was the right direction to take.
“You’re going the wrong way, you know.”
“Yeah? Well, you don’t even exist. You know the things I know. That means that you don’t know the way to go either.”
“I can hear him, though. Every heartbeat. I hear him when he talks to the self that is not himself. He’s writing, now. His pen goes scritch scritch scritch. And he’s that way.” Drusilla pointed slightly upwards, and to the left.
Buffy sighed. Drusilla smiled, exposing far too many teeth. “Fine. Whatever. I guess I’ve got no better plans.”
“Oh goody! Follow me,” Drusilla spun on her heel and walked off, dress swishing around her.
“You know,” Drusilla remarked conversationally, a few moments later, “if you wanted to, you could hear him too.”
“No, not you.”
That suited Buffy just fine. She had no intention of paying any heed to anything Drusilla said. She was only following her because she had nothing better to do.
Drusilla led her up a flight of stairs. It was at that point that Buffy realised that she had yet to see even a single person. From what she’d seen, Summerland was a big building. She’d be really surprised if it just had Ptonomy, Cary/Kerry and Rudy in it.
“I realise that I’ll probably regret asking this, but do you by any chance happen to know where everyone is?”
“Eating. The sound of chewing and swallowing is deafening. The clink of teeth on forks. So inelegant. Should be teeth on flesh. Or bone, if you bite deep enough. Everyone’s eating, except for the people who aren’t, of course. But did you know, not one of them, not one, not a single person, is eating cherry pie?”
“Huh. David’ll be sad, if they manage to find him and get him here. Cherry pie’s his favourite food. If he could eat nothing but that then…” Buffy trailed off. She’d just remembered something.
Right before the whole Clockwork collapsing thing, they’d been having a conversation about cherry pie. Syd had said she didn’t like it, and David had wondered how that could possibly be the case.
And then the building had collapsed, and a bunch of people had been found dead in giant cherries.
“If he could eat nothing but that, then he’d end up with veins full of crushed cherries and a heart made out of pie crust?” Drusilla supplied helpfully.
“Not quite,” Buffy replied absently. Of course David had collapsed Clockworks. She didn’t know how, but suddenly manifesting cherries definitely seemed like something he would do, if he could. And they’d been talking about cherry pies...
“No? Ah well. We’re here, anyway.” Drusilla gestured at the door in front of her.
Buffy took a deep breath and opened the door. Even as she did so, she wondered if she should have knocked – what if this was the wrong room, and she about to stumble into someone’s bedroom or something? All she had to go on was the word of a non-existent, mentally unstable vampire.
But, sure enough, there was Cary sitting at a desk, writing. When he saw Buffy, he made a movement that indicated that he planned to stand up, before realising that that wasn’t a good idea. Instead, he simply wheeled his chair away from the desk. “Buffy! Hello! How are you?”
“Hi. I’m good – how’s Kerry?”
“Good, good, she’s just resting at the moment.”
“So, um, I think you said something about tests yesterday, or this morning, I guess, and, uh, can we do them?”
“Absolutely.” Cary scooted across to a nearby table and picked up a handful of electrodes. “Do you mind if I plug you in?”
“That depends,” Buffy said warily. “Are we skipping the tests and going to straight to a round of ECT?”
“Electroconvulsive therapy? No, of course not. It’s just a device to monitor your brainwaves.”
Buffy walked over and sat opposite Cary. While he attached the electrodes to her, Drusilla hopped up on the table next to them.
“Alright then. I hear that you see people who don’t exist, and you have dissociative episodes when you remember an alternate version of yourself?” Buffy nodded. “Is there anyone here now?”
Buffy looked up at Drusilla, who waved cheerfully. “Yeah.”
“Okay. Can you ask them to move that?” Cary pointed to a glass of water on the table.
“Why? She’s not really here. She can’t touch anything.”
“Well, the last person you spoke to who didn’t exist summoned some kid of water elemental which did exist and managed to destroy our boat.”
“Fair enough. Drusilla, could you move the glass of water?”
“She says no, Cary.”
“I heard the first time. I’m not here. I see, I hear. I do not touch.” Drusilla ran a hand along her dress. “Never to touch or hold or kiss again. Just limbo.”
“She says that she isn’t really here, so she can’t touch anything.”
“Can she use, uh, magic to move the glass?”
“She’s a vampire. Not really big on the magic. More the eating people.”
“I see.” Cary shot a look at a monitor off to the side. After a moment, he nodded, seemingly satisfied.
“He believes me,” Drusilla said. “He believes I’m here. I can smell the belief quickening within him. Smells like glue.”
Cary picked up a deck of cards. “I’m going to take a card out of here and look at it. If, uh, Drusilla wouldn’t mind, she can look at it too. I’d like to see if she can tell you which card it is.”
Buffy looked up at the vampire, who shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”
Cary picked up a card. Drusilla peered over his shoulder. Buffy hadn’t even seen her move. “Four of swords.”
“Four of swords,” Drusilla repeated firmly.
“Cary, that’s just an ordinary deck of cards, right?”
“She thinks it’s a tarot card or something. Says it’s the four of swords.”
“Interesting.” Cary flipped the card around. “Four of spades. If I remember correctly, that’s the equivalent of swords in a tarot deck.”
“Okay. What do I do with that?”
“Not sure.” Cary pulled another card and looked at her expectantly.
Buffy repeated that, and Cary frowned. “The Major Arcana don’t have counterparts in standard decks.”
“Oh, that’s not the card he pulled,” Drusilla said. “Just the one you needed to see.”
Buffy rubbed her eyes tiredly. “I probably should’ve mentioned that Drusilla wasn’t the, um, most stable of people. A really sadistic vampire decided to make a project out of her.”
“That’s fine. I think I’ve got what I needed to.” Cary smiled. “I think I know what’s going on.”
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Buffy had expected to be excited. She had been excited, earlier, before she’d gone to sleep. She’d even been excited just a few minutes before, when Drusilla had shown her the way to Cary. But she didn’t feel excited now. She just felt tired. There was nothing but a sense of deep, overwhelming weariness.
“You know,” Buffy said, “a lot of people have told me that. They’ve said oh, you’ve got such and such a thing, if you take this handful of drugs and go to therapy regularly you’ll be just fine and dandy. Hasn’t exactly been true.”
“To be fair though, those people haven’t been me.”
“True. Most of them have been psychiatrists, though there was one time when Mom brought out this New Age dude who prescribed crystals and one of those head massage thingies. A mutant is a new thing to me.”
“That’s just it. None of those people have seen the things that I’ve seen. They don’t know the things that I know. They all thought that there was something broken in your mind, because nothing can think like you do and be whole. But I know things they don’t, and I’ve seen things they wouldn’t believe. So.”
“Fine. Lay it on me,” Buffy said. She’d like to believe that he was right, that he could help, but she’d seen too much for that. She had too many memories.
“Have you ever heard of the Astral Plane?” Cary said. He sounded like Giles had used to, when he’d asked those sort of questions. As though he knew that she didn’t, because he was the one who did the research, and it was her job to pay attention to about half of it and then mangle the rest.
“Yes,” Buffy and Drusilla said at the same time.
“Well, the Astral Plane is – wait, you do know about it?”
“Uh huh. Had a friend who spent a bunch of time in it. Even missed an apocalypse while she was there.”
“Right,” Cary said, looking mildly disconcerted. “Well, anyway, as you know, the Astral Plane is a place that isn’t quite dream and isn’t quite reality. It’s both, but neither. Time and space aren’t really real there and, this is the important thing, there’s only one of it.”
“Why’s that important? There’s only one of a lot of places.”
Cary grinned. “Except that’s not true! There’s an infinite amount of nearly everywhere. There are an infinite number of Summerlands, for example. They’re just a world away, separated by the thickness of a shadow. An infinite number of things on an infinite number of worlds.”
“Uh, okay. Like all those hell dimensions?”
“Sure. I guess. You’ll have to tell me about those sometime. Anyway, the thing is, there’s only one Astral Plane. Here, on this world, you can reach it if you’re a powerful psychic. I’m not sure how your friend managed to get there, but it would be the exact same one as the one we can get to from here.”
Buffy looked at him for a long time. “I swear, if you say I’m picking up, like, static from another version of me then I’m going to riot.”
Cary paused. Drusilla giggled. “He was going to say that! You can see his throat bobbing as he swallows his words.”
“I… I do think that you’re picking up stray memories from another version of you, yes. You’re entangled, like two particles, except – well, let’s just say that you, being a mutant and probably more than a bit psychic, are picking up more than just a bit of static. Quite a lot more.”
Buffy looked at the vampire perched on the table next to her, who smiled at her toothily. “You mean like vampires and demons and hell gods.”
“How can I make it stop?” Buffy asked while Drusilla pouted theatrically.
“Well, I can probably make something to, uh, disentangle you a bit, settle you more in the here and now instead of the, um, over there. But that’ll take a little while and it’ll have to wait until you get back.”
Buffy frowned. “I’m going somewhere?”
“Yes. Didn’t you speak to Melanie?”
“I told you about her this morning… though I suppose you didn’t hear me over the call of your bed.” Cary smiled sheepishly.
Now that he mentioned that, Buffy did dimly remember something about that. “Oh, right. Yeah. Totally wasn’t listening. So where am I going?”
“We think we found David – he’s at a motel near his sister’s place, he’s staying there with another patient from Clockworks. Given his… power, and his probable mental state, we thought it would probably for the best if someone he recognised went to pick him up.”
“There was another survivor? Was it Lenny?” Buffy said, although she realised even as she spoke that there was no chance of Lenny still being alive. She’d seen her twisted, broken body. Nothing could look like that and be alive.
Cary’s brow furrowed. “No.”
“It’s Syd, isn’t it?” Buffy wondered if it had been David or Syd who had ultimately been behind the collapse of Clockworks. Sure, a lot of weird stuff happened around David, but having Syd show up the same day as the whole incident going down seemed more than a little suspicious.
“So, just to make sure I’ve got this right, I’ve got to go to… I don’t even know where, so that I can try to convince someone with literally earth-shattering power, plus his girlfriend with touchy-feely issues, to come back to a secret mutant base. Which, incidentally, is also somewhere I don’t know the location of. That the sitch?”
Cary scratched his head. “Melanie would have explained it better. She was supposed to give you a tour, some sort of induction thing. This is her place, after all.”
“This is her – you know what, never mind. Just wanted to check that there wasn’t anything I missed.”
“Well, we were planning on sending Rudy out with you. He’s handy when things go sideways, and besides, Ptonomy seems to be coming down with something and we aren’t exactly raring to go either.”
Buffy was about to ask who ‘we’ was before she realised that he was probably referring to Kerry. “Is that everything?”
“Cool. When do we leave?”
As it turned out, it wasn’t quite as simple as just getting in a car and speeding off. Cary called Melanie and briefly told her what had happened. Melanie showed up with Rudy in tow a few minutes later.
Melanie wasn’t quite what Buffy had expected. For one thing, Buffy was used to the women in charge of secret, quasi-supernatural operations to be very young and, generally, look even younger. A side effect of spending a lot of time with Slayers. Melanie, however, looked like she was about Cary’s age.
Buffy’s memories also told her that the kind of people who ran these sort of things were almost pathologically cheery, because if they weren’t then, well, they might just realise that they spent pretty much every waking moment either killing things, or thinking about how to kill things. It was, Buffy knew, not a healthy attitude, but then Slaying wasn’t exactly a healthy job.
Melanie, however, just looked sad. Not in the sense that she seemed pathetic. She was dressed smartly, and her pale blonde hair was immaculately coiffured – she seemed every inch the professional. She just seemed melancholy, as though she had been doing this too long, and she was tired, and she’d lost too much, and one of the things that she’d lost was the ability to stop, to rest. Buffy recognised that look. She’d seen it in the mirror often enough.
There was also another person who came in with Melanie, one that Buffy didn’t recognise. A squat man in an old fashioned white suit, with a salt and pepper beard. He looked mildly bemused, as if he wasn’t quite sure where he was or how he’d gotten there. He spent most of his time wandering around the room, humming to himself under his breath. Given that no one introduced him or even paid him any attention, Buffy assumed that he wasn’t actually there.
While Melanie essentially recapped what Cary had already said, she idly wondered where she’d met him before. She definitely didn’t recognise him, and in a room full of people she didn’t feel comfortable asking him who he was. She would have assumed that he was a vampire, from his fashion sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was obviously breathing. Some kooky friend of Joyce’s, perhaps?
Eventually it got to the point where it was pretty much as simple as getting in a car and going. Melanie seemed eager for them to bring David back, which Buffy understood – she knew exactly what it was like when there was a new Slayer out there. They were dangerous, to themselves and to others, and they didn’t know any of the things that they should – sure, having them as part of the Council wasn’t likely to extend their life expectancy all that much, but at least they weren’t out on the streets causing havoc. Or in this case, levelling buildings with a thought.
To be honest, Buffy was glad that they were sending her. It would be nice to see David again, and if she had to go through all of this crazy mutant-y stuff then it would a comfort if someone she knew was going through it too.
Even so, she surprised herself by saying “I’d like to talk to Ptonomy before I go.” As far as she was aware, she hadn’t even been thinking about him, but after she’d spoken she realised that she really felt as though she should apologise to him. If he was ill, then it was almost certainly because she’d broken their boat apart and catapulted him into icy water. Not all of them could be healed by water elementals or be absorbed by guys old enough to be their grandfather.
Rudy made an indelicate noise. “Wouldn’t advise that. Man’s an unholy terror when he’s ill.”
Buffy shrugged. Very little was worse than dealing with injured Slayers who wanted to be back out in the field. She was pretty sure she could handle it. “I think I’ll be okay.”
Melanie shot Cary a look, and Buffy got the impression that she was missing something. She felt vaguely like she had wandered into some sort of test, but she hadn’t the faintest idea what was being tested or why. “We can hold off a little while. Just don’t take too long.”
“Here we go,” Rudy said, pointing at a door that was slightly ajar. “Don’t bother knocking. He won’t answer.”
“No problem. I’ll just be round the corner, let me know when you’re ready to go.”
Rudy wandered off, and Buffy gently pushed open the door.
Ptonomy was lying on his bed, fully dressed. It was unlikely that he was wearing the same suit that he had been earlier, but Buffy had to admit that it seemed like it was identical, even down to the hat resting by his side. He had his fingers laced over his chest, and his eyes were closed. His skin looked slightly waxy and there was a slight whistling sound when he breathed.
All in all, it looked like he was asleep, but Buffy rather doubted that. She suspected that he wasn’t here, just as the soldier back at Clockworks hadn’t really been there. Oh, there was a body that was physically present, but the mind was somewhere, somewhen else. He was in one of his memories, thinking about a better time when he wasn’t ill. It made sense. It’s what Buffy would do, if she could.
The room in general was incredibly sparse. There was the bed, a desk, a chair, but there were no mementoes, no indication that anyone actually lived there. It looked like the room that they’d set up for her; distinctly lacking in any form of personality.
She pulled out the chair and sat by the bed. “Um. So. Hi, I guess. Not really sure whether you can hear me. Figured I should, you know, apologise, say sorry, that sort of-“
There was something like a ripple in the air, like a heat haze out in the desert, or perhaps there wasn’t, and then-
I waited, counting to ten before I opened the door. Father would be home, of course, he always was, but there was always the chance that he wouldn’t notice that I was there. The side of my face feels like it’s on fire, like someone has taken it and pressed it against hot metal. They haven’t, of course, though the sensation of fists against my face wasn’t actually too far from that. My skinned knuckles, however, formed a counter-point, a lighter, fiercer pain.
Not good, of course. None of this was good. I’d be yelled at for fighting. Asked if I remember what Father did in the war, when of course I remember, I have seen the memories that leak from his head. I remember the artillery shell, close, too close, too close. I remember it better than he does, and he remembers it so hard that he wakes up screaming in the night.
- and now Buffy was back.
Ptonomy’s voice was cracked and raspy. “What are you doing?”
Buffy shook her head, as though to clear it. That hadn’t been her memory, she was absolutely certain of that. Though the hands were younger and the body had been shorter, she definitely recognised them as Ptonomy’s. “I, uh, just wanted to apologise for making you sick.”
“Stay out of my head.”
“Sorry. Don’t really know how I got in. Sorry.”
Rudy was waiting for her, and looked at her shrewdly as she went round the corner at something faster than a walk but slower than a run. “Everything okay?”
Buffy shook her head again. Having memories of a different version of herself had been enough to ruin her life. She’d thought that she knew what it was like, when he’d said that he remembered everything, but all she’d done is grasped the edges of it. He remembered everything. Not just his memories, but so many others. “That poor, poor man.”
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
Buffy didn’t like driving. It made her anxious. Too many times she’d been in a car that had hit something in the road that had turned out not to be there. She’d never even learned to drive, not officially – it wasn’t a good idea to be behind the wheel when at any moment she might be somewhere else, usually a graveyard. It didn’t help that she did know how to drive, had memories of driving in a body that had much better spatial awareness than her own, one that had the reflexes to take turns that she never would have dreamed of taking.
The worst thing, though, was the way that Rudy drove. It wasn’t that he was bad at it – quite the opposite, he drove with the casual ease of someone who had been doing it for years. It was more the fact that his hands seemed to barely be on the wheel. Sometimes they weren’t even on it at all, just folded in his lap or getting something out of the glove compartment, or, one memorable time, tying one of his shoelaces, which meant that he didn’t even have a foot on the gas at the time. Driving with a telekinetic behind the wheel was not a recipe for happy fun times.
So, she spoke to take her mind off of it. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Rudy replied easily.
“When – how did you find out that you could do things? Move things with your mind?”
Rudy made a faint humming sound as he seamlessly joined a different lane while he stretched. Buffy, carefully not looking at the total lack of hands on the steering wheel, saw a movement in the rear-view mirror and started in surprise. It was just Caleb sprawled in the back seat looking like he owned it. His reflection grinned at her toothily. “You just never stop your prattlin’, do you? It’s enough to bother a man, the idle chit chat, the gossip, yearning to fill-“
“I’ve always been able to move things, I think,” Rudy interrupted – not that he knew that was what he was doing. “I’m told things used to appear in my crib. Toys. My pacifier. Sweets and similar, when I was older. First I remember doing it was when I five or six, and there was this cookie jar, just out of reach, and I wanted it – and then there it was, floating down to me, easy as breathing.”
“You were that young?”
“Uh huh. Course, I wasn’t as good as it then. Used to break things,” Rudy smiled. “My dad got me one those car sets when I was ten, you know the ones, where they go zooming along a track? I loved that thing. Then one day I was grounded, and I was looking out the window like a lovesick pup when this gorgeous car pulls up down the road and I thought, hell, I could drive that. Didn’t even have to leave my room either. I wrapped it right around a telephone pole.”
Well. Comforting that was not. Caleb snorted behind her. “You gonna tell him that he scares you? Or you just gonna sit there and take it? I’ve got to say, I may have hated your guts when you were the Slayer, but this you? It is all sorts of pathetic.” After a moment, he smirked. “I’ll be damned if that don’t lift my spirits to an almost irritating degree.”
Buffy gritted her teeth. Out of all the things that she needed right then, precisely none of them were demented, non-existent ex-preachers. “Uh, Rudy?”
“Hmm? Oh, we’re almost there,” Rudy replied absently, failing to guess what Buffy had been about to say. “Really close, if that’s anything to go by.” He pointed at something in the sky.
Buffy peered upwards, then blinked. “Well. That’s ominous.”
It was a lovely, clear day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the birds were singing. All in all, you could hardly wish for a nicer day.
Except, of course, that there was a cloud. And it was vast. It looked like a great column of coruscating darkness descending on the city ahead of them. Even though its edges were ragged and roiling, it looked pretty much circular, at least as far as Buffy could see. “Looks like they didn’t get the memo that it was supposed to be a nice day today.”
“Yep. Division Three’ll be there. No way that storm’s natural. We’ll just have to hope that we can make it to David before they find him. Not really in the mood for a rescue mission.”
“Be strong and courageous,” Caleb said with a smirk. “Don’t bother fearin’ them, it won’t help you. Doesn’t mean that it ain’t all manner of fun to see, though.”
Buffy physically tensed as they entered the city. She wasn’t entirely sure what she expected to happen – getting struck by lightning, perhaps, or maybe something even more apocalypse-y. Raining blood was always a good bet.
It was raining. Raining hard. The sounds of raindrops on the roof was nearly deafening, and Rudy instantly shifted the windscreen wipers up to the highest setting before realising that it didn’t do much good. After that he just twitched a finger periodically, and the rain miraculously didn’t hit the windshield. Not that it really helped visibility.
“Looks like your friend’s aimin’ to wash away all the dirty folk. Man after my own heart.”
“We’re here,” Rudy said after a few minutes.
Buffy looked around. She didn’t see anything that looked like it might be holding a horde of soldiers ready to leap out and grab them. Not that she could even see all that much – it was dark enough out that the streetlights were on, a bright yellow overhead that didn’t illuminate so much as highlight the shadows.
“Shame you don’t have anyone around who doesn’t need sight to see, isn’t it?” Caleb murmured in her ear.
Buffy ignored him. “Alright then. Guess we go. Don’t suppose you thought to bring an umbrella?”
Rudy grinned. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that.” He opened his door, then walked around to open Buffy’s. As far as she could tell, he was as dry as a bone. It even looked like he’d managed to avoid stepping in any puddles. That was quite the achievement, given that pretty much everywhere was entirely puddle.
“Well, aren’t you a handy person to have around.”
Buffy got out of the car warily. It was strange. It wasn’t as though the rain struck an invisible barrier or anything. It seemed like the rain just didn’t go where she was. Wherever she was, the rain wasn’t. She was between the raindrops.
Caleb was out of the car too. Given that he didn’t actually exist, he hadn’t opened a door or anything. He was just spontaneously there, and the rain was falling right through him. “Well? We just going to stand around gossipin' or what?”
As motels went, this wasn’t the worst one she’d ever seen. If she’d been in a world with vampires in it, she’d expect them to aim for some crummier ones before they attacked here. Of course, that wasn’t exactly saying that this was the height of fine moteling.
At the very least, it didn’t look like a troop of soldiers had come through. There was a distinct lack of carnage or broken doors. Of course, that could just mean that the people at Division Three were better at covering their tracks than the Initiative had been.
“Cary said that their room’s this way,” Rudy pointed.
They walked up to the room in question. Buffy took a deep breath, hoped that the door wasn’t going to be yanked open and she’d be facing a room full of guns, and then knocked.
There was a scuffling sound, and some quiet but fierce whispering. Buffy relaxed. It was just David and Syd. They were bright enough to suspect that someone might be coming after them and they’d decided to hide. Admittedly, they weren’t very good at it, but at least they had the right idea.
“They’re hidin’ under the bed,” Caleb called through the door, his voice dancing with amusement. “I love it when they do that.”
“David? It’s me. Buffy.”
There was a pause, and then a somewhat muffled voice replied “Are you sure?”
Buffy shrugged. That was always a difficult question, for her. “Can you…” She gestured at the door.
Rudy nodded, then flicked a finger. The door opened.
Buffy ignored Caleb, who was leaning back in a chair with his feet up on a table, and walked over to the double bed. She lay down on the floor. “Hey there.”
“Hey,” David replied sheepishly.
“You want to come out?”
“I guess. Any chance that things’ll make some sense when we do?” David said. On his other side, Syd rolled out and stood up, straightening her clothes.
“Maybe. A little bit.” Probably not, she reflected.
David thought it over for a few seconds.
“Come on, David. We don’t have all that much time.”
“You don’t have any time at all,” Caleb said darkly.
Buffy rolled onto her back and looked up at him. He grinned. “They’ve just pulled up outside.”
“Rudy! They’re here. They’re just outside.”
In a moment, Rudy changed from someone leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets, the very picture of nonchalance, to someone tense, filled with energy, as though he was about to spring into action at any moment. “Right then!” With a flick of his hand, tables and chairs were barricading the door. Another movement and the window slammed open. He moved towards Syd. “If I could just draw your attention to the emergency exit, yes, that’s right, the window… it’s a good time to make a speedy getaway, yes, thank you, quickly now-”
Something heavy slammed into the door. It didn’t open, the barricade held, but the door was hardly sturdy. Another couple of slams like that and it would break, and the barricade wouldn’t even matter.
“David, we’ve got to go. They’re after you. Come with me. We’ll explain everything once it’s safe.”
“Oh, they aren’t here for him,” Caleb said conversationally. “He might be as subtle as a thunderstorm, but at least he knows how to keep quiet. It’s you they’ve found. You’re leaking all over the place.”
“So not helpful!” Buffy reached out and grabbed David’s arm, pulling him out from under the bed. She steered him over to the window.
“I’ll hold them off,” Rudy yelled. “Take the car and get out of here.”
Buffy clambered out the window, and felt incredibly glad that David and Syd had chosen a ground floor room. She felt rather less grateful for the ridiculously heavy rain, which soaked her to the bone in a flash.
Behind her, the door to the room splintered and broke, and a bunch of people with tactical gear and large guns came pouring in. David barely managed to make it through the window before they made it in. Buffy dimly saw them crashing into the walls, the ceiling and each other before she was making a run for it, hoping the other two were behind her, not daring to look back to check.
She was almost at the end of the alley by the time she realised the flaw in the plan. Said flaw turned out to be a half-dozen soldiers.
There was someone else, though, who was conspicuously not a soldier. He was dressed in a rumpled brown suit and had no visible weapons. He had tight, curly hair that was plastered to his head from the rain and, as best as Buffy could tell in the dim light, one eye was a cloudy grey. He was technically smiling – all the pieces were there – but it was a smile in the same way that a shark smiled. He had his prey cornered, and all of them knew it.
“Take-“ he paused, focusing on something next to Buffy. She turned to see Caleb standing there, a matching smile on his face.
“He can see me,” Caleb remarked. “Always nice to be seen.”
“Sir?” One of the soldiers said, her voice muffled by her helmet. “Do we shoot?”
“Now, ordinarily I’d be more’n happy to see you riddled with bullets and watch as this flood washes your corpse down to its rightful place in the gutter.'" Caleb said conversationally. "Thing is, though, I’m currently livin’ in your head, and I’ve died before. Wasn’t so fun as I’d care to do it again. So, might I suggest that we take advantage of this fellow’s gawping and let me and mine solve this?”
There was a bang behind them and a sudden burst of bright light illuminated the alley way. Buffy was pretty sure the soldiers had just thrown a flashbang into the hotel room. She didn’t know whether Rudy had stopped it in time – it was entirely possible that the soldiers might soon be behind them too, and then Buffy was pretty sure they’d all be dead.
The man with the cloudy eye blinked, the bang enough to pull his attention back to the matter at hand. He stopped staring at Caleb and opened his mouth to give the order…
But Buffy was faster. “Do it.”
One of the soldiers buckled, a knife in her throat, blood spraying everywhere. Behind her loomed a figure in a cowl, with scars where its eyes should be. The other soldiers spun, opened fire, but the figure wasn’t solid. The bullets passed right through it, not touching it any more than the rain could.
Its knife, however, was very real, and it wasn’t alone.
The man with the cloudy eye wiped some blood off his face, growled, and strode towards Buffy.
“Now, now. None of that,” Caleb wagged a finger. “This one’s mine. Staked my claim a long time ago.”
The man with the cloudy eye ignored him. Caleb sighed, curled his fingers into a fist, and struck the other man like the hammer of God. Well, the hammer of something, at least.
It shouldn’t have connected. Shouldn’t have been able to do anything. He wasn’t there, wasn’t solid.
It shouldn’t have bent the other man in half and send him rocketing backwards.
But then, it didn’t really seem to be the kind of day when things happened the way they should.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
You look down at her, the young brunette in the slinky little dress which hints at every damn thing. It’s disgusting, it really is. She’s looking at you, a man of God, like you’re her own personal saviour while she goes and dresses like that. It makes you feel sick to your stomach. The only thing that saves you from puking right then and there is the weight of your knife, and the knowledge that it’ll soon be deep enough in her belly that you’ll be able to forget about yours.
“I had to see you, Preacher. I heard your sermon and it was… well, I ain’t ever heard anything like that. Was like you picked me clean out of the crowd, and you were speakin’ straight to me.”
“Well now, that’s always nice to hear. I do so love it when people listen,” you flash her a smile and her response is like a sunrise. It’s matched by a rush of bile in your throat. Sickening, is what she is. “People so often don’t. It’s like there’s nothing between their ears save for prattle.”
“Oh, yes,” she breathes, and you know that you’ll have to put a stop to that. “Your words have a power, Preacher.”
“That they surely do. After all, people need to hear the truth about themselves. They’ve been wallowin’ in the dirt for so long they don’t see it for what is, can’t even recognise that the filth that stains their grubby little souls. They need someone to open their eyes.”
Her expression goes blank. She can’t smile and think at the same time. “What, Preacher? I don’t understand.”
You smile again and pat her on the shoulder. Your skin crawls at the feeling of her skin on yours – you’re going to have to scrub yourself later, this is messy already. Even so, you’re rewarded by the return of her smile. And it is a reward, this time. It means that she’s smiling as the knife slides into her.
You feel the warmth of the blood that is her life as it tumbles out of her. You can feel it radiate out from her like a furnace. It’s on your skin, washing away the dirt, washing away every little thing. You’re pure, you realise. In a world of people who don’t know they’re sinners, the person who knows he’s evil is the only one who’s sane.
Her life’s leaving her, you can see it in her eyes – you wrap your fingers in her hair and hold her up when her knees buckle just so that you can watch it fade away.
The moment ends all too soon, as it always does, and you watch the corpse drop bonelessly at your feet.
At the same time, you hear something behind you, and you whirl around, knife held high. Anyone who witnessed your little baptism in blood is going to have front row seats for an encore.
You suppose that the things standing behind you might possibly count as people, but if they do they sure as hell don’t count as witnesses. For one thing, they don’t have eyes, just scars where they should be.
You frown. “This isn’t right. You shouldn’t be here, not now. You didn’t come along until later.”
They just stand there, still as statues. If they’re breathing, you can’t tell.
“Well? Any of you got anything to share with the class? I know the devil’s got all y’all tongues, but that don’t mean you can’t speak if you’ve got a mind to. I’ve heard you speak, words lapping away in my skull like waves of darkness.”
They just stand there, still as statues. If they’re breathing, you can’t tell.
There’s a sound behind you, slow and deliberate. Footsteps. You spin around, ready to strike down the person who has invaded your head and is messing around with your memories. You’re ready to strike, and-
Buffy slumped to the ground. She could feel something running down her face, but she wasn’t sure if it was the rain, or tears, or blood, or something else entirely. In fact, she wasn’t even sure if it was her face. For all she knew, if she reached up and touched it she’d find that it belonged to someone else entirely.
Her head hurt. It felt as though her brain had expanded to fill every inch of her skull, as though there was an incredible pressure building inside her head and at any moment she might just burst. The only upside that she could think of was that it might not actually be her head.
Buffy opened her eyes and blearily saw someone peering down at her. Their name was on the tip of her tongue. Emily, she thought – but no, she’d killed Emily, years and years ago, and besides, the face didn’t belong to a woman. David, that was it. She was almost sure of that, which was a lot surer than she was about pretty much anything else.
“Are you okay?”
His voice echoed in her ears, or someone’s ears, at least. Then it occurred to her that it might well have been heard by her own ears and someone else’s, and that was why it was echoing in the first place. She was listening with too many ears. She should do something about that, but she couldn’t think what that might be. She could barely think at all – the pain in the head that, for lack of a better term, is usually considered hers was excruciating.
“I have no idea,” Buffy said. The voice was hers. It went with the image of her face that she had in her head. But it still sounded weird, as though it was coming from the wrong lips – she sounded like she did in recordings, in fact, and not at all like she sounded when she was speaking in her own head. “I’m not even entirely sure who I am.”
Then she frowned. “Why are you grabbing my ankle?”
David looked puzzled. “I’m not.”
“Whose ankle are you holding, then?”
Caleb looked down at the figure who’d just grabbed his leg. He’d just hit the man with the cloudy eye, hit him so hard that he he’d been airborne for several seconds, and had slid about six feet down the slippery sidewalk once he’d hit the ground again.
Then the man had had the temerity to try standing up. Most people that Caleb hit weren’t so good with the getting up – in fact, they usually had too much trouble breathing to do much of anything else. This one, though, just looked a bit winded. That wasn’t right. Wasn’t right at all.
He’d never had much truck with people who didn’t stay down. It was one of the problems that he had with Dracula, besides the whole thing about him being an evil bloodsucking vampire and all. You could put a stake in him and moments later he’d be swirling around again, ready with his mojo.
So Caleb had stalked over to the other man and was about to kick him hard enough to make sure that he didn’t get up again, and he’d gone and grabbed Caleb’s leg.
That wasn’t how this sort of thing was supposed to go. He was incorporeal, the rain was falling right through him – he was only as solid as he needed to be. But this man had seen him, clear as day, and now he’d managed to lay his hands on him.
He was trying to do something inside his head, too. Caleb could feel him scrabbling away at his mind. Oddly enough, it seemed like whatever mental assault he was going for was coming at him through one of his eyes. There was something burrowing in his socket, worming its way in towards his brain. His vision was going dark, and he’d be damned if he wasn’t finding it difficult to move.
Caleb, moving at a speed that would be mocked by glaciers, lifted his other foot. “You want to crawl your way into my skull? You want to see what I’ve got in there? Well, I’ve had something in there that makes you look like a picnic, and if you don’t stop you might just wake it up.”
Caleb had his foot hovering above the other man’s head now. He might not win a race with a snail, but it wasn’t like the other man’s head was going anywhere. Caleb had plenty of practice stomping on worms.
“You seen it yet?” Caleb spat. “Got a whole world in my head. All things dark and dead.”
The man with the cloudy eye didn’t respond. He just gritted his teeth, and the pressure in Caleb’s head began to grow. Black fluid, darker than night, began to ooze out of his eye.
- holding anyone’s ankle,“ David said.
Buffy blinked, hand flying up to find check that her eye was still there, that there wasn’t someone drilling through it to get to her brain. She managed to find that her eye was in fact still there, and it didn't seem leaking anything, but the jury was still out on whether someone was drilling into it. Something was definitely happening, and whatever it was just didn’t feel right.
“Help me up,” Buffy said. David gripped her arm and pulled her upwards.
The Bringers were gone, or at the very least they weren’t visible anymore. The soldiers, though, were definitely still around. They were very dead. Nothing could have lost that much blood and still be alive.
Over in the distance, though, was the man with the cloudy eye, hands wrapped around one of Caleb’s legs. Caleb was frozen in an improbable position, one leg hovering just above the other man’s head.
“We should go,” Syd said urgently.
“No.” Buffy let go of David’s arm and stood on her own feet. Besides a moment of almost crippling vertigo, she managed that just fine.
“What do you mean, no? If we don’t leave now, more soldiers will show up. We need to run, or else-“ Syd stopped talking.
The reason that Syd had stopped talking was because of the knife currently being held against her throat. “Of course you want to run,” Buffy spat. “Want to crawl away on your belly like a bug. Can’t stand with your head held high, not when the stench of your filth is fillin’ your nostrils. Run or die, that’s the only options you give yourself. Well, I’m tellin’ you now – here, in this place, it’s run and die.”
David took a step back. Throughout this whole thing he’d looked stunned, confused, bewildered and baffled. Now he just looked determined. “Buffy, put down the knife.”
“Why would I go and do a thing like that?”
There was a bang and flash of blinding light as lightning struck – and David raised his hand and caught the bolt. In his hand was something brighter than the sun, brighter than anything except for his eyes which glittered yellow in the reflected light. “Put. Down. The. Knife.”
Buffy instinctively clamped her eyes shut, keeping out that blinding glare. In the darkness, playing across the back of her eyelids, something was moving... something that was rearing back to strike at her.
A familiar feeling began wriggling through her eye, the same painful pressure that Caleb had felt. Was in fact still feeling, burrowing into his mind. She could feel that, just as clearly as she could feel it in her own body.
Come to think of it, which one was her body? She wasn’t Caleb, was she? How could she tell? She could feel his knife in her hand. He’d used to it to kill a half dozen girls before he’d gotten careless and damaged it on someone’s rib. She remembered the blood and the screams and the way they’d begged, the almost religious ecstasy as he’d killed them anyway. She remembered all of that. They were her memories.
Was she sure she wasn’t Caleb?
Was Caleb sure he wasn’t Buffy?
Whose mind was being attacked right now?
She wasn’t even sure that it mattered. Whoever she was, Buffy, Caleb, both, neither – her/his/their head(s) was/were going to explode.
Buffy dropped the knife. It vanished before it even hit the floor. “Get out of my head! Get out get out get out! There’s too much in here, I can’t take it, I can’t, I can’t…”
But the pressure just kept building in her head. Something began to leak from her eyes, ooze down her cheeks, but she couldn’t wipe it away. She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. There was nothing but the cloud where her mind should be.
Down the street, the man with the cloudy eye stood up, and began moving towards them with slow, deliberate footsteps.
Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
There was a cloud.
Well. Maybe that wasn’t the right way of putting it. To say that there was a cloud suggested that there might well be things that weren’t cloud. There wasn’t.
So then. There was a cloud, and the cloud was everything that there was.
There was a cloud, and in it, something was moving.
In the cloud, something became aware. Not aware of anything in particular. There wasn’t anything to be aware of. There was cloud, and that was it. But the thing in the cloud, the thing that was cloud, realised that there were bits of cloud that wasn’t the same as it was. The thing in the cloud remembered other times, when the world was different.
There had been a world, for starters.
And so, working from memories as insubstantial as dreams, the thing fashioned itself a body. It was the kind of body that would make a stick figure look hyper-realistic, and it was as insubstantial as the cloud that it was made out of, but it was a start.
The figure looked down at itself, and wondered what its name was. It looked around, and saw nothing but cloud. There was nothing but cloud to see.
Something drifted across what, for lack of a better word, we must call the figure’s mind. It turned out to be a word.
Breathing was important. It remembered that. Some things didn’t breathe, and the things that didn’t breathe tended to be dead. It remembered being dead – nothing, not even the end of the world, could make it forget that – and it felt sure that it wasn’t dead. Not right then. It was sure of that.
Well. Mostly sure. Dead things don’t normally end up in a cloud that was a world. They don’t usually end up anywhere.
Still, the thing hollowed out its chest, scraped a trachea out of the thing that passed for its neck. It breathed, inexpertly. The cloud in its lungs floated out, past the great gaping maw in its face, and into the cloud that was the world.
If it had been capable of being surprised, it would have been surprised to see the cloud form words that danced against the backdrop of the cloud that was the world.
YOU DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE. BUT YOU KNOW THIS. THERE WAS A BATTLE. YOU LOST. NOW YOU ARE DYING.
Did it know that? It supposed that it did. It nodded, or at least bobbed up and down in a jerky parody of a nod.
NOW YOU MUST RUN. RUN FAR, RUN SO FAR AWAY THAT THEY CAN NEVER FIND YOU. RUN, AND MAYBE YOU CAN SURVIVE.
If it had been able to, it would have frowned. Run from what? There was nothing here. Nothing but it, and the cloud that was the world.
The words were fading now, and even though it took another breath, it couldn’t make them come back.
But, before they faded for good, they had time for one last message.
look behind you
The thing turned. It hadn’t been built for turning. It hadn’t been built to move. It turned so slowly that it began to think that it had been made to dread, because it was doing an excellent job at that. It knew, deep in the bones that it didn’t have, that it did not want to see what was behind it.
But eventually it did turn, and it saw, and it didn’t understand.
It saw an eye. The eye was vast, far bigger than it was. It was an eye, with an eyelid, and eyelashes, and a pupil that was a dark jagged tear in reality, a space that wasn’t there, a void, a vacuum that was warping the cloud that was the world just by existing.
The eye was coming towards it. The eye wasn’t floating, wasn’t moving in weird, jerky, stop-motion movements like it did itself. Its eyelashes were working like legs, little, spindly legs that shouldn’t have been able to hold up the massive bulk that was the eye. But they did, and it was moving towards her.
The eye blinked, and emblazoned across the eyelid was a smile, a grin with too many teeth and not enough mirth.
The figure started to run. It wasn’t good at it. It hadn’t been built for running. It hadn’t been built for anything, except possibly to dread.
Behind it, there was a laugh, a dark chuckle that echoed and rebounded in ways that no laugh should. Especially in a world in which there was nothing to rebound from. There was a laugh, and it sounded like the death of worlds.
It ran, and the eye followed.
It didn’t know where it was running to. As far as it knew, there was nowhere to go. There was the cloud that was the world, and there was the eye, and there was it, and that was all there was.
It remembered that it had once been part of the cloud, that it hadn’t had a body and had never needed to run. It tried to break apart, to stop being a body, but it couldn’t remember how.
There was so much that it couldn’t remember.
It remembered that it had to run. It remembered that it wasn’t good at it, and the eye was crawling towards her on its spindly eyelashes, and it was fast, faster than it was, and it was going to die and the world was going to end-
There was a flash of heat from in front of it, and it instinctively threw up an arm to protect itself.
Its arm evaporated, burning away in a single moment. Pain flashed through it like a lightning bolt. It felt as though there was a fire inside it, as though it was so hot that it was disintegrating.
It was. Steam was wafting off of it. If it stayed where it was, it would evaporate. It was going to crumble away.
It stopped. In front of it was a featureless white space of scorching heat. It couldn’t continue running. To keep going was to die. To keep going was to burn.
It turned, and saw the eye. Its eyelashes were snapping back and forth like whips. It was moments away.
It looked at the eye, at the jagged, torn pupil that was the closest thing to oblivion that it could imagine. It heard the low chuckle, felt it vibrate deep within itself.
It took an unnecessary breath, and stepped backwards.
Pain, nothing but pain and heat and fire. It was burning away. It opened its mouth to scream, but it had no tongue, no lungs, no mouth. It had no form, no mind. It had nothing but its agony. And then-
Buffy rocketed upwards. Her head collided with something hard, but she barely noticed because she wasn’t entirely sure that she wasn’t on fire.
Her doubt wasn’t settled until she heard someone say “Ow.” She saw David rub his chin. That didn’t seem like the kind of thing that happened to people who were seconds away from being able to be used as a charcoal face mask.
She looked around. She was in a car. It took her a couple of moments to realise that she recognised it – she’d been sitting in the passenger seat before, carefully not looking at the complete and utter lack of hands that Rudy had on the wheel. She was in the back now, with David. Syd was driving, and Rudy was sitting shotgun.
Buffy realised why Rudy wasn’t driving when he turned to face her. His eyes were red and puffy, so swollen that they were almost shut. Division Three must have gassed him, or used some sort of really over the top flashbang. “You’re awake! How are you feeling?”
That was always a difficult question for her, now even more than usual. “I… don’t know. What happened?”
“We were kind of hoping that you would tell us that.”
Buffy paused, trying to collect her thoughts. “The last thing I remember was… the man with the cloudy eye. He’d grabbed my ankle, and was trying to, I don’t know, force his way inside my head, or something.” That was technically true, she reflected. Of course, she wasn’t entirely sure if that had been her memory or Caleb’s. She discounted the whole thing about being a figure made out of cloud being chased by a giant eyeball, because that hadn’t been her. Plus it sounded too much like something right out of a really bad acid trip to share.
“So you don’t remember wiping out some of Division Three’s finest?” Rudy asked.
“What? Me? I mostly remember clutching my head and screaming, to be honest. I’d think I’d remember if I killed someone.” She always had before.
“Only they had me beat, and from what these two said they were about three seconds away from turning you into Swiss cheese, when suddenly a bunch of shadows with really sharp knives turned up and started slicing and dicing. I know it wasn’t me, Syd says she can’t do that sort of thing, and David-“
“It wasn’t me,” David interrupted. Buffy thought he sounded rather less certain about that than he would have liked.
Buffy squinted at David. “Didn’t you catch a lightning bolt? I didn’t imagine that, did I?”
“I think I… I might have done that.” David looked sheepish. “I mean, I remember doing it, but it felt like I was doing it in a dream, you know? Like when you’re dreaming and you can do anything? It didn’t really feel like me doing it. If that makes sense.”
It did to Buffy.
“Your voice changed,” Syd said suddenly. “Buffy. Your voice changed. It was harsh, and… southern. Like you were someone else.”
“Uh huh. That would have been Caleb.”
“Who’s Caleb?” Everyone asked, almost in unison.
“He’s a serial killer who, when the origin of all evil came knocking, decided to becomes its groupie.”
“And you sounded like him… why?”
“Cary says I’m picking up things from a version of myself in a different universe through the Astral Plane.” Buffy shrugged. “Apparently I’m, like, a universal antenna or something.”
David looked at Rudy. “Was that supposed to make sense?”
“I guarantee that Cary will explain it better,” Rudy replied.
“Well excuse me. Theory girl I am not.”
“And Cary is who exactly?” David prompted.
“I, uh… Cary will probably explain that better too.”
“What happened to the man with the cloudy eye anyway?” Buffy asked, changing the subject.
“Walter? He’s in the trunk,” Rudy said matter-of-factly.
Buffy blinked. She ran the sentence through her head. She reran it. “Uh, say that again?”
“Currently, he’s in the trunk. I’m busily trying to make sure he doesn’t escape. That’s why I’m not driving.”
“That, and the fact that you can hardly see,” Syd added.
“Yeah, that too.”
“His name is Walter?” Buffy asked incredulously.
“And he’s in the trunk?”
“You know,” Buffy said, “I fully expected his name to be something like Zygon the Implacable or something.”
“Really? He’s just a mutant, not a character out of a comic book or anything like that.”
“He’s a creepy guy with a weird eye and a squad of military goons in tactical gear,” Buffy pointed out. “If that isn’t the sort of person who gets to be called something wacky, I don’t know what is.”
Rudy snorted. “Fair enough.”
“How did you know his name was Walter, anyway?”
“He used to be at Summerland. He got kicked out a little while after I arrived. He liked to hurt people,” Rudy said. “I guess it makes sense he ended up with Division Three.”
“And why do we think it’s a good idea to bring him back?”
“Walter was always good at tracking people down. Had a real knack for it. If we leave him out there, he will find you, eventually.”
“You know,” David interjected, “I woke up this morning thinking I was schizophrenic, and the weirdest thing I had to deal with was the fact that my girlfriend can switch bodies with anyone she touches. Now it turns out we’re both mutants, Buffy’s a mutant who literally has demons in her head, and we’re being chased by the government.”
Buffy nodded. “That’s the size and shape, yeah.” She paused for a moment. “Hold up, Syd does what now?”
Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
David was a bad passenger. He wouldn’t stop fidgeting. He unclicked his seatbelt, clicked it back in again, got halfway through unzipping his jacket and then changed his mind and zipped it right up to his chin. He looked out of his window, the front window, Buffy’s window – he even craned his head around to look out of the back.
Under other circumstances, Buffy probably wouldn’t even have noticed it. When Rudy had driven them from Summerland earlier, for example, she would’ve been too busy fidgeting herself to pay any attention to what David was doing.
But Syd was a much more relaxing driver than Rudy had been, and besides, Buffy’s head hurt, her eyes hurt, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she was pretty much running on adrenaline fumes, she’d probably be asleep. She was tired, and David’s constant fidgeting was getting on her nerves.
He’d even fidgeted through Syd’s explanation of how her powers worked. Sure, he’d probably heard it before, but if anything was interesting enough to hold someone’s attention, Buffy would have thought that that was it. It was so weird. Buffy was familiar with body switching – she had some first-hand experience, in fact, having spent some time in Faith’s body – and it had never worked like Syd’s power. When Syd touched someone, they switched bodies. That was easy enough. But some time later, hours, minutes, maybe even a day, when the power wore off, the mind of the person that she’d switched with didn’t just snap back to its body. Wherever Syd, or rather, the body that had Syd’s mind in it was, that was where the body of the person that she’d switched with would go. The mind didn’t snap back to its body – the body snapped back to its mind.
Besides that odd quirk, Buffy couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if Syd touched her. Whose body would she end up in? Buffy wasn’t sure that she was just Buffy. For one thing, even though Syd was probably the most qualified driver they had at the moment, there was still a small part of Buffy’s mind that wanted to shove her out of the car and take over. It was, she was sure, the lingering effect of having Caleb in her head. She could only hope that it would wear off in a bit, like it had with Giles, but in the mean time she really didn’t want Syd to touch her and then end up in Caleb’s body. Or have Caleb in Syd’s body. Or anything at all to do with Caleb, really.
And despite all of that, David was still fidgeting. It was enough to bother someone, it really was.
“You okay, David?” Buffy said. She’d meant to sound gentle, but she hadn’t quite managed it. It had come out as more of a snap. “You keep fidgeting,” she added, in a slightly softer tone.
“Yes. No. Yes. No. I mean,” David braided his fingers together on his lap, “I wanted to know, I, uh, wanted to ask… is this real? Is any of this real?”
Buffy almost wished that Kerry was around. There was something about having a girl with a katana answering questions that made them seem definitively answered. Besides, that girl could give a blunt yes better than anyone that she’d ever met. Buffy, on the other hand, had never felt that she was qualified to answer questions about what was and wasn’t real. There was too much overlap.
Still, she gave it her best shot. “Pretty sure, yeah. I think so. I mean, it’s pretty weird, but if we start doubting it then we just open ourselves to more of the weird, and that way madness lies. And we’ve already done that. We’ve been down that road. So, anyway, yeah. I think this is probably real.” Buffy internally cringed. Her best shot had been much better when she’d been a Slayer. She could have handled this whole thing without any issue, then.
David nodded slowly. “Uh huh. Right. Sure.”
He sounded doubtful, as though something was still bothering him, but at least he wasn’t fidgeting anymore. Buffy counted that as a win. Sure, she supposed that she should probably talk to him, ask him what was still bothering him, but she felt like the top of her skull had been lifted off and molten metal had been pounded into her brain. If he was going to do something as patently dumb as questioning reality rather than something sensible like whether he might suddenly open up a great big chasm in the ground or catch a lightning bolt, then that was his fault. Buffy had had enough.
Buffy lay back in her seat and closed the boiled orbs that passed for her eyes. If her history was anything to go by, then there was a good chance that she wouldn’t actually be able to sleep, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t give it a go.
“You’re going to miss things if you’re asleep, you know,” a voice said in her ears. Buffy frowned, but didn’t open her eyes. The voice was vaguely familiar – male, American – but it didn’t belong to Rudy or David, which meant that she could safely ignore it. She had more than enough going on in her head without adding yet another person that didn’t exist to it.
“Fine, ignore me if you want. It’ll be your funeral.”
The voice really was annoyingly familiar. It was soft and smooth and didn’t really hold a hint of the threat that had been implicit to the words. She just couldn’t place it. It wasn’t Xander, wasn’t Angel, wasn’t Riley. Wasn’t someone she knew that well at all, she suspected. A casual acquaintance, then?
“If you go through life with your eyes closed, you won’t see things that are right in front of you,” the voice said. “Sounds trite, I know, but I think it’s worth saying. You’ve had enough trouble with eyes, recently, but you’ll have just as many problems if you avoid them altogether.”
Buffy really couldn’t care less what the voice was saying. It sounded like cryptic gibberish to her. It was the sort of thing that the people in her head often said. She hadn’t had the patience for them when she was the Slayer, and she definitely didn’t have the patience for them now. The things that the voice was saying weren’t important. If she were so inclined, she could definitely just go to sleep while it droned at her. She’d done that with other voices enough times over the years. The words weren’t important, but the fact that the voice was simultaneously familiar and yet unknown was incredibly irritating. If her head wasn’t a short step away from being a furnace, she was sure she’d be able to recognise it – as it was, though, there was no chance of that, and there’d be no chance of sleep either. She’d just keep wondering whose voice it was.
So, really, there was no option other than to open her eyes. So she did.
Though there was space for someone to sit between her and David, no one was. There was no one in the car who shouldn’t be there.
There was, however, someone outside her window. On a scale of one to demon, it was way up there. It had bumpy, yellow-green skin that was only a short step away from being scales, curly horns like a ram, ears like a bat and an oddly small nose under heavy brows and above a mouth full of small, needle-like teeth.
That wasn’t all that weird, though. She’d seen demons that would make this thing look like a Barbie doll. It wasn’t even weird that this thing sounded like your average American, even though it looked like it should have a voice like a deep, rolling evil thing. She was familiar with that too.
The weird thing was that, even though the car was speeding along the highway, this demon was just walking alongside the car. He didn’t look like he was moving all that quickly – in fact, he looked like he was just taking a leisurely stroll – but he was still effortlessly keeping pace with the car. It was surprisingly difficult to watch.
Willow had once pointed out that the things in her head sometimes worked like characters in badly rendered video games. There were things like this, or Caleb essentially clipping through the car earlier. It hadn’t made her feel any better.
She didn’t even recognise the demon, which made the whole thing with the eye opening and the being awake completely pointless. Though Buffy had seen a lot of demons, she hadn’t thought that she had seen all that many that were as demon-y as this one. If she’d recognised the voice, she would have thought that she’d recognise the nightmarish face that went with it. But she didn’t.
Buffy didn’t ask him what his name was. She didn’t want to speak. For one thing, speaking was a thing that involved effort, and that so wasn’t the thing she felt that she could have right then. For another, there was a bunch of other people in the car and, even though they knew that she had literal demons in her head, that didn’t mean that she felt the need to go around talking to them in front of them. So she just looked at the demon and hoped that the aching muscles in her face were capable of making her look quizzical.
The demon rolled his eyes in a surprisingly human gesture. “Mark. You really don’t remember me, do you? We worked together for a while. It’s Mark.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. Sure, sometimes demons had oddly human names. Not everyone could be called something like Zygon the Implacable. But there seemed to be something odd about that. Maybe there was something on the face that looked like it was built for snarling that made her think that he was lying. Maybe it was whatever part of her that recognised his voice, trying to give her a warning.
But she was tired, and he had nothing to do with the creeping darkness that leaked in with Caleb’s thoughts, so she decided that she didn’t care. Let him lie, if he felt he needed to.
“We’re here,” Rudy said suddenly, squinting. “Or at least I think we’re here.”
Buffy looked ahead. Sure enough, there was Summerland ahead. “Yup.”
David looked like Buffy had, when she’d first arrived. He, too, was surprised that this place was the headquarters for an underground organisation of mutants. “Wow.”
“There’s no cherry pie, though,” Buffy remarked drily as she awkwardly slid out of the car.
Summerland’s doors flew open, and Melanie rushed down the steps. Apparently they were rolling the welcome wagon out for David. Which made sense – he only collapsed buildings and caught lightning bolts. He didn’t accidently destroy boats.
Mark sidled up to her. “He’s craving more than cherry pie, that boy.”
Buffy blinked, dragging scratchy eyelids over parched eyeballs. That had sounded ominous. She knew ominous when she heard it, was in fact an expert in ominousity, but she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why someone wanting something other than cherry pie could be ominous. She was way too tired for this.
It was only because she was so tired that she made the mistake of asking “What are you talking about?”
Mark snorted. “Look at him! Look! Don’t you have eyes? The way he stands, the way he moves. The way his eyes flit from thing to thing. Everything he does screams hunger, and-“
“When you said we worked together – what exactly did we do?” Buffy interrupted. She didn’t feel like she’d ever worked with Mark. While she had worked with demons before, even demons demonier than he was, something about this particular demon just seemed far too villainous.
“Therapist,” Mark said shortly.
“Anyway, if I can continue,” Mark said acidly, “the boy wants to be loved. Look at the way he stands so close to Syd. She shies away, curves away from him, but he’s tilted towards her. He asks if any of this is real, and he thinks that he’s talking about mutants and psychics and shadows with knives – he thinks that with such intensity that you think it too. But he’s really asking if there can be people who care.”
He might be right – Buffy couldn’t tell. Even after all the time she’d spent in Clockworks, she was far from an expert in human psychology, but demons she knew. Demons she knew, and this one in particular looked like he’d just seen a snack had just ambled over and plonked itself down in front of him. She’d rarely seen anyone look quite as hungry as he did.
And just like that, she realised where she’d heard Mark’s voice before. She hadn’t recognised him before because when she’d seen him, he’d looked different.
For one thing, he’d been a robot.
“A therapist? Did you really think I’d buy that? Moloch.”
“It was worth a shot,” Moloch replied, drawing thin lips over needle-like teeth in a grotesque parody of a smile. “Besides, it doesn’t make what I said any less true. If he could hear me… oh, the things I could do with that boy.”
“Yeah, no. So don’t want to hear about that.”
Still, Buffy steeled herself to hear him anyway. She’d never had much luck with getting people to not talk to her. Drugs had helped, a little – it had made the more violent people like Caleb or Angelus much easier to deal with – but she didn’t have any of those.
Thankfully, she was spared when Melanie turned to her. “Cary’s ready for you, by the way.”
“Already?” Buffy said in surprise. “We’ve only been gone a few hours.”
Melanie shrugged, and looked back at David and Syd. “Anyway, we’ll give you a tour, and once P-“
Buffy put her hand on David’s shoulder. “Hey. I’ll see you later, ‘kay? I’ve just got to go do a thing.”
David’s answering smile, though wavery and uncertain, was like the sun coming up.
Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen
When Buffy left to find Cary, Rudy was floating the mutant apparently known as Walter out of the trunk of the car. Despite having spent a few hours being held immobile in the trunk of a car after brawling in the rain, and currently being hovered telekinetically a few inches above the ground with his arms pinned to his sides, Walter didn’t seem to mind too much. Generally, when stuff like that happened to villains, they would rant and rave about how no prison could hold them, they would have their revenge, you’ll see, you’ll all see, blah blah blah. Walter just had a faint smile, as though this was only a mild inconvenience.
Buffy didn’t like that. Summerland wasn’t a prison – it definitely didn’t seem to be the kind of place that could hold someone who could take a punch from Caleb and get up like it was nothing. Besides, Buffy had encountered things that felt like creepy-crawlies had wriggled into her skull before. Things that did that were usually powerful demons. Or worse. While walls might be good for a lot of things, holding things like that wasn’t one of them.
Of course, if it had been up to Buffy, she probably would plucked out his cloudy eye and gutted him like a fish, but then she wasn’t exactly in her right mind. That seemed like Caleb thinking, and the fact that it made sense to her and felt right was not a thing that was good.
Still, there wasn’t a lot that she could do about it. Maybe Summerland had some place where they put evil mutants. Maybe Cary, who could apparently whip up something to stop her from getting entangled with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a matter of hours, could make something that could stop someone from boring into people's heads with the psychic equivalent of a drill, scooping out minds and chucking them into the trash.
Moloch chuckled behind her, low and dark, to show her what he thought of that.
“Oh, shut up,” Buffy snapped.
The laughter stopped, as if Moloch actually cared what Buffy thought. At the same time, the temperature of the room dropped like a stone.
“What did you say?” Moloch said. His voice was flat, and he almost managed to keep the tension out of it.
Buffy exhaled, steam billowing from her mouth. She shivered – she wasn’t dressed for this. It was summer, a lovely day. There was no reason to suddenly feel like she’d taken a stroll across the arctic tundra.
She glanced at Moloch. His face was blank, and in any case it wasn’t exactly made for nuanced expression. As far as she could remember, which admittedly wasn’t all that far, Moloch didn’t have any power over the temperature. He talked at people and, if he happened to be a robot, he could manipulate anything with an internet connection, but making the room do a reasonable impression of an ice cube? That wasn’t him.
Of course, she was inside. Summerland probably had some sort of air conditioning. Maybe Moloch had messed with it. But, with frost spreading like spider webs across the windows, Buffy couldn’t imagine that Summerland was built to get this cold. Even if Moloch had done something – and it was a big if – he couldn’t make a machine do something that it wasn’t designed to do.
“I said shut up.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought you said.” Moloch’s eyes darted around the room. Though his voice was calm, it was obvious that he was trying to keep his cool. He didn’t know what was going on any more than she did. “Well, in that case, I’d better… go.” And he did. One moment he was there, looming as large as a giant demon could when they didn’t really exist, and the next he was gone, as if he hadn’t ever been there.
Buffy, teeth chattering against the cold, hurried onto the next room. Looked like a cold snap a day kept the hallucinations away. She almost wished that she could think of that as a good thing.
Still, as Buffy moved onwards, it seemed as though the cold was confined to that specific room. Maybe it was haunted, or something. Freezing everything in sight seemed like a ghostly thing to her.
A few moments later, when she was outside Cary’s lab, she paused to rub some life into her hands. She would have liked to have done something with her hair and not be wearing damp, rain-soaked clothes as well, but she couldn’t always get what she wanted. She took a deep breath, let it out, noted with some satisfaction that it didn’t result in a plume of steam, and went in.
Cary looked up from a mess of wires on his desk. “Buffy! You’re back.”
“Really? How could you tell?” Buffy shook her head to clear it. “Sorry. As days go, this one has had a lot of not goodness in it.”
“Well, I think I have something that might help with that,” Cary said. He wheeled himself out from under his desk and then poled himself along with this cane until he was sitting opposite Buffy. “But I wanted to ask first – how are your eyes?”
Buffy frowned, and her hand involuntarily twitched, moving upwards to her face before she realised that, besides feeling scratchy and dry, there was nothing wrong with her eyes. At least nothing that wouldn’t be fixed by a night’s sleep. “My eyes? My eyes are fine. Why?”
“Rudy called while you were… unconscious. He wanted to let us know that he was bringing Walter, and he also mentioned that your eyes were… well, black, and leaking some sort of fluid.” Cary looked up at her, concerned.
Buffy opened her mouth to ask what he was talking about – if she’d been leaking some kind of black fluid, she’d have known about it. No one in the car had mentioned anything like that to her, either. Plus, if she had been leaking black ooze, then there’d still be some on her cheeks, and there definitely wasn’t.
Buffy opened her mouth to ask what he was talking about, but then she shut it again. There had been a moment, when she’d been Caleb, and Walter had stepped up his attack. She’d felt, or rather, Caleb had felt that his head was about to burst, and there’d been something, a fluid like the darkness between the stars, had begun trickling from her eye as Walter’s attacked bore through it. But that had been Caleb. Caleb, who when he was killed, didn’t bleed, or at least didn’t bleed anything that was recognisable as blood. Caleb, who had got back up after being killed, with darkness running from black eyes.
That hadn’t been her. “My eyes are fine,” Buffy said. It was true. Her eyes were fine.
Cary looked like he was about to ask if she was sure, which would have led to some sort of temper tantrum which would have started with Cary being pushed off his chair and escalated from there, but he seemed to pick up on Buffy’s mood and wisely didn’t continue that line of thought. “Good, good, that’s good to hear,” he muttered absently as he scooted back over to his desk and began rummaging around for something. While he was looking, Buffy sat down. Standing was not a thing that she wanted to do more of. “Anyway, I made you something. As I said before, I think you’ve gotten entangled with an alternate version of yourself, and instead of manifesting psychic powers directly you’re coming at it from a different angle. I’ve got you something that should focus you on the here and – oh, Kerry, where did I put it?” Buffy briefly thought he was talking to himself, before she realised that he was probably talking to his alter-ego. She should probably talk to him about that at some point. She wanted to know how he managed to keep himself straight. Or themselves. Or whatever. She couldn’t even manage it in her own head.
“Ah, here it is!” Cary said triumphantly, holding something aloft.
It was definitely something. What it was not, though, was something that Buffy had expected. She’d thought it might be some kind of helmet with wires dangling from it, or perhaps a little beeping circlet. This, however, didn’t look like a machine at all. It definitely didn’t look like something that helped sort out dimensional entanglements.
What it looked like was a nightcap, the sort of thing that Buffy had often seem people wearing in old-timey cartoons. It was long, it had a bobble on the end of it, it was neon green, and it was hideous.
Buffy waited, thinking that surely this couldn’t be it, it had to be something that Cary had in his desk for… well, she couldn’t imagine why, but there was no way that she was going to wear this shapeless sock thing on her head, especially not when it was that colour. It had to be Cary’s. It had to be.
But Cary was looking at her expectantly, and he was holding it out for her.
“Cary,” Buffy said slowly, “please tell me I’m not supposed to wear that – that thing.”
Cary looked taken aback. “Well, yes. Is something wrong with it?”
“Ask Kerry. I bet she’d get it. Come on, Cary. I’ve seen things covered in puke that look better than that thing.”
“I suppose it is a bit green,” Cary sheepishly admitted.
“A bit green? It’s so green that if it was at a junction, people would confuse it for a green light!”
Cary reached in and turned it inside out, revealing complicated looking machinery, complete with flashing lights. It looked slightly more like Buffy had expected Cary’s machine to look. It also looked like a high-tech Christmas tree. “It needs to be something that you can sleep in. The Astral Plane is at least tangentially related to dreams and, in any case, it needed to be something that you could wear for a least a few days. It will probably take about 48 hours before you’re properly grounded. A helmet would be too uncomfortable, and I needed to fit more machinery in this thing than would really be feasible with a headband.” Cary looked embarrassed. “Plus this is the only nightcap I could find.”
“Cary, why do you have a nightcap that looks like that?”
“I’m… not sure. I assume it was a gift.” Cary said. Buffy got the distinct impression that Cary, or possibly Kerry, had found it just as disgusting as she did, and had never worn it. It made her feel better for about half a second, until she remembered that she was supposed to wear it herself. She was wearing a rejected nightcap that looked like it was soaked in really weird demon blood. She couldn’t believe that that had been dyed by anything natural.
“It’s not so bad-“
“I’m pretty sure that thing would eat my brain,” Buffy said. “Either that or make everyone around me go blind. Or roll on the floor laughing at the poor fashion victim. The point is, that thing? Not a good hat. I’m not wearing that thing.”
Buffy had never been to Summerland’s cafeteria. She’d planned to, but what with crashing out as soon as she arrived and then rushing out to get David not long after waking up, she hadn’t had the time. She’d had to make do with food that Rudy had grabbed for the road.
She’d never been in the cafeteria, which was a shame, because if she’d been there before, then people would have seen her, and they’d know that she didn’t always wear neon green nightcaps to dinner. But she hadn’t, and they didn’t.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a meal time, so there weren’t all that many people, but not many people was still way too many. Sure, this might be a building filled with mutants, but until the day that there was a mutant who had a head like a neon green nightcap, she wasn’t going to be reassured by that.
It didn’t help that wearing the cap felt wiggy. For one thing, it made her feel heavy, as though the air was thicker and it was weighing her down. When she waved her hand, though, it moved just like it should. For another, she felt like her depth perception was a little off, like she couldn’t quite work out how far away things were. Cary had said that it would pass, but it was still a bit unnerving.
So Buffy got her food and sat by herself. At least she was used to that. Years of life in a psychiatric hospital would do that for you. She didn’t even have Willow or Xander around, like she had back at Sunnydale High.
Buffy was therefore taken completely by surprise by someone sliding into the seat across from her. It was a woman, brunette, probably in her mid-thirties, though she looked older because of her hard expression. While she was wearing the muted greens and browns that seemed to be standard at Summerland, she was also wearing a bright red scarf. Sitting opposite Buffy, the pair probably looked like some off-duty Christmas elves or something.
“Uh, hello,” Buffy ventured tentatively.
“Hi,” the woman replied. “Christina Claremont, Petty Officer First Class.”
Buffy blinked in surprise. “Okay. I’m Buffy. No rank.”
"Old habits. You can call me Chrissy.”
“Hi,” Buffy said again. “Uh, how are you?”
“Hungry. My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.” Chrissy smiled, as though she’d made a joke.
“Right, right,” Buffy said. She was hungry too, so hungry that she’d decided that she needed food more than she needed sleep. “So, you’re military?”
Chrissy nodded once, her hand moving up to check her scarf. “Yes. Or, rather I was. I was in the Navy, before all of this happened," she said sadly, spreading her hands, taking in Summerland and everything that came with it.
Buffy recognised that tone of voice. She’d heard it before, from Slayers, Watchers, even witches. It was the tone of voice of someone who had been doing they’d loved, had been something that they’d loved, and then something had happened. They’d been Called, they’d seen the things that go bump in the night, whatever, and then they’d found that they couldn’t do it anymore. They’d had to become something else. Something they didn't like.
“I had a friend in the military once. Riley. He had… issues with the weirder side of things.” Technically true, although it had been demons and the stuff that went with them rather than mutants. “If you ever want to talk, you know?”
Chrissy’s eyes narrowed. “We’ve met before, you know.”
Buffy started. “Have we? When?”
“I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. I was wearing different clothes. You didn’t even see my face. I was just a faceless goon in a squad of faceless goons.” Chrissy reached up and began unwinding her scarf. “I was military. I was.” She pulled the scarf away.
Her throat had been sliced open. There was a jagged tear, and blood was bubbling and oozing down her neck. Buffy was sure that she could even see bone.
“I was military,” Chrissy said, throat popping and hissing in ways that no throat should. “I was, until a thing with scars for eyes took a knife to my throat.”
Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen
Buffy watched as a thin stream of blood trickled down the curve of Chrissy’s neck with the inevitability of an oil spill. She watched as the wound in her throat bubbled and hissed with every laboured breath. She watched, and all she could think was that she wasn’t afraid.
She should be, she knew. Talking to someone with a gaping hole in their neck was enough to make anyone freak out.
Of course, she had memories in her head that were worse than this. She’d seen dead people before, and dead demons. She’d seen literal knights in shining armour cut almost in half by a sword that was in her hand, a sword that she’d used. She’d seen a lot of things, and though this was definitely creepy, it had nothing compared to some of that other stuff.
But, then again, those weren’t her memories. Buffy the Vampire Slayer might never have known if she was going to live through any given night, but she had known that she was the Slayer. That sort of stuff went with the territory. Buffy, though, wasn’t the Slayer, no matter what the voices in her head said. She wasn’t sure, wasn’t certain, and definitely wasn’t the sort of person who could see someone with no throat to speak of without going into a major wig.
But she wasn’t afraid.
She leant forward. “How dumb do you think I am?”
Surprised flickered over Chrissy’s face, and her fingers tightened. Her knuckles were very white against the red of the scarf. “What?”
“Did you think that I’d see you and I’d fall all over myself saying sorry? Did you think I’d wail and scream and beat my chest in despair? ‘Cause let me tell you, if you thought that, you don’t know me at all.” Buffy said quietly.
“You killed me,” Chrissy said simply. “You killed all of us. You killed us because we’re human and you aren’t, and now-“
“See, the thing is, even though I’m cutting this food with this knife,” Buffy said, waving the cutlery that came with the cafeteria meal, “even though I can feel it against my skin and I know it’s just a dull little knife, well – sometimes I almost fool myself into thinking it’s not. Sometimes, when I look down, I think that I’ll see a different knife. A knife that doesn’t cut food so much as it cuts the flesh of them as is dirty.” Buffy smiled, her lips thin and tight and her eyes as cold as a crypt. “You follow?”
Chrissy looked disgusted. “The Eye told us that it was you we were tracking. We did our research. We’ve read your medical files, your transcripts, all of that. Everything that survived the fall of Clockworks. All of it said that you wouldn’t hurt a fly. Your mind’s so folded in on itself, so concerned with all the messed up stuff that goes on in it that you wouldn’t even think of it. Nothing outside of you is more threatening than the things inside your head. A danger to herself, the file said, but not to others.” Though her voice was quiet, measured, calm, it was nevertheless dripping with disdain. It was the voice of someone who could never be convinced that the person they were talking to could ever be recognised as a person. “Looks like they were wrong.”
The words dangled in the air until Buffy waved them away with a dismissive hand. “So we’re going to keep up this charade, are we? We’re going to sit here and chat and pretend that I don’t know what you are?”
“Oh, but we know what I am, don’t we? I’m just your average human. Admittedly, I’m a bit deader than most people, but still. You’re the, the thing that’s other.”
“Me? I’m just a girl. Of course if you were to cut me I’m not sure that I’d bleed. There might just be some black liquid, darker than night. Comes with the whole feeling like there’s an ocean of evil lapping against my brain, like there’s a powerful thing buried beneath my thoughts that’s gonna suck the world into a fiery oblivion. That sort of thing. Still, when you’ve got stuff like that going on in your head, and you’re stuck chatting to some little girl with a hole in their throat, you kind of figure out who you’re really talking to.” Buffy’s smile widened. “So, First, why don’t you stop hiding behind her face and come out and talk yourself?”
Chrissy opened her mouth to say something, and there was an expression lurking around the corners of her eyes which might have been-
But then Buffy heard footsteps coming up behind her, slow and deliberate, and she froze. She couldn’t be Caleb, couldn’t use words that bubbled up from some dark alien ocean. Not with real people. Someone could get hurt, and she doubted that it would be her.
So she schooled her face into at least an approximation of normalcy, and hoped that the smile on her face when she turned around wasn’t too predatory.
It was David. He wasn’t looking at Buffy – he was too occupied by his hands. Which was strange, because they weren’t doing anything more important than toying with the zipper on his jacket. “Hey, David,” Buffy said, almost wishing that her voice didn’t sound so tired or so harsh, “what’s up?”
“Um, hi, Buffy,” David replied, still not looking at her. “I, uh, I wanted to ask you a question.”
Buffy looked behind him, trying to see if Syd was around, and trying not to think that he wouldn’t be so diffident and uncertain if she took her fork and rammed it into his face a time or two. She didn’t see Syd, which was a shame, because if Syd was around she could have palmed this conversation off on her. Buffy could have left, and gone to bed, and hopefully wake up and not feel like her eyes were boiled eggs and her mind was all shadows and gloom.
Buffy sighed. “Fine. What did you want to ask?”
David smiled, suddenly all cheer, and moved around the table to sit in front of Buffy. For a moment, she didn’t think anything about that – but then she realised that Chrissy, or something dressed in Chrissy’s skin, had just been sitting there. Whether it had been the First or a mutant-hating goon, she had definitely seemed like the person who would stick around, if only to make Buffy’s life just that little bit more painful.
But she was gone, and there wasn’t even a hint of a red scarf to suggest that she had ever been there. There was just David. “I wanted to ask – I had a question about the – I want to know about the devils in your head.”
Buffy digested that. She wasn’t really sure how she could answer that, quite apart from the fact that it hadn’t been a question in the first place. She wasn’t Giles, or Willow, or even Dawn. She didn’t have built-in demon factoids at her fingertips. About the best that she could manage was telling him that most of them could be killed by a judicious application of sword. “What did you want to know?”
“What are they like?”
Buffy almost laughed despite herself, because she felt like she’d just had this conversation. “Well, let’s put this way… if you’ve got a torrent of evil rushing through your head, every second of every day, then you aren’t really going to be a good guy, are you? Demons are big on the world-ending and acts of unspeakable evil. You know, the kind of things that you’d expect a demon to do.”
David’s expression didn’t change. It obviously hadn’t been what he’d wanted to know, but it took several seconds and Buffy looking at her food before he spoke again. “What about their eyes?”
Buffy blinked, remembering an eye walking towards her with jagged oblivion in its gaze. “Why are you asking about eyes?”
“No reason,” David said, too quickly to be truthful. He fidgeted absently. “Only… when we were outside the motel. I saw this thing. When I caught the lightning bolt, and everything felt like a dream. I saw… something. A devil with yellow eyes.”
“Sounds like a vampire,” Buffy said automatically, before her mind caught up with what David had actually said. “Wait, what? You saw what?”
“It was tall. Taller than me, and it looked like it should have been fat, like there’s a huge roll of fat that comes down from where it’s chin should be and covers its neck. But it isn’t fat, and its arms are long and spindly and its fingers are long and spindly and…” David took a deep shuddering breath, and finished weakly with “Anyway, that’s what it looked like.”
Buffy realised two things. The first was that this was what David had wanted to tell her in the car. Sure, he probably had wanted to know if any of this was actually real, but the driving force behind that question had been whether this thing that he had seen was real. Whether there really was a devil with yellow eyes.
The second thing that was that David had started using the present tense part-way through his description. He’d switched tenses, and judging by his wide eyes, his sudden sharp breath and, most of all, the way his eyes kept flicking behind her as though he expected to see something there, he hadn’t only seen that thing outside the motel.
“I’m not sure what that might have been,” Buffy said truthfully. “Yellow eyes says vampire to me, but the rest of it… don’t know. Plus, with this thing,” Buffy flicked the bobble at the end of her nightcap, “chances are that I won’t see someone who can tell me. It’s supposed to disentangle me so that demons, serial killers, and demonic serial killers don’t pop over for a visit.”
“Oh,” David said, crestfallen.
Buffy turned back to her food, but when she looked up again, David was still there. He had the expression of someone who had a question that they didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to know the answer to, but nevertheless felt like he needed to know. Buffy rolled her eyes, which hurt more than it really should have. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
“Do you believe them?” David blurted out. “Do you believe the things they say?”
David waved his hands inarticulately. “The people here. At Summerland. They… said things. I wanted to know if they were true. If you think they are.”
“Well, you know, if you don’t tell me what they said, I can’t really say if they’re telling the truth.”
“They said… Melanie said that I’m not… that there’s nothing wrong with me. That I’m not… sick. That it’s just my powers, and that with training and time and work I would be – you know?”
Buffy shrugged. “Ptonomy said something like that, when we first met.” Buffy caught David’s confused expression. “You know how we came to pick you up and bring you here? Ptonomy was one of the people who did that for me. He said I was probably psychic, and psychics sometimes have, well, the same sort of problems that we have.”
“Did you believe him?” David said.
Buffy put down her cutlery, pushed away her tray and rubbed her eyes. “I’ve got the ugliest thing that has ever been confused for clothing on my head. If I didn’t believe them, trust me, this thing would be on a bonfire right now. Possibly after some sort of ritual to make sure it doesn’t come back and haunt someone with poor fashion sense.”
“But that isn’t the same thing, is it? That’s just-“
“Look, David,” Buffy interrupted. “I’m too tired for this. I thought I wasn’t too tired for food, but boy, the universe sure disagrees. I’m too tired for this conversation, these doubts. What am I supposed to do? They’re telling us the same things. I’m in the same boat as you, and I guess we’ve just got to hope that the boat doesn’t, like, suddenly explode or something. That’s all I’ve got. You want more, talk to Syd. She was at Clockworks too, same as us.”
David stood and left without a word. Buffy sighed, and wondered if she could have handled it better, and ignored the dark whisper at the back of her head that told her that she could have torn him apart with just a few more words.
Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen
It should have been dark.
When Buffy woke up, it was still night time. She hadn’t bothered to pull her curtains shut before she’d crashed out on her bed (in fact, she’d barely bothered to take off her shoes), and there was no light outside. There was grass, and trees waving in the wind, and there were whispering leaves, but there wasn’t anything that even remotely resembled a sunrise.
There was nothing like a sunrise. There was no light, and Buffy wasn’t a Slayer. She had no supernatural gift for seeing in the dark. So there was no reason why she would be able to see the grass, the trees, the leaves. But she could.
It should have been dark. It was dark. It just didn’t seem to matter.
It was cold, too. Buffy had been so tired that she’d fallen asleep on top of her blankets, but she didn’t think she'd be any warmer if she were under them. When she woke up, her jaw was clenched so tightly against the icy air that her teeth hurt, and when she reached up to massage the side of her face to loosen her muscles, she couldn’t even feel her fingers against her skin.
It was cold enough that there was frost snaking across the floor, the walls, the ceiling. For a moment, Buffy thought that it was spelling something out for her, that it was some kind of harsh, angular script. But the moment passed, and she realised that it was just frost.
Not that it being just frost was any comfort, of course. If she was so cold that she couldn’t even feel her feet, then things were bad. She needed to get warm.
Last time, the cold had been confined to just one room. She needed to get out. Judging by the way the frost was busily enveloping the door, she needed to get out quickly, otherwise it might stick in place. She didn’t feel up to breaking down a door.
Buffy swung herself upright, which was more difficult than it should have been, given that various bits of her body seemed to still be asleep.
She stumbled towards the door on numb feet.
The door swung open before she could reach it.
Buffy stood staring it for a long moment. No one had opened it. There was no one there to open it. The corridor outside was just as dark as the world outside her window.
Buffy shot a suspicious look at the frost, but the frost, being frost, didn’t respond. It just began steadily winding its way out of her room.
Buffy shivered, and followed it.
Stepping outside of her room was… odd.
It wasn’t that the corridor was infinitely warmer than her room had been, although that was definitely part of it. When she moved through her doorway, though, she didn’t feel warmer. She felt warm. She’d been cold, and now she wasn’t. That was fine, that was normal – it’s just that normally when that sort of thing happened, there was an intermediate stage while she warmed up. It wasn’t just some binary thing, either cold or not cold. There was a progression from one to the other.
But not this time.
Buffy reached up to touch her nightcap, partly to check that it was still there, partly out of a vain hope that it wasn’t. Sadly, the neon green eye-assaulter was still there.
Cary had said that she, as a psychic, could reach the Astral Plane, and as a result had gotten tangled with a different version of herself. The nightcap was supposed to focus her on her own reality, and stop her picking up static from the Astral Plane.
The Astral Plane, of course, being somewhere that wasn’t quite a dream and wasn’t quite reality. In short, the Astral Plane was the sort of place where it being dark didn’t mean that you couldn’t see, or where warming yourself up was as easy as moving from one room to another.
“Well,” Buffy said to no one in particular, “it looks like we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”
Out of curiosity, she turned to look behind her, wondering if she’d see her sleeping body sprawled out on her bed.
She didn’t. She couldn’t see into her room at all – there was a sheet of ice in the way. It was thick, blue-white, and seemed to have sprung up in about a minute or so. Though it was opaque, there was nevertheless the sense that there was something behind it, something moving in the dark and the cold. Buffy shivered, and looked away.
Frost was busily winding its way to her right, meandering across the walls, ceiling and floor. Buffy decided that she didn’t want to go that way – she’d had enough of the cold – and started moving in the other direction. She didn’t have anything better to do. As far as she could tell, she was on another plane of existence. She didn’t know how she’d gotten there, and she didn’t know how she could get out. The best she could do was keep moving, and hope that something turned up.
Besides, Cary’s lab was that way, and although she heavily doubted that she’d find him if she went to his lab – there was no reason for him to be on the Astral Plane, after all – it was one of about three places in Clockworks that she actually knew the location of. And again, she didn’t have anywhere better to go.
So she walked.
She moved, her socked feet padding across the carpeted floor, slow and deliberate. There was no light, but that didn’t seem to matter. There was just her. No stray people from another dimension, not even the remnants of Caleb in her head. There was just her, alone in the dark, moving along the corridor.
The corridor seemed much longer than it normally did. She thought that she should have reached the staircase that led up to Cary’s lab by now. In fact, she was certain of it. She stopped walking, thinking that she wasn’t getting anywhere, and just for a moment she felt sure that the sound of her footsteps continued, as though there was someone else still walking.
Buffy whirled around to look behind herself, suddenly absolutely sure that there was someone, something creeping up behind her, shuffling along in time with her footsteps. But there wasn’t. There was just the doorway to her room, blocked by ice, and the corridor, bristling with frost, interminably leading off into the distance. Her doorway was just a few feet behind her, as though she had only been walking for a couple of seconds.
Buffy frowned. “Don’t like that,” she said, more for the comfort of hearing her own voice than for any other reason.
Except that was how things worked in dreams, she reflected. It wasn’t unusual to dream that you were moving, but not getting anywhere. She’d always hated those dreams. At least you knew where you were with dreams of creepy things popping up behind you. Of course, it probably wasn’t a place that you liked, but it was better than frustration and the panicked feeling that you might end up nowhere at all.
So. Just walking didn’t seem like it was going to get her anywhere. She didn’t want to follow the frost, and she couldn’t get back into her room. So what other options did she have?
The answer was a few feet away. Her room wasn’t the only room on this corridor. There were others. She wasn’t sure what they were, but even if they were bedrooms like her own, even if they had people sleeping in them… it had to be better than just standing in a dark hallway. Besides, this was a building full of mutants and people who worked with mutants. While they wouldn’t like having a girl in a hideous nightcap break into their room in the middle of the night, they’d probably understand.
That is, of course, if anyone else was even there.
Buffy shuffled over to the nearby door, and was mildly surprised that she actually moved towards it. She’d half expected it to retreat from her.
The door, if it was a bedroom door, should have been locked. But then, hers should have been locked too, and that had opened without her even touching it. This door, apparently, was closer to the reality side of things than the dream, and waited for her to turn the handle before it opened.
It was a bedroom. Buffy could tell because there was a bed in it. The bed was occupied.
By a snowman.
It was lying on its back, the blankets pulled tightly over the round ball of snow that formed its body. One of the branches that were its arms poked out of the side. It stared straight upwards, two shiny eyes of coal pressed firmly into the grey ice, just above a mildly off-centre carrot nose. There was even a pipe that had been placed in it at a jaunty angle.
Buffy rubbed her eyes. This was getting weird, even for a plane that was only half real at best.
She immediately regretted closing her eyes because there was a thud in front of her, as though something had hit the floor. Her first thought was that it was a giant footstep, but when her eyes flashed open there was nothing out of place. There was still the snowman, tucked safely in bed. It hadn’t leapt out. The thud hadn’t been the sound of impacted ice landing on the carpet. Nothing was out of place. The snowman was still staring at the ceiling, the nose was still off-centre, there was still a lopsided smile picked out by lumps of coal –
The pipe that had been there before was now lying on the floor.
Buffy slammed the door shut. Over the sound of it rattling in its frame, she heard a cold chuckle.
She ran. She didn’t think about it. She just did it. She didn’t consider the possibility that she might end up running in place. All she knew was that she wasn’t a Slayer. She didn’t fight, didn’t know how to fight. She didn’t know how to deal with chuckling snowmen, so she wasn’t going to deal with it. She just needed to get away.
When she finally stopped running, doubled over breathless, heart pounding hard enough that she felt like her ribs might break, blood thrumming in her ears, she was at the staircase that led up to Cary’s lab.
When Buffy calmed down, she realised that the staircase now went down was well. It hadn’t before. She’d climbed it a couple of times now, and not even when she’d been walking with a crazy vampire had there been more than one flight of stairs.
But there was now.
As far as she could tell, they were identical to the stairs she was familiar with. They weren’t made of ice, or anything weird. They looked, all things considered, like perfectly ordinary steps. They just weren’t normally there.
Buffy wasn’t stupid. She wasn’t going to climb down a staircase that hadn’t been there a few hours ago – as far as she knew, there was no reason that it wouldn’t stop being there while she was halfway down. She’d been buried before. She wasn’t going to do that again. Besides, there was just no reason for her to use them. Admittedly, the reason that she wanted to go up the stairs wasn’t a very good reason, but in a place like this, any kind of reason at all had to be a good thing.
So, after she paused for a few moments to get her breath back, she started to climb.
As it turned out, that was a bad idea. When she was almost at the top, the stairs suddenly flattened, becoming some kind of slide. Buffy lunged forward, trying to reach the landing, but she wasn’t tall enough, her arms were too short. She was falling.
Buffy barely had time to take that in before she was hurtling back down, ready to crash into the floor. She had just enough presence of mind to squeeze her eyes shut and brace for impact.
The impact never happened. After a moment, two moments, three, after Buffy was sure that she should have crashed into the ground, she decided to crack open one eye. A second later, she opened the other.
She wasn’t in any immediate danger of crashing into something. There wasn’t anything that she could even crash into. She wasn’t skidding down a slide anymore. She wasn’t even in Summerland at all, at least as far as she could tell. She was in some kind of tube.
She reached out, trying to wedge herself so that she could bring herself to a halt, but it didn’t work. Oh, she could reach the walls of the tube, she could even push herself against them, but it just didn’t seem to generate any actual friction. The walls felt weird against her skin, too. They felt smooth, incredibly, impossibly smooth, and slightly cold to the touch. They felt almost like ice, but there was no moisture, they weren’t quite cold enough to be ice, and they were the wrong colour.
They weren’t really a colour at all, in fact. They weren’t transparent, but Buffy got the impression that they really should have been, because even though they were opaque it was impossible to describe what colour they were. Not black, not blue, not white, not anything at all.
It made Buffy feel uncomfortable, and more than a little bit nauseous. She felt like the colourless tube had bypassed her eyes and was busy attacking her gut, tearing at her stomach and filling her insides with acid.
After a few moments of that, it occurred to her that she could just close her eyes. If she couldn’t see the tube, it couldn’t hurt her, its weird lack of colour wouldn’t be an assault on everything natural. So she closed her eyes, and tried to ignore the fact that she was hurtling down a tube in a realm that wasn’t entirely real.
As a result, she didn’t see the moment that the tube ended, didn’t realise that it was about to end until it already had. She was propelled outwards, flying into empty space. Her eyes slammed open, and vertigo grabbed her heart in a claw of iron.
Out below her, so far below her that she almost couldn’t see it at all, was the ground. It was, admittedly, an odd looking, unnatural green, and it didn’t seem to have any features that she could see, but that didn’t change the fact that it was far below her.
Buffy wasn’t good with heights. Hadn’t been, ever since she’d spent some time on top of a rickety iron tower in a town that didn’t exist.
Fortunately, though, there was something else, something nearby. It looked like a small iceberg, irregular, jagged, and floating in the air without any apparent means of support, but she was heading right for it. If she could catch hold of it, if she could hold on, then she wouldn’t have to fall to her uncertain death.
She slammed into it, the force of the impact driving the air out of her lungs. Her hands scrabbled frantically as she slipped down, and she could feel the ice tear at her skin, blood trickling down her fingers and making the task of holding on just that much harder. But eventually she managed to get a hold, and she hung there, breathing fast and hard as she tried not to look down.
After a moment, she looked up, and saw two things.
The first was the tube that she had come through, which burst like a bubble. It dissolved into millions of tiny rainbow droplets – the fact that none of the colours of that rainbow were colours that Buffy recognised was beside the point.
The second was the thing that she’d managed to hold onto. It wasn’t, as she’d first thought, some kind of outcropping on the irregular surface of the iceberg. It was a metal wheel lock, like the sort of thing that you often see on bank vaults. The difference was that, while those were circular, with spokes radiating out from the centre, this one was an oval.
In short, it looked like an eye, surrounded by metal eyelashes. Which Buffy was currently holding onto.
Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen
The thing about dreams, Buffy reflected as she tried to ignore the fact that only her fingertips were stopping her from plummeting to an uncertain death, was that you generally don’t know that you’re in one. Sure, sometimes you do, but after you realise that you usually wake up. Either that, or nothing much happens at all.
Of course, she knew that she wasn’t, technically, dreaming. But the Astral Plane was half dream, and that was enough to get you things like this.
She was hanging from an eye-shaped door in the side of a floating iceberg. Her feet swung gently in the breeze. But, even though her hands were slippery with blood, after scrabbling frantically at the ice to find some kind of purchase, Buffy didn’t feel like she was in any immediate danger of falling.
It wasn’t that she was supremely fit, or anything like that. A Slayer probably could have hung here for days, but she wasn’t a Slayer. Sure, Clockworks had made sure that she was reasonably fit, hoping that an exercise regimen would help her mental state, but that absolutely wasn’t enough to handle anything like this. She should have dropped ages ago.
But her arms didn’t feel tired. They should. They should be shaking, screaming at her to let go, to fall. But they weren’t. As far as her body was concerned, she could have stayed there for an eternity.
Buffy had had dreams like this before. Oh, not about hanging from a door in the side of a floating iceberg, no one had dreams about that. She’d had dreams about holding on by her fingertips. It hadn’t taken the psychiatrists at Clockworks to work that one out.
And in those dreams, Buffy normally fell. She fell, and she hit the ground, and then…
Well, Buffy didn’t want to think about that. The important thing was, this time, she wouldn’t fall.
So. She had two choices. Either she could keep hanging and hope that she’d suddenly stop being in the Astral Plane. It was possible, she supposed – the nightcap was supposed to stop her from being connected to her alternate self from across the Plane. Maybe once the 48 hours were up she’d snap back to being in her bed, or something.
But then again, maybe not. In any case, there were few things that Buffy could imagine that would be as hellish as that.
The other option would be to open the door, which was harder than it sounded. For one thing, she’d need to move, which would mean that she might lose the precarious, slippery hold that she had. For another, she’d need to get the leverage to actually turn it, which meant she’d need to find some kind of foothold. There were places that she could put her feet – but the iceberg was also pretty close to vertical, so she’d have to hold onto the door to stop herself from falling and turn it at the same time. She wasn’t sure she could do it, dream physics or not.
But then, she didn’t really have a choice. Because hanging there for an eternity just wasn’t and option.
Okay then. One foot here, one foot there - oh, no, too slippery, can’t do that, how about there, nope, not a contortionist – aha, there worked! Okay then, brace and turn, carefully compensate for the blood on her hands…
The wheel gradually began to turn, smoothly, silently, as though it had been recently oiled. But Buffy hadn’t thought about the fact that the door opening would cause her even more trouble, because then the door would be between her and whatever was behind it. So when the door swung open, she swung with it, once again dangling over the empty air.
Okay then. If she hoisted herself up, she could put her foot in the centre of the eye, pull herself up and over the door and swing herself into the little dark tunnel in the side of the iceberg.
She almost fell out again as soon as she did. The moment that she was inside there was a sudden noise, like some kind of alarm. It took Buffy a moment to realise that it was a trumpet playing, harsh and discordant, like the sort of thing that plays in horror soundtracks right before the killer pops up with a knife. All in all, it was precisely not the kind of thing that Buffy wanted to hear when she was crawling through a dark tunnel in an iceberg.
She paused to take her bearings. The tunnel sloped gently downwards, and the trumpet was obviously down there somewhere. She could tell by the way that it echoed off the ice.
As she hesitated, there was a voice. Male, American, possibly with a hint of some other accent, possibly not. Whatever it was, it sounded vaguely annoyed, and it was at the other end of the tunnel. “Are you coming in or not?”
To her surprise, Buffy shrugged. “Sure. I guess so.” It wasn’t like she had anything better to do. She started to crawl forward before she realised that she could just tuck in her arms and legs and the slippery ice would allow her to slide like a seal.
Buffy wasn’t unduly surprised when she found that the end of the tunnel wasn’t some kind of igloo. It was a square room and, although the walls were slightly translucent and textured to give the impression of ice, they definitely weren’t. The floor was formed of a series of glowing white plastic squares, like an old fashioned disco. There was a record player, a chest of draws, a diving suit on a coat rack, chairs, a table, and a man in a white suit. He had black hair, a salt and pepper beard, and he was looking down at Buffy with a mildly confused expression.
Buffy had seen him once before. The first time that she’d met Melanie, he’d been there too – he’d been wearing the same suit, and he’d wandered around the room humming to himself under his breath. Buffy had known that he hadn’t really been there because people generally react to someone who does that, and she’d thought that he was probably one of Joyce’s friends that she was hallucinating.
It looked like she’d thought wrong.
“Are you okay down there?” He asked mildly.
Buffy pushed herself to her feet and didn’t bother dignifying that with an answer. “Who’re you? Where – what is this place?”
The man frowned, squinting at her lips. Buffy wondered if she had something there, or if she had something caught in her teeth. When she automatically reached up to sort it out, she only managed to smear herself with blood. “Could you say that again?” The man asked.
Buffy raised her voice, trying to speak louder than the blaring trumpet – which, she now realised, was coming from the record player. “Who are you?”
The man made a twisting motion in the air with his thumb and forefinger. “Again?”
“Who. Are. You?” Buffy began to wonder if this guy was really a person at all. He might be some kind of weird dream entity or something, like the snowman.
“Ah, there we go,” the man said seemingly satisfied. “My name is Oliver Anthony Bird.”
Buffy frowned. Something about that name was familiar. “Say that again.”
“That again,” Oliver said earnestly.
Buffy rolled her eyes and resolved to get a better class of cryptic dream people as soon as she could. “No, not that. Your name. And I swear, if you say ‘your name’ I will not be held responsible for the consequences...”
“Oliver Anthony Bird.”
Buffy paused, then shook her head. “Nope. Nothing.”
“And you are?” Oliver prompted. As he did so, he took a step back and moved to turn off the record player. In a flash of insight, Buffy realised that he was wary of her answer.
“Buffy. Uh, Buffy Summers.”
“Good to know, good to know,” Oliver murmured. “And why are you so loud?”
“So… loud? You’re the one who was playing some kind of screechy trumpet-y thing at, like, noise pollution levels. I only just got here.”
Oliver turned around and looked at her. It was strange. He looked at her, gaze sweeping over her from head to toe, but it wasn’t like he was really looking at her. The last person who had looked at Buffy like that had been Quentin Travers, who had looked at her as though she was a slab of meat that he was sizing up. This wasn’t quite like that – it wasn’t mind-bogglingly condescending – but it was definitely the look of someone who was trying to figure out what she was.
“What?” Buffy said, after a few seconds of this. “Do I have something in my teeth?”
“Hmm? Oh, no.” Oliver shook his head, as though to clear it. “Drink?”
“Uh, no.” Buffy knew better than to take a drink from someone who might actually be a dream. “What did you mean, why am I so loud?”
“Have you ever stood on the edge of an abyss which is so deep that you can’t see the bottom, and so wide that you can’t see the other side?”
“Gotta say no to that one.” Although hanging from the floating iceberg had come close.
“Would you like to?”
“Still no.” Buffy realised that this line of questioning wasn’t likely to get her anywhere, and decided to drop it. She had enough experience dealing with recalcitrant hallucinations to know when to quit.
He might not be a hallucination, of course. He definitely seemed like one of Joyce’s kookier friends, but that didn’t mean anything. He might be a hallucination, or he might suddenly turn into some kind of chuckling snowman. She just didn’t know. “So. Anyway. Um. Sorry if this is a weird question or anything but, uh, what exactly are you?”
Oliver broke into a smile. “Ah! Good question! I guess you could say that I’m a traveller. Been here for… a long time now.” His smile turned sad. “I can’t seem to remember how to get back.”
“Back where?” Buffy asked, really hoping that the answer didn’t involve hell dimensions or anything wiggy like that.
“Home. You know. You just came from there. What’s the word?” Oliver frowned. “Oh yes. Dirt.”
Buffy thought for a moment. “Do you mean Earth?”
“Probably, probably. Things tend to… drift, here.”
Something clicked in her head, and she remembered something that Cary had said. He’d said that you could reach the Astral Plane if you’re a powerful psychic, and Buffy had just accepted that. It had made sense. Willow had managed it, and you don’t get much more powerful than her. But the thing was, Cary didn’t know about Willow. Which meant that he had to know a powerful psychic who had managed it. But, if there’d been a powerful psychic at Summerland, then Buffy was certain that she’d have met them - no need for a disgustingly green nightcap if there’s a psychic around.
There had been a psychic at Summerland. And now he was here. Cary had mentioned something about a bird, when she’d first arrived, but she’d been too exhausted to listen. This had to be the Bird that he’d been talking about.
“You’re from Summerland.”
“Could be,” Oliver said in the tone of someone who didn’t really believe that that was true. “But we’re not here to talk about me. We’re here for you.”
“Yeah, well, if a psychic ended up here and got stuck and I’m, like, literally in the same place as them, I’d like to know what they did so that I don’t do it. As, uh, cool as Iceberg Land is, a nice place to stay it is not.”
Oliver leant forward. “What makes you think that you can do the same things I did?”
“Uh, hello?” Buffy gestured towards herself. “I’m here.”
“Reaching the same destination doesn’t mean that you had the same journey.”
“Right. If you could not with the things that sound like they mean something but actually don’t, that would be great.”
“Buffy,” Oliver said gently, “what makes you think that you’re psychic?”
Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen
“Why would you say that?” Buffy snapped. “Of course I’m psychic. What else would I – I’m psychic. Why would you ask if I’m psychic?”
Oliver’s fingers traced patterns in the air as he followed what she was saying. “I didn’t ask if you were psychic. I asked why you think you’re psychic.”
“Uh huh, yeah, and that’s, like, the same thing as saying why do you think there’s a demon sitting in the corner of the room.” Buffy smiled bitterly when Oliver looked in around the room with a confused expression on his face. “It’s the same thing as saying I’m not psychic. So why don’t you just come out and say it?”
“No, no. I didn’t ask whether you were psychic. I didn’t say anything at all about demons – but if there is a demon in the room, here, in this place, then you brought it in with you. I just asked why you think you’re psychic. That’s all.” Oliver’s expression became serious. “The stories we tell ourselves are important. Both here and in the real world. The things we say, the language we use – the meaning of things is important. If you remember nothing else, remember that. All I asked is why you think you’re psychic.”
“Okay,” Buffy said, slowly. “Cary told me that he knew what was wrong with me. That I wasn’t sick. That I was psychic, and there was another version of me, somewhere, out across the Astral Plane, and because I was psychic I was entangled with her. With her world.”
“And you believed him.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Buffy retorted. “He had, uh, something, some kind of device, and he hooked it up to my brain. He’s the guy who knows things, and when he says that he knows what’s wrong, why wouldn’t I believe him? Who else should I believe?”
Oliver leant forward, and for a moment, Buffy thought that he was going to say that she should believe him, that he knew what he was doing, that he could train her, that he could make her better. That he could make her well. But he didn’t. “Buffy,” Oliver said softly, “if the world’s on fire, and you can only save one thing, what do you save?”
Buffy blinked in surprise. “What kind of question is that?”
“An important one, I think.”
Buffy crossed her arms. “You know what? I’ve had enough of this. You keep saying these cryptic things and you are like totally not all there in the head department. I came in here because it was better than what was out there, but if you don’t know how to leave then you aren’t any help to me. So you can stay here with your ice and your screechy trumpets and your diving suit, because I’m out.”
It was a good speech. The tone was perfect, just the right mixture of acid and scorn. It was such a shame that it was spoiled by her having to look around and try and see where the exit actually was. As far as she could see, there was no way out. Even the tunnel that she’d slid down had vanished.
Oliver looked at her sadly. “One more question. Just one. You don’t even Have to answer it – just one question, and then I’ll show you the door.”
Buffy would have liked nothing more than to say no, but she had no idea how to leave. There wasn’t anyone there except for her and Oliver, so she couldn’t ask them to use some kind of mojo and then split. She didn’t have a choice. “Fine.”
“Have you seen your eyes?”
Buffy frowned. Eyes again. She opened her mouth to say that her eyes were fine, but she’d said that when Cary had asked about them, and since then there’d been even more eye stuff going on. “No. What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“Would you like to see them?”
“Yeah. Sure. I guess.”
Oliver reached into a pocket, and pulled out a bunch of red-and-white flower petals, which he put into his mouth and began chewing vigorously. Apparently that wasn’t what he was looking for, though, because he went rummaging again; this time, he found a small wooden comb with most of its teeth missing, which he reverentially placed on a nearby table. Then he pulled out something that looked like a fresh human tongue, which he looked at for a long moment before shrugging and tossing it over his shoulder. Then, finally, he pulled out a long tuning fork which definitely shouldn’t have fitted into his pocket, which he tapped against the wall.
There was a high, clear ringing sound, like the sound you hear when you flick an empty wine glass, and a sheet of ice fell off the wall. In its place was a full length mirror, complete with a plain wooden frame. Oliver gestured at it, still chewing.
Buffy paused, suddenly unsure as to whether she actually did want to do this after all. Then she took a breath, and stepped forward.
The first thing she noticed was that the nightcap was somehow even more hideous on her head than she could have possibly imagined. The sheer fashion nightmare that was that thing wasn’t helped any by the fact that there was bloodstains on her clothes, or that at some point she’d managed to tear the knee of her trousers so that there was now a piece of dangling fabric. She hadn’t even realised that she’d managed that. There was fresh blood smeared around her mouth, too, which made her look like a vampire.
It was only after she took in the disaster that was her that she managed to bring herself to look at her eyes.
They looked like normal eyes, more or less. There was everything that you’d expect an eye to have – pupil, iris, and white. Despite the rest of her appearance, her eyes weren’t vampire yellow. Nor were they pitch black, darker than night. They looked like her eyes. She’d seen them in the mirror pretty much every day.
They looked like her eyes normally did, but that didn’t mean that they were. They looked like she had a thin, dark film across them. The whites of her eyes, which should have actually been white, weren’t. They were a sort of pale grey. Her irises weren’t hazel because they were a few shades darker than they should have been, which put them closer to brown. Her pupils, though, were blacker than black, so dark that they seemed almost to be pulling the light into themselves, darkening the rest of her eyes. Buffy was forcibly reminded of the eye in the cloud world, with its jagged, torn pupil that had been like a vacuum, pulling everything into oblivion.
Buffy narrowed her eyes, opened them wide. The eyes in the mirror did the same thing. Despite the evidence, she couldn’t quite accept that they were hers.
She heard footsteps behind her, slow and deliberate, and then saw Oliver come to stand behind her. “What’s wrong with my eyes?” Buffy said. In the cold, her breath billowed outwards and fogged up the mirror. As it faded away, for a moment she felt certain that it would leave a message, telling her to run, but it didn’t. It was just fog on a mirror, nothing more.
Oliver held up a hand, indicating for her to wait. He reached into his mouth with one hand and rooted around, as though there was something caught between his teeth. After a moment, he pulled an entire flower from his mouth, roots first. He put it into a nearby glass of water.
Buffy immediately regretted asking him anything serious.
Oliver ran his tongue over his teeth, and then shrugged. “I have a – what’s the word? Apathy? Aptitude? – for psychic matters. There’s a… I suppose you would call it a sound, which psychic minds make. Like mist over grass in the morning. You don’t sound like that. I’ve never heard anything that sounds like you. I don’t know what’s going on with your eyes.”
“I just know that I am so not gonna want to hear the answer, but what do I sound like?”
“I told you,” Oliver said, looking surprised.
Buffy tilted her head. “Uh, no. Definitely a big nope on that one. Unless you’re saying I sound like a screechy trumpet, in which case you can-“
“Didn’t I mention the infinitely wide and infinitely deep abyss?” Oliver frowned. “I’m sure I mentioned it.”
“I mean, sure, you mentioned it, but it wasn’t like ‘Hey Buffy, your mind sounds like the Grand Canyon’. It was a bit more, um, whacko than that.”
“To say that your mind sounds like the Grand Canyon would be an understatement. Maybe the depths of space sounds like you, or the bottom of the ocean, but in my experience, nothing psychic sounds like you.”
“Cool. Yeah.” The corners of Buffy’s mouth twisted downwards. “So do you, like, actually have a theory or something or is it just inter-dimensional dump on Buffy day?”
“Not… exactly. All I can suggest is that, when there’s something as empty as your mind-“
“Thanks for that,” Buffy said sarcastically.
“-then there are plenty of things that would rush to fill it.”
“Uh huh.” Buffy looked in the mirror again, at the eyes that were just a few shades darker than they should have been. If there’s a demon in the room, then it’s one that you’ve brought in with you. “Like, maybe some creepy guy with a creepy eye?”
“Maybe,” Oliver said, although he clearly didn’t know what Buffy was talking about.
“Right.” Well, Walter was at Summerland. She might have absolutely no idea what was going on with her head, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t get him out of it. Of course, she had no idea how she could actually do that either, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t. “Well, anyway, you’ve had your one question. I should get back now. So if you could, you know, door me.”
“Oh, yes. Of course.” Oliver grabbed the frame of the mirror and, with a grunt, swung it outwards. There was nothing behind it. Literally nothing. Light didn’t illuminate it. There was nothing there to be illuminated. “Thanks for dropping by. It was nice to see that nightcap again. I don’t think I ever saw Cary wear it.”
Of course the cap was Oliver’s. “So, uh, what happens when I go through there?”
“You go home,” Oliver said. “Probably.”
“Uh huh. Reassuring that is not. But if you can open doors back to Earth, why don’t you just… go back?”
“When is a door not a door?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, when is a door not a door?”
“When it’s a jar.” Oliver chuckled, as though what he’d just said was actually funny.
Buffy nodded. “Well, that covers that.” With a deep breath, she plunged forward, into the nothingness…
… and catapulted herself upright, looking around wildly. She was in her room. There was no frost. Everything was just the way that she’d left it. She even had the grimy feeling she always had when she slept in her clothes. Her clothes themselves were neither bloody nor torn, and her hands were uninjured. It was early in the morning, and the sun was streaming through the window. She’d slept through the night.
Okay. First things first, she needed to speak to Cary. Not least because she really wanted a shower, but wasn’t quite sure how to manage that with a nightcap full of tech on her head. Especially given that the nightcap probably wasn’t doing anything for her, if Oliver was right. She’d love to take it off, but she wasn’t sure what that would do.
Still, she got changed and everything before she left her room. When she reached out to her door to open it, she half-expected it to swing open all by itself, but it didn’t. It didn’t take an absurdly long time to get to Cary’s lab, either.
It wasn’t until she was actually outside Cary’s lab that she realised that he might not be there. He wasn’t Giles, who tended to be in the library all hours of the day researching things. Just because Cary had been here every time she’d gone looking for him didn’t mean that he’d be there this time. It was early in the morning, after all.
As it turned out, he wasn’t there. Kerry was, though. She was sitting on the edge of a table and fiddling with something that Buffy was sure Cary would rather she not fiddle with while she listened to someone talk to her.
It took Buffy a moment to realise that the person talking to her was Ptonomy. Last time she’d seen him, he’d been very ill and looked like it. Now, he looked healthy. He was wearing the same suit that he always seemed to wear, and his flat cap was resting on his lap.
“Hi,” Buffy said in surprise. “You look much better.”
“Thank you,” Ptonomy replied. “Was it your work?”
“Are we back on that again? Was what my work?”
“I was lying on my bed, in the night. I was… asleep. And then I woke up and there was this… frost on me. It was like it was pulling the fever out of me. Then, between one moment and the next, it was gone, and here I am. Right as rain.”
Buffy just stared at him.
Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen
There were a lot of questions that Buffy would like answered. Things like what her power actually was, if Walter was in her head and how she could get him out, and why Oliver had had a human tongue in his pocket. Okay, so that last one might not be that important, but if she was going to take advice from someone she’d like to know why they carried body parts around.
There were a lot of questions that Buffy would like answered, but absolutely none of them were about what Cary wore when he was sleeping. At least, none of them were until he actually turned up, because then she had quite a few.
He was wearing an old-fashioned, shapeless robe-like thing which reached down to his ankles, for which Buffy was profoundly grateful, and a loosely tied dressing gown, which she wasn’t quite as grateful for. The colours were the main issue. The dressing gown was a deep, vibrant purple which seemed like the sort of colour that someone would have be heavily stoned a lot of the time to find tolerable - which was odd, because as far as Buffy could tell it looked pretty much brand new, and her brain just couldn’t contemplate a stoned Cary. It just didn’t compute. The robe, on the other hand, was a pale lilac. Buffy suspected that it had probably been white once, but then it had been put through the wash with something pink or purple. Perhaps even with the dressing gown. Though the two things didn’t quite clash, the combination still made Buffy’s eyes water.
Ptonomy apparently caught her expression. “Don’t ask.”
“You really don’t want to know.” Buffy shot him a glance, and couldn’t tell whether he was being serious or not. Given her recent experiences, she decided she didn’t want to risk it.
“Okay,” Cary said, stifling a yawn. “Kerry said you went to the Astral Plane?”
Buffy nodded. She’d begun to tell Kerry and Ptonomy what had happened during the night, until Kerry had interrupted her and told her that she was going to get Cary. “I think so. I mean, I’m not sure, I’ve never really been there before, but it seemed like a sort of mostly dream-y place.”
“She met Oliver,” Ptonomy said.
“Really?” Cary adjusted his glasses and peered at her. Buffy got the impression that it was the same sort of thing that Giles did at times like this. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he might as well toy with his glasses. “How was he?”
Buffy waved a hand. “He was a little, uh, you know. Screwy. A few cherries short of a pie. He had a tongue in one of his pockets, and he pulled a whole flower, roots and all, out of his mouth.”
Cary opened his mouth to say something, but Kerry spoke first. “Did he read you any poetry?”
“Uh, no,” Buffy said slowly. “Should he have?”
Kerry nodded fervently. “Oh, yes. He used to lurk around corners and spring slam poetry on people.”
Buffy tried to digest it, found that she couldn’t, and decided to change the subject. “He suggested that I might not be psychic.”
Cary frowned. “Hmm. What did he say, exactly?”
“He said something about my mind not sounding like psychic minds. Apparently psychics sound like, I don’t know, windy grass or something. I sound like an infinitely wide and infinitely deep abyss, and no, personal comments will not be appreciated.”
“Interesting.” Cary twined the cord of his dressing gown around his fingers. “Oliver once described what being a telepath was like. Everyone always thinks that it’s as easy as pointing your mind at someone and then you know what they’re thinking, and if you probe a little deeper then you know what they’ve thought. But it isn’t. You hear everyone, all the time. Your mind has difficulty staying in your head, so it reaches out and finds these dazzling, sparking things that don’t know what they’re thinking themselves half the time. The trick is to become like a mist, to drift through the things that aren’t what you’re looking for and cling to what you are.”
Kerry snorted. “He actually sang a little song about it. Cary’s summarising.”
“Yes, well, the principle is the same. The mind of any accomplished telepath, one who isn’t overwhelmed by all the voices and thoughts that aren’t theirs, has to be like mist.”
Buffy was about to say that that didn’t make anything that even looked like sense - minds not staying in heads and having to be mist sounded like complete gibberish - but then she remembered what it had been like when she’d got demon blood on her and she’d become a telepath. It had started out with her just pointing her mind at people, but it hadn't stopped there - she’d started hearing people that she wasn’t focusing on, and then she’d started hearing everything. She’d almost died - she couldn’t imagine what it would be like if someone naturally had power like that, all the time.
Well. That wasn’t true. They’d end up like David. Knowing things before they were told, hearing things that weren’t anything more than echoes dredged up from the subconscious. Or someone who wore old fashioned suits and sprang slam poetry on people. No one could have power like that and not crack.
“Okay. So psychics have misty minds, or whatever. I don’t. Where does that actually leave us?”
“It leaves us with two options. Either you aren’t psychic, or at least not conventionally so, and you’re tangled up on the Astral Plane for some other reason. Or you are psychic, but you don’t sound like you are because you don’t know what you’re doing. You aren’t reaching out to touch other minds - they’re falling into you,” Cary said, ticking off points on his fingers.
“So which is it?”
Cary shrugged apologetically.
“Normally, that would be something that Melanie and I would work on,” Ptonomy interjected. “I would take you back through your memories, look at moments when your power triggered, what triggered it - that sort of thing. Melanie would help you get your head in the game so that you can control what you’re doing.”
“Which we didn’t have time for, because of David,” Buffy said.
Ptonomy nodded. “You needed to go pick him up before he hurt someone, or Division Three found him. You didn’t have the time to figure out what you could do.”
Buffy remembered something. “Except they weren’t after him. Division Three, I mean. They were after me.”
Cary and Kerry exchanged looks. Ptonomy frowned. “There was a gigantic, circular storm over the city,” Kerry said, as though she was explaining something to someone stupid. “Division Three would have definitely have been there.”
“Yeah, sure, but that doesn’t mean that they were looking for David. Caleb said that they’d found me. That I was… leaky, or something.” Buffy didn’t mention that Chrissy had said that Division Three had known that it was her that they were after, or that they’d done their research on her before heading out. She was almost sure that she'd actually been talking to the First, and she had enough experience with that thing to not believe anything that it said. Of course, she had no reason to believe Caleb either, and he and the First went hand in hand, but she didn’t know why Caleb would lie. Caleb was the sort of person who would lie if it would get him something, or if it would hurt someone, but he was too straightforward just to lie for no reason. “Apparently, even though David likes to collapse buildings and catch lightning, he’s quiet enough that Division Three didn’t know about him.”
Ptonomy and Kerry both looked at Cary, who blinked. “I suppose it’s possible. I found David because I already knew who to look for. Division Three probably hasn’t finished excavating Clockworks yet, so they probably didn’t know that David was alive.” He shot a glance at Buffy. “I don’t know how they knew that you’re alive, but I don’t really know what resources they’ve got, either. If Walter was working with them… yes, they could have tracked you. I think.”
“Oliver said that I’m very loud. My mind, I mean,” Buffy said. “If they tracked me there, if they know I’m alive - could they find us here?”
“No.” Cary’s voice was firm, his reply instantaneous. He might have doubted whether Division Three had tracked Buffy rather than David, but he was absolutely sure about that. “This place doesn’t show up on any maps. Satellites can’t see it - no technology can. I’ve put up baffles and screens everywhere so that none of the, uh, things that happen here draw any unwanted attention. They’d have to send out search parties through the forest and find us manually, and they’ve got no reason to do that. You’re safe here.”
“From Division Three,” Buffy said pointedly. Cary looked confused.
“You’re worried about the things in your head,” Ptonomy said. It wasn’t a question. Buffy wasn't surprised that he, of all people, understood how she felt.
Buffy nodded. Nothing outside of you is more threatening than the things inside your head. Chrissy had been right about that, at least. Sure, military people with guns weren't exactly at the bottom of the list of things that Buffy was afraid of, but given that her last encounter with them had involved them being massacred by a bunch of Bringers that she’d somehow brought into existence, they weren’t exactly at the top either. The Bringers themselves were much scarier, especially given that she didn’t really know what she’d done to bring them out.
“We’ll work on that,” Ptonomy promised. “We’ll get your powers, whatever they are, under your control.”
Buffy almost wished that she could be reassured by that. “It’s not just that. I don’t think that I’m, ah, alone in my head. When I was in the Astral Plane, Oliver showed me a mirror, and my eyes were… dark. Not good, you know. Definitely a thing that was bad. And since the attack outside the motel and Walter attacking my mind there’s been, like, a whole bunch of eye stuff. Oliver told me that if there was a demon in the room then I brought it in with me. If I’m… empty, like he said, then a lot of things will want to set up shop and move in. I think Walter already has, and I’d really like to get him out.” Buffy smiled thinly. “It’s already cramped enough in there as it is.”
“Any ideas?” Ptonomy asked Cary. Kerry, meanwhile, looked spectacularly bored. Before he answered, Cary extended a hand out to her without looking. She took it - or maybe, she grabbed him by the arm, or she reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, or - actually, Buffy wasn’t really sure what happened. It seemed like Kerry moved somehow, and some of that movement seemed to be through the place where Cary was standing, which didn’t seem to matter because Kerry suddenly wasn’t there anymore. Cary lowered his hand as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Which it hadn’t, Buffy supposed. That was just what it was like for those two. Kerry had said that Cary did all the boring things, and Buffy had enough experience with Giles spouting stuff at her that she didn’t have the patience for to know that Kerry felt the same. If she’d had a choice, she’d probably have vanished too.
“Maybe,” Cary replied. “I could build something to look for hot spots in Buffy’s brain, regions with higher blood flow and blood oxygen levels, see which neurons are firing. And then, perhaps, some kind of standing wave would -”
Buffy couldn’t vanish, but she could interrupt. “Yeah, yeah, science, got it. Do you need me here?”
Cary looked mildly taken aback. “No, not really. Not at the moment, at least.”
“Cool. Because I want to talk to him.”
“Why?” Ptonomy asked.
“He’s invading my head. I mean, I think he is. Maybe I can get him to stop.” It sounded weak, Buffy knew. But her mind wasn’t exactly a normal mind. She didn’t know exactly what about made it not normal, but it definitely wasn’t. Maybe, if she was face to face, something might happen. Maybe someone would show up, someone who knew more about this sort of thing than she did. Willow, for example, or even Dawn.
“The thing is,” Ptonomy said seriously, “do you want to talk to Walter, or does Walter want to talk to you?”
Buffy tilted her head. “What? You just said the same thing twice.”
“If he’s in your head, he could be influencing you. Maybe he’s got an escape plan, and you’re it,” Ptonomy explained. “We don’t know what your power can do, yet. Could be that if you’re close enough, he’ll take over, make you do something.”
“Then you can come with me. You can do that thing you did with the soldiers, back at Clockworks. Make me sleep, or whatever.”
“I can.” Ptonomy shoved his hands into his pockets. “If you want. If you’re sure. But you need to know, this could be dangerous.”
Buffy took a deep breath, then nodded. “I know. I’m sure.”
Ptonomy looked at her closely for a long moment, then he shrugged. “Let’s go.”
Chapter 19: Chapter Nineteen
“So,” Buffy said as they walked, “how are you?”
Ptonomy shot her a look. “That’s a pointed question.”
“You went to bed sick and woke up well because some magic ice pulled the illness out of you. Seems like a fair question, don’t you think?”
Ptonomy shrugged. “You said it. I went to bed sick and woke up well. Never been a fan of being sick, so…”
“Right. Yeah. Makes sense.”
“You say that as though it doesn’t.”
“The thing is, magic doesn’t work like that. I mean, I’m not an expert or anything, but I know what magical healing feels like. If it’s good magic, it’s just warm, you know, like you’re taking a shower or something. The wound itches a bit, but that’s about it. Bad mojo is much faster, but it also feels like you’re being drowned in acid, which is not a thing that’s good. But ice? Ice isn’t really a thing that’s known for healing. Or if it is, I don’t know it. You know?”
Ptonomy mulled that over. “So you’re saying you don’t think that the ice was you?”
“Yeah. I mean, I don’t see how it could be me. I was in my room and everything was icy, really Winter Wonderland, but then when I left the frost went one way and I went the other. I’d say it was probably Oliver, because living in a giant ice cube is his thing, so maybe healing with ice is too. But then there was a creepy giggling snowman, and that, um, didn’t feel like Oliver. It doesn’t seem like something he’d do.”
“So you’re saying that there’s an evil Frosty the Snowman on the Astral Plane, and he healed me?”
“Well when you put it like that I feel like I have to say no, but I’m, like, 90% sure it wasn’t me and if it was Oliver then he’s way, way more whacko than I thought he was. Which is saying a lot, given that he’s majorly whacko.”
Ptonomy smiled at that. “Well, the Astral Plane is a strange place. I guess it’ll just be a mystery for now.”
“Yeah, been getting that a lot lately,” Buffy said sourly. “A mystery here, a riddle there. Not my thing. Clean, simple resolutions are order of the day.”
“Doesn’t seem that likely.”
“It never does.” Buffy sighed. “Anyway. Can I ask you a question?”
“Is there anything in the universe that could stop you?”
“Well, yes. Loads.”
“I doubt that,” Ptonomy said with a smile.
“Uh, thanks. I guess. So is that a yes?”
Buffy paused for a moment, to compose her thoughts. This was important. “How do you do it? You have all these memories – yours, other peoples, all of that. But you’re fine. I mean, sure, you kinda spilled over a bit when you were sick but, hey, nobody’s perfect. You have all these things in your head, but you don’t… but you’re fine.” Buffy took a deep breath. “The first time it happened for me, I was in class. We were talking about… I don’t know, boys, or something. And then, between one moment and the next, I was buried, drowning in the darkness. I felt… broken, and I had been torn out of – anyway, yeah, then suddenly I was back and everyone was still there and talking but I wasn’t me. Not anymore. Can you imagine – no. You can. You know. You know, but you still walk around and smile and joke and – I need to know how.”
Buffy had avoided looking at Ptonomy while she’d been talking. She’d thought that, if she looked at him, she wouldn’t be able to continue. But once she’d finished, she looked. She wished she hadn’t. His face was blank, cold and still. There was no expression on it, not because he wasn’t feeling anything, but because there was too much for him to possibly express. She knew that look. She’d seen it often enough.
She reached out to touch him on the arm, and she opened her mouth to apologise, but he sighed. “Ah. One of the big ones.”
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Buffy said hurriedly. “I just, um, I just wanted to-“
“It’s fine,” Ptonomy replied. His voice was calm, and flat. There was no emotion in it, none at all. Even so, he moved away from Buffy slightly. She let her arm fall back down to her side. “I don’t think it’ll be a lot of help to you, though.”
Buffy shrugged. “Try me.”
“I’ve had my powers a lot longer than you. Since birth. Before that, even. The thing is, though, most days are the same. Especially when you’re a baby. You wake up, eat, cry, sleep, rinse and repeat. But when you remember everything, and everything is the same, over and over and over again, the problem is that you don’t know when now is. If now is the same as yesterday is the same as the day before, then the present doesn’t really exist. There’s no time, really. I got older, and there started being new things in my day, but all of it was just… variations on a theme. Go to school, get yelled at, cry, rinse and repeat. What is now when all days are the same?”
Buffy nodded absently, and then frowned when she realised that he’d stopped talking, as though he expected her to answer. She didn’t know what to say. She’d never had that problem. Her life was so radically different from Buffy the Slayer that there was no real comparison. Oh, sure, there were some problems that were a bit like that – she wasn’t entirely sure how old she was, for one thing, because she had decades of memories, her own and the Slayer’s. But she always knew what time it was. “I don’t know.”
Ptonomy smiled, or at least moved his lips in such a way as to give the impression of a smile. “Eventually, I leaned into it. I wear the same suits, the same hats. If all days are the same, then everything is fine – I made it through yesterday, and yesterday is the same as today, so I must make it through today. It’s a fallacy, I know, but… there is so much in my head. I can’t imagine what it’s like to forget.” His voice became wistful. “I dream about it, sometimes. To be an amnesiac. To see things as though I’d never seen them before. My mind is full, and I can’t empty it. So I take it one day at a time – and one day is the same as every day.”
His smile warmed slightly, and he gave a lopsided shrug. “It is what it is.” He might have said something else, or Buffy might have spoken, but instead he just pointed at a door ahead of them. “We’re here.”
“Right.” Buffy squared her shoulders. “You good?”
“Of course,” Ptonomy said, and he opened the door.
Buffy was momentarily surprised that it wasn’t locked, until she followed him through. The room was pretty much the same as her own, albeit larger. There was a bed, a chest of drawers, everything Buffy would expect to see. But there was a line drawn on the floor. It was always about three feet from the wall, and it went all the way around the room. There was a handwritten sign which said ‘Don’t cross the Line’ – given that it was taped to seemingly empty space a few feet above where the line was, Buffy wasn’t inclined to find out what would happen if she did.
There were two people in the room. Walter was there, of course. He was sitting on the floor. He had a knife, and he’d snapped a leg off of the table and was busy whittling something. Buffy wasn’t quite sure what it was – her experience with whittling began and ended with stakes – but as far as she could tell it wasn’t an eye, which was something of a surprise.
The second person was Angel. He was standing in the corner of the room, arms crossed, glowering at Walter. He didn’t acknowledge her or Ptonomy’s arrival. She wondered how long he’d been there, or what would happen if he crossed the line.
“How come he was a knife?” Buffy asked. She wasn’t sure if the question was addressed to Angel or Ptonomy.
Ptonomy shrugged. “He’s Walter. Of course he has a knife.”
Walter looked up. There was the same expression of mild amusement on his face that there had been when Rudy had floated him in. He continued whittling away at the broken table leg, although he wasn’t looking at what he was doing. Buffy supposed that someone who could take a punch from Caleb wouldn’t be bothered if he accidentally cut himself.
He wasn’t looking at Ptonomy. He didn’t seem to even be really aware that he was in the room. He didn’t acknowledge that Angel was there, either. He curved his lips into something that could only technically be called a smile. “I was wondering when you’d come to see me.”
“What did you do to my head?”
Walter quirked an eyebrow. “You know what I did. You felt it. You saw. You and your preacher.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure, you attacked me like a wormy… mind worm thing. Got that. But whatever you did, you’re gonna stop.”
“Am I?” Walter’s smile deepened. “Why would I do that?”
“Do you enjoy breathing?” Angel rumbled.
“Oh, no. I’m not talking to you. I’m not interested in echoes.” Walter didn’t even look at Angel, didn’t look away from Buffy. “I want to know what you’re going to do, little girl. Kill me? My powers won’t work if I’m dead. Will you cross the line, you and your grumpy minion in the corner?”
Buffy saw Ptonomy’s gaze flick to the corners of the room. “I don’t need to do that,” Buffy said, hoping that it was true. “You’ve seen my mind. You know the things I’ve got in it-“
“Do you know what Division Three has?” Walter interrupted. “Do you know what we know?”
Buffy frowned. That sounded like he was just restating what she’d just said. “Sure. I spoke to Chrissy.” Or something wearing her face. “You’ve got my files. You know who I am.” Buffy paused for a moment. If she’d been the Slayer, then saying that would have been a threat, and barely even a veiled one. Being Buffy the Vampire Slayer had weight, in that world. But she wasn’t her.
She opened her mouth to speak, but she noticed that, for the first time, Walter seemed wrong-footed. He hadn’t expected her to say that. Why? It had to be her mentioning Chrissy, but what was so interesting about that?
Whatever it was, Walter recovered in an instant, and Buffy wondered if she’d even seen him be unsettled at all. “Did you know that we have… machines that can measure things? Like psychic energy, for one. The incident at Clockworks – do you know the last time we measured that amount of energy?”
Buffy shrugged. “Nope.”
“Never. We’ve never seen anything like that. Not even close.” Walter took a deep breath. Someone like Chrissy would react to news like that with hatred and fear, Buffy thought, but Walter was excited, so excited that he was practically quivering. “We thought it was you. We didn’t know about the boy, and since you killed everyone, there’s no one left to tell them that it wasn’t.”
“What’s your point?”
“There’s a name the bigwigs came up with, for you. World Killer. We weren’t going to kill you. We were to take you in, find out what makes you…tick”. The way that Walter said that made Buffy think of being strapped to an operating table while people with scalpels dissected her. She hadn’t realised that Division Three had Initiative-like practices.
“Still not seeing where the point is. Beyond the creepifying, I mean.”
“If we can’t get you, then we’ll get what you’re closest to. We have your files, but we’ll have a lot more than that, by now. Your mom, for one thing.”
Chapter 20: Chapter Twenty
You’re focused on Spike. You have to be focused on Spike, because if you aren’t, then you’ll focus on the fact that he’s currently in your living room, that he’s been talking to your mom. Then, because that just isn’t a thought that fits into your head or the life that you’ve built for yourself over the past couple of years, you’ll end up running along the same tracks that you’ve been running for weeks now – Angel is evil, and he wants to end the world, and you know that you have to kill him, and you know that you can’t.
So, you focus on Spike, and ignore the tiny, tiny hope that maybe he can deal with Angel for you. If he does, then you can hate him, and that would be easy. Easy enough, perhaps, that you could do it and not hate yourself, too.
“Honey, are you sure you’re a Vampire Slayer” Joyce asks. Her voice is timid, scared. She isn’t scared of Spike, although she should be – she’s scared of you. Or rather, the thing that you are.
You can’t bring yourself to engage, so you continue talking to Spike. Spike isn’t scared. This is practically a game for him, and everything in you wishes that you could think like that, that all of this could be your average, run-of-the-mill Slaying.
“I mean, have you tried not being a Vampire Slayer?”
That’s too much for you. You can feel the exasperation radiating from Spike, and you can’t really blame him. Of all the times for your mom to pull her head out of the sand, she had to pick the end of the world. If it wasn’t for the fact that you’re probably a few minutes from crying, you’d laugh. You wouldn’t have a choice – it would be that or snap. In that moment, you wonder, just for the briefest of moments, how you can possibly be related to this person. She doesn’t know you at all.
Then you realise that you’ve tried really, really hard to make sure that she doesn’t. You’ve tried to keep all of this stuff from her, tried to make her think that you’re still her darling little girl, all evidence to the contrary. You hid yourself away from her, and now she’s scared of you.
Something breaks inside you, just a little bit, and you-
“-know that, right?” Ptonomy asked, his hand on Buffy’s shoulder.
Buffy blinked, and scrubbed her eyes with a sleeve. “What?”
Angel was standing next to her. He hadn’t been, a moment ago – or maybe he had. Buffy wasn’t sure. She hadn’t been here a moment ago. She’d been seventeen and already old.
“He’s just trying to get into your head,” Ptonomy repeated. Walter tilted his head and looked at her curiously.
“Oh. No duh,” Buffy said. Her voice was calm. “Guess Division Three should’ve done their homework better. Mom and I, uh, aren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
She remembered the last time she’d seen Joyce, before Clockworks. They’d been in the kitchen. Joyce had been making coffee – not because either of them had needed it, oh, they had not needed caffeine right then, but because she needed to do something with her hands. That, and if she making coffee, then she didn’t have to look at Buffy. She’d said that one of her friends had asked after Buffy – she’d been sick for a while, by that point – and Joyce had told her that she just wanted a happy, normal daughter, and if she needed to go to a psychiatric hospital to get well, then that’s what she should do.
Joyce had stressed that she hadn’t meant that Buffy wasn’t normal, hadn’t meant to imply that there was something wrong her with her. She’d apologised.
Buffy had hated it. For one thing, Buffy would never have known if Joyce hadn’t told her. For another, she knew that she was sick, that she wasn’t normal – no one could have memories filled with blood, demons and magic and be normal. But Joyce had apologised, and she hadn’t looked at Buffy while she was talking. Her voice had been thin and quiet, and Buffy had known that she was lying. Joyce knew she was sick. Of course she did. She knew it, and she thought that maybe if Buffy shut herself away in a hospital then maybe Joyce wouldn’t have to deal with it. Everything would be okay. Buffy could get well, or be ill over there, just so long as Joyce could have her normal life.
Ironically, she hadn’t asked if Buffy had tried not to be the Slayer.
“Yeah, do you expect me to go marching into Division Three and say ‘Hey, I hear you’ve got my mom, give her back or I’ll rain unholy fire down on the lot of you?’ Because that totally isn’t a thing that’s going to happen.”
Walter just continued looking at her, and Buffy wondered who she was trying to fool. “It doesn’t matter what I think. I said it before. I want to know what you are going to do.”
“Leave,” Buffy said, before she did just that.
Angel was somehow already in the hallway. “You okay?”
Buffy nodded, in a way that quite clearly indicated that she wasn’t. Angel nodded once, quickly, letting her know that he’d be with her, and then his gaze flicked over her shoulder.
“So,” Ptonomy said drily, “why do I think that you want to storm the base of a group of militantly mutant hating fanatics?”
Buffy grinned, despite herself. “Because they have my mom. What else am I supposed to do?”
“Well, not go waltzing into the incredibly obvious trap, for starters.”
Buffy shrugged. “You heard what Walter said. They think I’m the World Killer. If I’m busy being all, you know, doom and gloom and totally ominous and stuff, then they’ll probably just hand her over.”
Ptonomy looked at her intently. “You don’t really believe that.”
She let out an explosive sigh. “I really don’t. But it would be pretty cool though, huh?”
“They want you to go rushing in untrained, uncertain. Sure, you slaughtered the squad at the motel, but you don’t know how. Taking on all of them will take a bit more training.”
“Is it just me,” Buffy said slowly, “or are you not saying don’t go and do this suicidal thing so much as you’re saying don’t go and do this suicidal thing right now?”
“I’m saying that you need more training.”
“That’s what I said you said.”
“Exactly,” Ptonomy said in a tone of voice that suggested she hadn’t.
“So, uh, what exactly comes next? Because doing a whole training montage thing while they’ve got Mom locked up in some deep dark basement somewhere so doesn’t seem like the me thing to do.”
“Normally, there’d be mind work with Melanie and memory work with me-“
“Oh yeah, you said. Wait, what do you mean, normally?”
“Working with Melanie probably isn’t a good idea right now.”
“Why? I’ve had my head shrunk plenty of times before, what’s so different about Melanie?”
“Oliver is her husband. He got lost on the Astral Plane decades ago, and Melanie never really got over it. Since you’re the only person who’s spoken to him in about twenty years, I don’t think that working with her will actually help either-“
“What’s wrong, Buffy?”
Buffy turned to see David standing in the corridor. She wasn’t sure how he’d gotten there – she hadn’t heard him approach. Sure, she didn’t exactly have Slayer senses, but going by the way that Angel was suddenly on guard she could only guess that he hadn’t noticed David either. Sneaking up on a 250 year old vampire was impressive, even if he wasn’t really there.
Buffy was pretty sure that David hadn’t noticed her surprise. He was standing at an angle to her, as though he was ready to leave at any moment, and though he definitely looked concerned, there was something else in his expression that took her a moment to pinpoint. Once she realised that he was uncomfortable talking to her, she felt like someone had punched her in her gut. She’d known David for years. They’d been friends. Sure, they weren’t as close as David and Lenny had been, but those two had come in together, and they’d known each other in the world outside of Clockworks. Buffy and David were friends, and not once, not even in during the bad days, had David ever been uncomfortable around her.
She needed to apologise to him, tell him that last time they’d spoken she’d been suffering from an excess of Caleb in her head, but she wasn’t going to do that with Ptonomy around. “What do you mean, what’s wrong?” Buffy asked gently.
David shuffled his feet, which was apparently difficult enough that it warranted his full attention. “I was, uh, working with Melanie earlier, and she taught me this trick, to keep the voices quiet. Um, it's like there’s a volume switch, like a radio, in my head, and I turn it down so that everything isn’t so loud. I was going to see if I could pick up Syd’s voice – uh, her mind – see if I could pick up just that, but then there was suddenly you. You were very loud, and I could tell that something was wrong.” David shrugged awkwardly. “So.”
“You worked with Melanie? Isn’t it still God it’s early o’clock?”
“It is,” Ptonomy said. “But a lot of us aren’t exactly big sleepers around here.”
“Yeah, I know that song,” Buffy replied. She turned back to David, and sighed. “Division Three has my mom, David.”
“Oh. Oh.” David’s expression changed, the discomfort melting away. This was the David that Buffy knew, the one that was warm and supportive and always cared. “I’m sorry. Are we going to go and get her back?”
“Yes. Soon. When I’m better. When I know what I’m doing.”
“How can you wait? They’ve got your mom. If they had my sister, if they had Amy, I’d-“
“They won’t hurt her,” Buffy said. They probably would have, if they still had Walter. He was the kind of person who would pull wings off of a fly. But they didn’t, and people like Chrissy wouldn’t hurt her. She was human, after all. “It’s a trap. They’re scared of me, and they want to fight me on their home turf.” Technically true, although that was only because Division Three didn’t know that David had been the one to destroy Clockworks. “We aren’t ready.”
“We could be,” David insisted. “I’m learning new things all the time, here. Getting control.”
“Trust me, David. I know what I’m doing.” That was a lie, and Buffy didn’t even believe it herself. “Ptonomy and I are going to go dig around in my memories, see what triggers my power. Once I get the hang of that – they won’t know what hit them.”
“Fine.” David didn’t seem pleased, and he strode off.
Buffy moved to follow him, but Angel moved into her path. Not that that meant much, given that she could walk through him easily enough. “You’re right. You aren’t ready for Division Three, and you need to get ready. Soon.”
Buffy looked up at him, and wondered what he wasn’t telling her. She knew she’d never get it out of him. When she’d first met him, she’d thought the whole cryptic, mysterious thing was annoying but kind of hot. Now, it was just annoying. “Fine. Ptonomy?”
“That way,” he said, pointing.
Buffy blinked in surprise, then followed him. “What? Do we have to go to a special place, or something? I thought you’d just, I don’t know, touch me and zap me back to my memories.”
Ptonomy shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that. When I touch you, I can make you relive your memories, but that doesn’t exactly help. You stop being the you you are now, and you are back then, in the past. Cary built a device that lets me create a sort of museum of memories. You wander around in them, see them from the outside. It stops being so personal.”
“Okay,” Buffy said. “I don’t really get it, but okay.”
“You’ll see in a minute,” Ptonomy said.
Buffy almost wished that she didn’t find that ominous.
Chapter 21: Chapter Twenty-One
When Ptonomy had said that Cary had built a machine to help him sort through memories, Buffy had envisaged a helmet with wires dangling from it. She’d expected Ptonomy to take her to some kind of basement, where they’d dredge it up. After all, how often did mutants who needed their memories checked turn up at Summerland? Buffy couldn’t imagine that there were all that many mutants in the world to begin with. Even after all the Slayers had been activated, there’s only been a few hundred of them. She assumed that the amount of mutants was the same.
As it turned out, though, there was no helmet, and there was no basement. There was a room with glass walls, showing a view over the forest. It was sunny, warm, and not all basement-y. Not at all what she’d expected.
The device, if Buffy could even call it that, was a table. It looked, well, it looked like a table. There were chairs, and if they were actually some sort of technology then they were doing a really good job at disguising themselves. The only thing that stopped the table from being the same as every other table that Buffy had ever seen was the fact that it had metal poles sticking up out of it. They were regularly spaced, and made Buffy think of joysticks.
“So, uh, how does this go?” Buffy said warily.
“You sit,” Ptonomy said, doing just that. “Then, if you put one hand of each of these, then-“
“These stick things? That’s it?”
“Huh.” She was used to magic, which generally needed more elaborate set-up. She sat, and grabbed two of the poles. They were cold against her skin. “Like this?”
“Exactly like that.”
“So what happens-
There was a thrumming sound, not in the air, but in her mind, and suddenly she was somewhere else. She was standing in a desert. There was sand, rocks, straggly plants. There was no table, no chairs, no view over a forest. She flexed her hands, and didn’t feel anything in them. The sun beat down on her, and she looked around, squinting. Ptonomy was standing next to her. He wasn’t looking around. He was looking at her, to see what she did.
“Where are we?” Buffy asked.
Ptonomy shrugged. “It’s your memory.”
“But I don’t remember this. Am I supposed to do what I did in the memory? I don’t know what that is. Or was, I guess. I mean, here is familiar, a bit, but a desert is a desert, and I’ve got a surprising amount of memories of those.”
“You should be here. The you that lived this memory. We should be able to watch. Think of it like a movie, except that instead of sitting in front of the screen, we’re inside it.”
Buffy looked around, trying to find herself. “Do you see me, anywhere?”
Ptonomy paused. “No.”
“I’m guessing that’s not a good thing. I mean, if this is my memory and I’m not even in it, that doesn’t like a thing that’s good.”
“I… don’t know. This has never happened before.” Ptonomy frowned. “This is an important memory, I can feel it, but there’s nothing here.”
“Nothing but sand and rocks and dried-out shrubs. Glad there’s not a shrink around to see this. They’d have a field day,” Buffy said drily. “So, what next? Do you just, like, hold up one of those clacky things that directors have and say ‘Next scene’?”
“Not quite,” Ptonomy replied with a grin.
There was a vibration, although Buffy couldn’t have said what it was that vibrated, and then they were somewhere else.
This time, there was a small room, with curved walls covered in something red and sticky. There was another Buffy, too – she was slumped on the floor, seemingly unconscious. Buffy crouched down and peered closely. It was definitely her. It was surreal to see herself from the outside, to watch herself breathe.
Ptonomy reached out and touched the wall. To her surprise, he didn’t pass through it. His hand came away covered in the sticky red gunk, which he sniffed delicately. “Cherry.”
“We’re under Clockworks. This is where I was, when I woke up.” Buffy looked down at herself. “How are we seeing this? I was unconscious, and there was no light.”
“We’re not really here. Things don’t work in memories quite like they do in the real world. You should know that.”
The past Buffy opened her eyes, and sat up. For a moment, the real Buffy thought that she was going to see herself, but she didn’t. She hadn’t, after all. “In a minute, Willow’s going to turn up. She’s going to be right over-“ Buffy pointed, and sure enough, there was Willow, white-haired and sitting cross-legged on the empty air “-there.”
She watched as Willow and past Buffy bickered about Willow not really being there. “I don’t get it. Why are we here? Why aren’t we outside, when Giles broke the ship, or at the motel?”
“This is important,” Ptonomy said. “I don’t know why, but I was pulled here. There’s something here that’s important, that you need to see. Trust me, when you’ve been doing this sort of thing for as long as I have, you begin to get a feeling for it.”
“Fine,” Willow pouted, “Be that way. I was going to help you out, but if you’re going to treat me like I’m not even here then I might as well go.”
“You aren’t here,” past Buffy said.
There was an audible pop. Buffy remembered that. But, back then, Willow had vanished.
This time, she didn’t. She just floated around until she was facing the pair, and then she waved cheerily. “Hi!”
“Hi,” Buffy said automatically. “Ptonomy, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know.” He sounded worried. “This has never happened before.”
Willow tilted her head, and the corners of her eyes wrinkled as she squinted at them. “You’re from the future, right? How’s it going?”
“Did we time travel?” Buffy asked.
“No,” Ptonomy said. “But this is your memory, and she’s someone inside your head. Maybe she’s here, in this memory, and, uh, now, in your mind.”
Buffy frowned. “Was that supposed to make sense?”
“So, how’re you doing, Buff?” Willow asked breezily.
“Um, fine. I guess. How’re you?”
“Oh, you know, same as ever.”
“Cool, cool. So, uh, any chance that you can tell me what my power is and how to use it?”
Willow mulled it over. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Because you aren’t ready yet.”
“I am! I am totally ready. I’m, like, the readiest. If you were to look up readiness in the dictionary, I’d be there.”
Willow looked at her, and the cheery smile dropped from her face. “No. you aren’t. You really, really aren’t. I’m sorry.” Buffy wasn’t quite sure what she was apologising for.
Buffy sighed. “Can you give me a hint or something? This is supposed to be a memory jaunt that’ll help me sort all of this stuff out, but beyond being kind of creepy and totally scrambling my brain, it’s not been much of the helpful.”
Willow looked at her sadly. “Look behind you.”
Buffy instinctively spun around, but there was nothing there. At least, nothing but cherry covered walls. She looked back at Willow, but she was talking to past Buffy again. She knew that she wasn’t going to get anything else out of her.
“Does that mean anything to you?” Ptonomy asked curiously.
“No,” Buffy said slowly. “Wait. Yes. Maybe. There was something, during the battle at the motel. Maybe. Can you take me there?”
Something vibrated, and they were in a church.
There was Caleb, knife in his hand, dead girl at his feet. In front of him was a group of figures, still as statues, eyeless, scarred. “Any of you got anything to say to the class? I know the devil’s got all y’all-“
“There was something here,” Buffy said. “This was Caleb’s memory, but something was changing it. These things weren’t here, not originally. I heard footsteps – I mean, Caleb heard footsteps, behind him, and he spun around, but the memory ended before I could get a chance to see what it was. Before he could. Whatever.”
“So I guess we turn around.”
“Yeah.” Buffy licked her lips nervously. “Yeah. I guess we do.”
She turned, slowly. She’d wanted answers, sure, but that didn’t mean that she wanted to see what was there. She knew that, deep in her bones. But she needed to know, so she turned, and she dreaded.
It was a standard church, lines of pews, stained glass windows.
The third thing that Buffy saw was that there was a big banner, strung across the whole church. It looked like the kind of thing that schools did for spirit week. It was big, and sickly yellow, and the text was a particularly vivid red.
YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE COME.
But the first thing that Buffy noticed was the figure standing in the aisle.
The figure was tall. It towered over Buffy. It had no neck, no chin, just fat. Its eyes were yellow, like a vampire, and its clothes were tattered and torn. Its arms reached past its knees, and they were thin and spindly. Its fingers were freakishly long, with nails that were closer to talons than anything else. Its skin was pale and waxy.
Buffy had seen creepier demons. If she’d been the Slayer, and she’d had to fight this thing, she wouldn’t have worried. Sure, it was tall, and it had an absurdly long reach, but compared to some of things that she’d seen it wasn’t all that scary.
Except that it was. There was something about it that was just wrong, in the same way that the Gentleman and the creepy things that followed them were wrong. There was an almost palpable sense of alienness radiating from the thing, as though the universe itself knew that this was not a thing that should exist, that this was a thing that was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Buffy, looking at it, knew two things. The first was that she’d never seen it before. The second was that David had. This was the thing that he’d described to her. The thing that he’d been afraid of. The devil with the yellow eyes.
“What is that thing?” Ptonomy said, his voice strained.
Despite herself, Buffy looked at it closely. “Why isn’t it moving?”
“It’s just a memory. I froze it, so we had a chance to see what it was before it ended.”
“This thing is David’s. He told me about it. He saw it, back at the motel, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the only time. So why is it in my head?”
“I don’t know,” Ptonomy said, clearly unnerved. “We should ask David.”
“Guess so. Can you zap us out?”
Ptonomy closed his eyes, and there was a thrumming sound, which grew and grew until it sounded like something tore apart. Ptonomy’s eyes slammed open. “Something’s keeping us here. Something’s wrong. Whatever you’re doing, stop it.”
“Me? I’m not-“
The devil with the yellow eyes raised a hand, stretched it out to Buffy. There was a pressure in her head, as though there was something inside it that was trying to get out.
All of the corpses that had been sitting in the pews stood up.
“Get us out!”
“I’m trying!” Ptonomy snapped, teeth clenched.
There was a sound, like voices in the distance. Buffy couldn’t make out whose voices they were, or even what they were saying. She got the distinct impression that she didn’t want to.
She also got the impression that they were getting closer. She didn’t want to be around when that happened.
Although, given that the corpses were standing up and moving towards them, she suspected that they might not live long enough to for that to happen.
Chapter 22: Chapter Twenty-Two
A weapon. Buffy needed a weapon. She had years of memories telling her that, when you’re facing a horde of zombies and some kind of demon thing, you couldn’t go wrong with a weapon.
“Do you have a gun?” Buffy asked. She was sure that the answer was going to be no – this was supposed to be a memory, after all, and she wasn’t even sure if Ptonomy could even have brought a gun here. She looked around, hoping to see something, anything, that she could use.
“No,” Ptonomy grunted. His hands were clenched into fists, and his head was low, his knees bent as though he was fighting a strong wind. His face glistened with sweat. “This is your memory. Whatever this is came from you. So sort it out.”
Which was easier said than done. Buffy felt as though a star was dying in her mind, burning away everything that was her with it. Fire was lashing at her skull.
She had a headache. It was bad.
Caleb had a knife. It probably wouldn’t do her much good - it probably wouldn’t even be enough to kill even one zombie – but it was better than nothing. She tried to pry it from his grasp, but she couldn’t even shift his fingers. Ptonomy had frozen the memory, and she couldn’t change it. Not like the devil with the yellow eyes could.
“Can you unfreeze us?” Buffy said, eyes sweeping over the altar. There were a heavy cross, but not much else. If it came to it, she could try and club her way to freedom. Or she could, if there was anywhere to go.
“Trying. Can’t you feel it? Like there’s a whole world…” Ptonomy’s knees buckled, and he collapsed face first onto the ground.
Fighting was pretty much out. Zombies were hard to kill at the best of times, and these weren’t those. The other option was to escape, which was all well and good, but the zombies were between them and the exit. Even if they could get past them, there was still the devil with the yellow eyes. Its hand was stretched out to her, palm up. Almost like it was offering her something.
Okay. There was a stained glass window behind them. It was high, sure, but if they climbed up onto the altar and jumped, Buffy was pretty sure that they could make it. She crouched down by Ptonomy and shook him. “Come on. Get up! We’ve got to get out of here!”
Ptonomy just grunted at her. Buffy wasn’t sure that he understood. Buffy stood, picked up the cross and hurled it at the window.
The window exploded inwards, fragments of glass leaping towards Buffy. She flung up an arm instinctively, ready for the sharp bite of glass in her flesh, but the moment never came. She looked up to see the shards suspended in the air, sending glimmers of light dancing throughout the room.
There was a graveyard outside the church. Buffy could see rows and rows and rows of tombstones, stretching out as far as she could see. Nothing but graves all the way to the horizon. In that moment, she remembered something that Caleb had said to Walter. He’d said that he had a whole world in his head, one filled with all things dark and dead.
Buffy wasn’t surprised to see a hand reach out of the soil in the distance. It was pale, pallid, streaked with dirt. She didn’t need to turn around to know that the zombies were right behind her, hands reaching out to hold and to grasp. There was no escape. Nowhere to escape to.
She realised, in that moment, that she was going to die. She was going to die in someone else’s memories, killed by all the people that the Slayer hadn’t been able to save. The irony wasn’t lost on her.
Buffy closed her eyes, listening to the voices that were just on the edge of comprehension, and waited to die. She took a breath. Breathing was important. Dead things didn’t breathe, and so she was going to do it right up until the point that she couldn’t do it anymore.
She took a breath, and –
Something pulled her, hard and fast. Her palms hurt as something was yanked out of her hands. For one disorientating moment she thought that she was back on the iceberg again, hanging above the abyss, hands raw and bleeding. But then she crashed against something, hard enough to drive the air out of her lungs. She heard voices. Not inaudible, creepy whispers off in the distance, but real, actual voices. Voices she recognised, speaking words that she understood.
Her eyes slammed open, and there was Rudy up above her, his back to her. David was looking down at her, his face filled with worry. Syd was standing by him, and she looked worried too, although there was an element of confusion to it. There was Melanie, her perennially sad expression tempered by thoughtfulness.
And there was Angel, crouched next to her. When he saw her eyes open, he smiled. “You didn’t really think I was going to leave you in there, did you?”
Buffy sat up, and immediately regretted it. Her back hurt, and she had a sneaking suspicion that she’d broken her tailbone. She wasn’t sure what had catapulted against the wall, but it had been done with extreme force. Her head hurt, too, but she wasn’t sure if that was because she’d hit it or because she was still feeling the after-effects of whatever the devil with the yellow eyes had done.
“What happened?” Buffy asked, groggily. “Wait. Where’s Ptonomy?”
“Ptonomy’s over there,” Rudy said, gesturing across the room. On the other side of the room, amongst the legs of the table and the broken remnants of a chair, Buffy could see Ptonomy. Whatever had happened to her had happened to him, too. “In answer to the first question, we were hoping you’d tell us.”
“We were doing… what do you call it, memory work? But then there was this, this thing, a devil with yellow eyes and, like, an army of zombies, and he trapped us in the church. We were going to die – Ptonomy collapsed, he couldn’t get us out and he collapsed, and there was nothing there, just a dead world, everyone that I ever cared about was dead and they were going to kill us.” Buffy took a deep, shuddery breath. “Yeah, basically I don’t know what happened. It’s David’s demon. Ask him.”
Everyone looked at David. David’s eyes were wide, scared. “Er, what?”
Buffy forced herself upright. “The thing, the monster you told me about it the cafeteria. It was in my head. It was just a memory, but it moved, it attacked us. We couldn’t do anything. We aren’t Slayers, we can’t fight things like that. There shouldn’t even be anything like that, not here, not in the real world. So why do you see something like that, and what was it doing in my head?”
“What’s she talking about, David?” Syd said in a brittle voice.
David sighed. “It’s… something I see. Sometimes. I see a lot of things. Melanie said that I’m not sick, that I’m not – that it’s just my brain trying to cope with all the information that my power feeds into it. One of the things I see is a… monster, a devil with yellow eyes. I don’t know what that thing is. Sometimes it’s just there. It’s like some nightmare thing, a thing that I see when I’m awake and it – I don’t know what it is. The last time I saw it was at the motel, right before I caught the lightning bolt. I thought, maybe, it was something from Buffy, something I was picking up – she has demons in her head – but she said it wasn’t, and besides, I’ve been seeing it for years. It’s always been around, you know. Lurking.” He looked at Syd. “It scares me.”
Buffy shook her head. “It’s not mine. Definitely not mine. But it was in my head. So, if you could just, like, not go in there, that would be great.”
“Sorry. Don’t really know how I got in.”
Buffy frowned. “Is that why you’re here? Did you, uh, pick up my mind by accident again?” She never would have thought that having a loud mind would be a good thing, but if it had saved her from a zombie horde then it could only be a good thing.
“Uh, no. Not exactly.” David pointed at Angel. “He told me you were in trouble.”
Buffy glanced at Angel, who shrugged. “Angel told you I was in trouble?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, if that’s what he is. He wasn’t exactly doing the introductions so much as the whole urgent thing, you know.”
“But you can see him?”
David nodded in response. Rudy raised a hand. “We can’t, if that helps.”
“It really doesn’t.”
“Yeah, didn’t think it would.”
“David told us you were in trouble,” Melanie said. “He came to get us, told us you were here. That something had gone wrong, but he wasn’t sure what.”
“I didn’t know,” Angel murmured. “All I knew was that there was something wrong, and I couldn’t do anything. But I knew that he could.”
Buffy opened her mouth to ask him how he’d known, but then changed her mind. The highest amount of psychic energy ever recorded had come from David destroying Clockworks. He caught lightning bolts. A covert military group called him the World Killer. If anyone could help, it would be him.
“We tried to pull you away from the memory machine,” Melanie continued, “but we couldn’t. We couldn’t get close. There was a… shadow, which pushed us away. Rudy had to use his power to pull you free.”
“Um,” David interjected, “it wasn’t a shadow. There were hands. Hands were holding them to the device, and more of them pushed us away.”
“Hands? What kind of hands?” Buffy asked. Even before she’d finished, she knew the answer. “Don’t tell me. They were those creepy hands with the long fingers and the stupidly long nails, right? The devil with yellow eyes’ hands?”
“No. They were ordinary hands. I mean, maybe they were a bit pale, and they were pretty dirty, but they looked like people hands. Besides, you know, the whole thing about them not being attached to anything.”
Right. Pale, pallid hands, streaked with dirt. She’d seen those before, plenty of times. She just didn’t know what they meant. “Okay then,” Buffy said slowly. “So my non-existent ex-boyfriend went to get David, because some devil thing from David’s mind was in my head and attacking us. That about the size and shape?”
Everyone looked at each other, then nodded.
“Okay. So, uh, big question here. One I’d kind of like answered, you know. Seems pretty urgent.”
“Go on,” Melanie urged.
“What happens now? Seems like memory work is pretty much off the table, what with my past having more literal minefields in it than I would like, and I, uh, seem to have taken Ptonomy out of action. Again. Sorry about that. I was kind of hoping that I’d be able to get a grip on my powers and storm Division Three, but it kinda looks like that’s a thing that’s not going to happen. So. What now?”
“I’d like to-“ Melanie began, but David interrupted.
“Um. So. Since coming here – since catching the lightning bolt, really, my head has felt different.” David shoved his hands into his pockets and looked intently at his shoes. “Buffy, do you remember Teddy?”
Buffy blinked, thrown by the non-sequitur. “Sure.” Teddy had been an on-again-off-again resident of Clockworks. He’d had obsessive compulsive disorder, and he usually checked himself in for periods of time in the spring, when things were bad for him. “Why?”
“You remember how he always used to touch things, check that they were still around? He used to say that if he didn’t, then the moment he looked away they’d be gone. Someone would whisk them away, and only him touching them could stop it.”
“Sure. It was one of compulsions. What about it?”
“In my head, it feels like all the things I know, all the things that are familiar are just… not there, you know? Like they’ve been moved. Like I didn’t check them, and now they’re gone, and there’s other stuff there instead. I wouldn’t have seen Angel before. I know that. All the things you see, I’ve never seen them. Not till now. Things have moved into different places.” David looked up, and smiled. His eyes were a clear, icy blue. “Things make sense that didn’t make sense before. My power. The things I can do. Melanie said I’m not sick, that all of that was just my power, and she’s right.”
“Okay, sure, that’s great and all – I would love it if things started making sense for me – but how does your head feeling like Teddy’s compulsion actually, you know, help?”
“I can do things now. Things I couldn’t do before. I might not have full control yet, but I can do things. So, um, if the devil with yellow eyes is in your head, in your memories – maybe I can do something? Fight it? When Ptonomy wakes up, when he’s better, we could go back in. Get some answers.”
Chapter 23: Chapter Twenty-Three
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
David looked nonplussed. “Uh… no?”
“So you seriously think that having you go through my memories and hunting some evil thingy from your head is a good plan?”
“I want to say yes, but the way you’re asking kinda makes me think that I should really say no,” David replied. “Why? I can do things, now. I’ve got power.”
“Yeah, and so does Ptonomy, and the devil with the yellow eyes knocked him out cold.”
“I’ve got a lot more power, though,” David said matter-of-factly. “You haven’t seen our muscle, yet. They don’t call me World Killer for nothing.”
“Does anyone call you World Killer at all?” Syd asked.
“No,” Buffy answered. Technically true. In her head, she shouted at David to stay away, to get out, and she was inordinately pleased to see him flinch.
“Division Three does,” David said doggedly. “They took readings, there was… some kind of device and – stop that!”
“Stop what?” Buffy said, the very picture of innocence.
“Stop fighting me! I should know these things. I deserve to know these things!”
“If you keep pushing at her mind like that, then we’re going to have a problem,” Angel said. There was no hint of a threat in his voice. It was calm and measured. He wasn’t promising incipient violence if David didn’t stop. It was just a statement, bald and stark.
David held Angel’s gaze for a few seconds before crumbling. “Fine. But you still have to tell us, Buffy.”
Buffy sighed. He was probably right. “Technically, Division Three doesn’t know about you at all. Either of you,” she gestured at Syd. “Well, Walter does, I guess, but he doesn’t really count. But they measured the psychic energy that David gave off when he broke Clockworks, and apparently it’s like way high. Never been seen before, crack the world in half kind of high. They thought it was me, and they called me World Killer. But really it’s David.”
Syd glanced at David. She didn’t seem unduly surprised by the news. For the first time, Buffy wondered what had happened to the two of them during the three days between Clockworks collapsing and their arrival at Summerland. She looked back at Buffy. “Tell me again why you don’t want someone like that to kill your devils for you?”
“Did you miss the part about the army of zombies?” Buffy didn’t mention whatever it was that the devil with yellow eyes had done to her head. For one thing, she wasn’t quite sure how to do it in the first place. It felt like it had twisted something deep inside her head, forcing it to try to escape. In some ways, it had felt similar to Walter psychically boring through her eye. In others, it was totally different. There was no real way to describe it. “Everyone that I’ve ever… cared about was there, broken, bloody, dead. Sure, maybe David can fight them. Maybe. But doing something like that takes, well, world-breaking power, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want something like that going on in my head. If you’re feeling lucky, sure, go ahead. Maybe the devil’s in your head too. But I’ll sit that one out, thanks.”
“D’you have a better idea?” David asked.
Buffy blinked. She hadn’t expected that. “No.”
“No, I don’t. But if there’s going to be a majorly stupid plan going on, then it’s totally going to be my majorly stupid plan. I’ve got a reputation for stupid plans that somehow work out. So I’m going to… go, go away and think and when I come back, I’ll have thought up with something so dumb that no one else would have thought of it.”
Angel snorted. Buffy held up a hand. “Shut up, you. That’s what I’m doing. If someone can tell me when Ptonomy wakes up, that would be great. Yeah? Yeah. Okay then.”
Buffy walked out of the room. She suspected that everyone was so thoroughly dumfounded by what she’d said that they didn’t have the presence of mind to stop her.
Angel was leaning against the wall in the hallway. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d been in the memory room with the rest of them just a moment ago. He was here now. He just hadn’t crossed the intervening space. “You aren’t the Slayer to them, you know. If you wanted to blow up a library to kill the Mayor with these people, they wouldn’t follow you. You know that, right?”
“Yes. Of course I know that. I’ve blown up their boat and taken Ptonomy out of action twice in, like, less than a week. Not the sort of thing that leads to trust,” Buffy said. “Speaking of trust, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”
“Me?” Angel seemed surprised. “You know what I think. What I want.”
“Do I, though? See, I thought the way this thing worked was you show up and ask me to do something, and I say yes, and then you do it. That’s what it was like with Giles and Caleb. Well, technically I didn’t say yes to Giles, but then I was super concussed, and – anyway. You went and found David all by yourself. How?”
“I walked. I heard him, and I moved from where you were to where he was.”
“You know that’s not helpful, right? I’m not asking how you got to him. But you’re a thing in my head. You aren’t supposed to, uh, cross over. How do I know that you didn’t swap places with the devil with yellow eyes or something?”
“You know, this would be a lot easier if you actually paid attention to things that’re right in front of you,” Angel murmured, so quietly that Buffy almost didn’t catch it. “Walter saw Caleb. David saw me. Everyone saw the Bringers, and Giles’ water elemental. We aren’t just in your head, Buffy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Buffy asked. “Wait. Hold on. Is that about that thing that Caleb said? About me leaking? I’ve got something in my head and it’s oozing out.”
“If you like.” Angel clearly hadn’t liked being implicitly likened to ooze. “We’re here, Buffy.”
“Okay,” Buffy said slowly. “I’ve got an important question. If you don’t answer it, then, uh, there’ll be some shin kicking going on.”
Angel’s eyebrows shot up. “You’ll kick my shins?”
“Yeah. I know that I might not actually, like, connect with them, but the thought’s there, and that’s want counts.”
“Fine.” Angel replied grumpily.
“On the Astral Plane, if I’d have gone looking – would I have found Willow? Or, you know someone else from your world? Or just the world in general, I guess. If I’d gone all Lewis and Clark, could I have found your world?”
Buffy wasn’t sure what she was expecting. Something cryptic, probably, or another question that didn’t actually resolve anything. If nothing else, she’d have guessed that Angel would vanish into thin air without saying a word. What she didn’t expect was a straight answer. Especially not the answer that she actually got.
“I can’t tell you. Don’t look at me like that. I can’t.”
Angel looked uncomfortable. “Because you aren’t ready to know.”
“Yeah, Willow said that. She was wrong then, and you’re wrong now.”
Angel just shrugged. Buffy wondered how she could have ever found this whole mysterious, cryptic thing to be even slightly hot. Now, it just seemed really, really annoying.
“Listen. I saw my mom just now, in the church, with all the other dead people. She was in the same clothes that she – that she died in, you know, back in Sunnydale. I found her lying there, dead, and she was wearing those clothes, and I will never, ever forget that. And there was Celia, too. She was just a little girl, and she was dead too. But neither of them are dead, here. Mom never had a tumour, Duh Kinderegg never killed Celia. But Division Three is going after my family. They’ve got Mom.” Buffy’s voice cracked slightly. “I saw her dead, again, and there’s a good chance that Division Three might just lose their cool or something if I don’t turn up and they’ll, uh, eliminate the witnesses or something. But here I am, doing the whole dealing thing. Despite the fact that some military goons who work with someone like Walter has my mom, I’m coping. So don’t tell me that I’m not ready to know, that I can’t, like, handle it. Because I can.”
Angel crossed his arms, uncrossed them. Buffy didn’t think that she’d ever seen him fidget before. Vampires were generally very still – when they had nothing to do, they were as still as a corpse. They didn’t get twitchy. “What people say is important, Buffy. The things they say.” Angel didn’t look at her as he spoke. He looked literally everywhere else, but not at her. “You need to listen. To see. I can’t tell you anything because you aren’t ready to know.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. It had been bad enough hearing that sort of thing from Oliver, but he’d been so far out of his head, literally, that he couldn’t even see sanity on a clear day. But this was Angel. While he might not necessarily be the most stable of people, he didn’t generally descend into mystical gibberish. “So what then? I’m just supposed to figure this out? Is this like a scavenger hunt or something? Someone said something to me and it was, what, some kind of clue? I’m just supposed to follow along blindly until we get to the point where X marks the spot, only instead of treasure it’s just an answer?”
Angel mulled it over. “Yes. Pretty much. Yes.”
“Well, that’s just great, isn’t it? That’s just what I needed. Hey Buffy, you’re a mutant, now run along and do some homework so that you can find out what kind of mutant you are. Who came up with that plan?”
“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Angel said, as though an apology was actual meaningful right then. “I am. But that’s the way that it is.”
Before Buffy could even try to kick his shins, he vanished.
Okay then. She had a puzzle on her hands. Buffy had never been good with puzzles. That sort of thing was normally Giles’ thing, or Dawn’s, or, well, basically anyone but hers. She liked things when they were straightforward. It tended to make things easier to stake.
First things first. What did she know?
Well, Willow had said that ‘Look behind you’ was supposed to be a clue. But that had led to David’s devil with the yellow eyes, and Buffy strongly doubted that either that thing or David himself had managed to turn her into a mutant. She’d been seeing things since long before she’d met David.
So what else had been behind her that she could have seen if she’d looked?
At that point, Buffy reached the door to her room. She was about to walk in, lie down and think, when she remembered something. In the Astral Plane, a sheet of ice had appeared in her doorway after she’d left her room, stopping her from seeing inside. She hadn’t thought anything much of it at the time, because the room had been stupidly cold, but she’d also got the impression that there’d been something behind it, something moving in the dark. There’d been something that had been left behind, that had been frozen out.
There’d been that message in the cloud world, too, the one that alerted her to the creepy eye thing that held oblivion in its gaze. She’d forgotten about that, mainly because it made virtually no sense and seemed like the kind of thing that would only happen to someone who was on some major drugs. Of course, her mind had just been attacked by Walter, so maybe that was just what happened when he did that. There’d been the whole thing with the breathing and the message that she’d exhaled with her breath. Something about there being a battle that she’d lost, and how she’d had to run away so that she could survive.
Buffy shivered. She remembered thinking – or rather, she remembered the figure made out of cloud thinking that nothing, not even the end of the world, could make it forget the importance of breathing.
Oh. It had literally been right in front of her.
THERE WAS A BATTLE. YOU LOST. NOW YOU ARE DYING.
RUN, AND MAYBE YOU CAN SURVIVE.
“Got a whole world in my head. All things dark and dead.”
“We’re here, Buffy.”
Oliver had asked her, if the world was on fire and she could only save one thing, what would she save? At the time, Buffy had just thought it was the ramblings of someone who’d spent too much time on a plane that was as much dream as it was reality, but now she understood.
If the world’s on fire, and you can only save one thing, then you save the world.
The thing that was cloud had died in the fire, running away, trying to survive, and Buffy had woken up.
Angel had said that she wouldn’t be able to find his world, and he’d said that they were here.
There’d been a battle, and she’d lost, and she’d run. The world had been on fire, and she’d run away, and she’d taken the world with her.
Buffy had memories of being the Slayer, saw her friends, her family, her enemies, but never, not even once, had she seen the Slayer herself.
Because she was the Slayer. Had been the Slayer. Until she’d run away, to a plane that didn’t have magic, demons, or vampires, but did have mutants. She’d run away, and she’d carried the world in her head.
In the church, the devil with the yellow eyes had been David’s, but the zombies had been hers. The endless graves, as far as the eye could see, had been hers. She had a dead world in her head. A great, yawning emptiness – the grave of a dead world.
Chapter 24: Chapter Twenty-Four
There was a sound behind her. Footsteps, slow and deliberate.
Buffy hesitated a moment before she turned around. If she’d had to guess who it was, she’d probably say Illyria. Someone who knew what it was to have a world that they could no longer return to. She could imagine the Old One, a glacier in a catsuit, voice dripping with scorn. Yes, if Buffy knew how her mind worked, she’d probably guess that the person behind her was Illyria.
The problem, of course, was that she didn’t know how her mind worked.
Even so, though her mind told her that it was probably Illyria, the dread deep in her bones told her that it was someone else, something else. The devil with yellow eyes, perhaps, or even a vision of whatever it was that killed the world. Her world.
As it turned out, it was none of those things.
It was Chrissy. In the light of the morning sun, her scarf almost looked like it was on fire. Buffy, relieved to see a mutant-hating bigot rather than some kind of eldritch abomination, wondered idly why Chrissy was still wearing it. She had already seen the gaping wound underneath, after all. She doubted that it was a matter of pride – Chrissy didn’t really believe that Buffy was even human. There was no need for pride when talking to something so far below you that it might as well be dirt.
Chrissy brought her hands together in a slow clap. The sarcasm was so strong that it was almost like a physical blow.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “What do you want? Come for some gloatage? I’m sure you would have figured all of this out in, like, a second flat, but then you’re some force of evil from the dawn of time, so you’ve had a bit of a run up.”
“Oh, no. I was just applauding your epiphany. You feel like a solid bar of tension has been lifted from your shoulders, right? You have an answer. Now you know. You know what you are, where you came from.” Chrissy’s lips quirked. “You haven’t quite grasped what you’ve left behind just yet, though, have you? A whole world, dark and dead.”
Buffy shrugged. “They seem kinda alive to me. What with the cryptic stuff and stuff. Dead people are generally all with the silence.”
“Oh, but you know what it’s like to have been dead. To put a brave face so that everyone you love,” Chrissy’s face twisted into a rictus of hate, as though anyone who could love and be loved by something like Buffy had to be some abhorrent monster, “doesn’t see the great, aching emptiness in your heart. You know what it is to hide.”
“You know, First, your whole thing would kind of be a better thing if you weren’t wearing Chrissy’s face. I mean, sure, the whole scarf tease thing was pretty effective, but if you’re going to be some goon from this world then you really shouldn’t be saying things like that. There’s no way she would know about that. She hasn’t been in my head.”
“I’ve read your file, remember?” Chrissy replied. “Transcripts, records. Dr Kissinger kept excellent notes. You told him about your deaths. No one asked you if you were ready to be strong. No one ever gave you a choice. That’s the thing about being the chosen one, hmm? You aren’t the one who gets to choose. Ever.”
“Right, yeah, now is there a point to this, or is this just standard villain rambling?”
“You weren’t strong enough,” Chrissy said simply. “You failed, the world died, and you ran away. You couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t face it, so you forgot. The world was on fire, and you couldn’t even do the decent thing and remember it.”
“Excuse me? Have you had a dead world in your head? Is there, like, precedent and protocol and stuff? How would I know if I even could remember it?”
“People die.” Chrissy’s voice was matter-of-fact. In that moment, Buffy remembered that Chrissy had introduced herself by her military rank, had made a whole deal about having been military when she was alive. Sure, her entire squad had been murdered by Bringers, but Buffy couldn’t help but think that there’d been other times when Chrissy had lost people in action. No one could hate mutants as intensely as she did without something dark and ominous in their past. “Everyone has ghosts. The least you could do is remember them.”
“You know what?” Buffy snapped. “I do remember them. Do you know how hard it was - is to look my mom in the face and not see her… her sprawled out on the sofa? I’ve relived her dying over and over and over again, and it hurts every time. You know, sometimes I wake up after having some kind of wacky dream and I think, hey, Wills would get a kick out of hearing about it – and then I remember that she doesn’t exist, that I won’t get a chance to tell her. Sure, maybe they’re in my head, but they’re just, like, ghosts or something. My ex just saved me from some evil devil thingy and I couldn’t even hug him, let alone kick his shins.” Chrissy’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “I know they’re dead and all I’ve got are ghosts. But what do you have?”
“Me?” Chrissy’s tone was oddly mild. “Nothing. You took everything that I had. You took my life, my blood, my-“
“See, all you’ve got is hollow words and the slinging of guilt. You were nothing before Caleb, nothing but whispers in the dark.”
“Before Caleb, I was alive.”
“Stop that. You aren’t Chrissy. Stop pretending that you are. You’re just wearing her face, plus the kinda odd addition of a scarf.”
“You’re so sure that you’re right.” Chrissy’s hands curled into fists. Everything about her screamed imminent violence. “Nothing can be your fault, can it, because you-“
“Oh, shut up!”
To Buffy’s extreme surprise, Chrissy’s jaw snapped shut with an audible click. Her eyes widened, and a hand reached up to her mouth before she decided that she wasn’t going to give Buffy the satisfaction, at which point she pretended that all she wanted to do was to adjust her scarf.
“Huh,” Buffy said eloquently. “That’s new.” She’d often told hallucinations to shut up before, and they never did it. They didn’t listen to her – they seemed to have a mind of their own.
Which, technically, she supposed they did.
Chrissy just glared at her.
Buffy made a vague shooing gesture at Chrissy, as though she was a pet that was standing somewhere it shouldn’t. It gave her immense satisfaction to think about treating the First Evil as a truculent dog or something. “Scram. Go on. Get out of here. Scoot.”
Chrissy looked like she wanted to say something – specifically, she looked like she wanted to curse her – but she vanished before she could even try, let alone before she had the chance to make a rude gesture.
Buffy grinned. She felt oddly exhilarated. She’d done something. She had power. She had power. Not her hallucinations, not her demons. Just her. She could do things.
Her grin dimmed slightly. Of course, making something that seemed to exist almost entirely in her head go away wasn’t much. It was a start, but if she was going to raid Division Three and get her mom back, then she’d need a lot more than that.
Okay. First things first – she needed something a lot more effective. She couldn’t exactly tell a legion of military goons to skedaddle. If she wanted to do something, then she needed to figure out how to take power from the world in her head. She’d been the Slayer there. Here, the best that she could hope for would be to tap into it somehow.
That wasn’t exactly something that she was keen on. She’d seen graves as far as the eye could see, and dead things reaching up out of the ground. The idea of connecting to that, of linking herself to the dead things, wasn’t something that she felt good about.
The solution, she supposed, would be to tap into someone that Buffy liked. Someone who wouldn’t leave her swamped in some dark alien ocean, like Caleb had. Someone normal – or as normal as someone could be, if they were able to take on an army.
Which basically left Willow, she supposed. She couldn’t think of anyone else who could get into a military base, grab someone, and get out again. At least not someone who wasn’t horrifically evil.
Oh God Willow was real and Willow was dead and she hadn’t been able to save her-
No. She couldn’t think about that. Not now. She wouldn’t think about that. She didn’t have the time. She needed to be practical.
Practically, Buffy needed to go somewhere that people wouldn’t mind if she trashed it. Last time magic had happened, a boat had been torn apart. Willow was considerably more powerful than Giles-
-than Giles had been-
-so if she was going to try and do battle magic or something, she should probably not just do it in her room. She liked Summerland. It would be a shame if she blew it up. Assuming, of course, that she managed to do anything at all.
She went looking for Cary. Anyone who built the kind of things that he did had to have some kind of secure area to test things. Plus, there was the fact that he might not have heard about the fiasco in the memory room just yet, so he probably wouldn’t ask her what incredibly dumb plan she’d come up with. She wasn’t looking forward to that.
Cary was in his lab, to no one’s great surprise. He looked up when Buffy walked in. “Hello! I was thinking about the cap I made you and, considering the things that Oliver said-“
“Yeah, okay,” Buffy interrupted automatically. She hadn’t come to talk about the things that Oliver had said. A moment later she regretted it, because if there was some new development that meant that she didn’t need to wear the hideous nightcap, she was all for it. But she ploughed on. “I actually wanted to ask if you’ve got, like, somewhere secure. Somewhere that I can go to test something that might be a bit, uh, explosive.”
Cary frowned. “We’ve got a bunker. We built it in case mutually assured destruction stops being, well, mutual. We tend to use it to train people with more aggressive powers. Is that what you’re looking for?”
“Yes! Yes, that would be perfect. Could you tell me where it is?”
Cary opened his mouth to answer – like Giles (had been), Cary was the sort of person who automatically answered questions put to them. He had knowledge, and a duty to share it with anyone who wanted it. But then he closed it again, and Buffy sighed inwardly. It looked like questions were coming, and if there was one thing that she didn’t want right now, it was that. If there were questions, she’d have to think about the answers. She’d have to think period, which really wasn’t something that she wanted to be doing. “Can I ask why?”
Buffy supposed that she’d better start lying through her teeth. Saying she had a dead world in her head was probably the sort of thing that would go down like a lead balloon. “I feel like, um… it’s kind of hard to explain. Like there’s some things in my head that have moved around, I guess?” Buffy was trying to copy what David had said. She suspected that, if there was anyone here who would understand what he’d been saying, it would be Cary. The problem was that Buffy didn’t really understand what he’d been on about, and she definitely didn’t feel like she knew what was going on. “I guess it’s because the drugs, you know, the things they gave me at Clockworks, have sort of made their way out of my system or something. I feel like things are clearer.” Technically true, if only barely. “But, um, last time I did something I somehow killed a military platoon, and the time before that I blew up a boat. So, I was thinking that going somewhere where I can’t accidentally hurt someone would be a good plan.”
Cary nodded as though that made perfect sense. “Kerry’ll show you the way. This place can be a bit of a maze, if you aren’t used to it.”
Buffy would really have preferred to walk there herself, but she didn’t think that she could say that.
Kerry appeared from behind Cary’s chair, as though she’d somehow been lurking there without Buffy seeing her. Buffy blinked. Even with all the things that she’d seen, that still weirded her out. Kerry nodded at the door. “Come on then, let’s go.”
Buffy followed her out.
“So,” Kerry said idly, “what do you think’ll happen?”
Buffy had hoped that Kerry wouldn’t ask her any questions. It wasn’t an unreasonable hope – the girl tended towards the terse – but apparently the possibility of things exploding caught her interest. “Honestly? I’m hoping for big balls of magical fire.”
Kerry nodded, as though she had never expected anything else. Thankfully, that seemed to be the end of her questions.
A few minutes later, after following a path that Buffy didn’t fully understand – they seemed to have moved through at least two buildings, past one pond filled with fish, and across a miniature bridge that spanned a sluggish stream about a foot wide – they arrived at a door bearing the enigmatic legend of BUNKER.
Kerry entered a brief code on a pad next to the door, which Buffy didn’t catch, and the door swung open.
The room was much more in keeping with what Buffy had expected Summerland to be, back when she’d first heard about it. Beyond something that resembled a shooting gallery but without all the cubicles, the room was empty. Although someone had obviously tried to keep it clean, they didn’t seem able to do anything about the scorch marks that dotted the floors, walls and ceilings.
“You want me to stick around?” Kerry asked. Though she was trying not to show it, Buffy could tell that she was excited by the prospect of magical fireballs.
“Nah. I’m not sure anything will actually happen, and I wouldn’t want to bore you by holding out my hands and yelling ‘fire’.”
“Is that how it works?”
“I hope not,” Buffy said, grinning despite herself, “otherwise I’d look totally ridiculous.”
Kerry returned her grin. “Well, I guess I’d better leave you to it then.” She left.
Buffy turned to face the targets, and took a deep, shuddery breath. “Well, let’s get this show on the road.”