By Barb C.
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Synopsis: Thirty years ago, Buffy Summers made a deal with the demon entity which grants Slayers their power which changed the world, and the nature of Slayers, forever. Now a young Slayer believes she’s discovered that change came with a terrible price, one she’s determined to undo… and not even Buffy Summers is going to stop her!
Author’s notes: This story takes place in the same universe as Raising In the Sun, Necessary Evils, and A Parliament of Monsters. It takes place approximately ten years earlier than “Twilight of the Gods.” Many thanks to betas typographer, kehf, rainkatt, deborahc, brutti_ma_buoni & slaymesoftly! Thanks also to the Saesonal Spuffy mods for another great round. :)
The windowless, reinforced chamber had been built back in the early years of the century, presumably for isolating suspicious and potentially explosive luggage. Buffy suspected that the whole room had mysteriously dropped off the airport’s maintenance schedules and security schematics years ago.
Two of the faux security guards took up stations on either side of the door, while the other four spread out across the front of the room. They weren’t the real threat. Young and hard and confident, the Council Slayers moved in practiced synchrony. Buffy searched the faces of their captors as they were herded towards the back of the room. Addie hung back a little, a worried frown wrinkling her freckled brow, but Buffy knew better than to count on the girl’s ambivalence working out in their favor.
She hadn’t survived this long by either under or over-estimating her own abilities. She and Spike were good. Better than good. But the cold fact was, they were both a few years past their prime, and even at that prime, tackling six armed men and four, possibly five Slayers head-on would have been a plan of last resort. The only furniture was a flimsy plastic patio table and a scatter of matching deck chairs straggling across the depressing slate-blue carpet – useless for any serious exercise in flinging, clubbing, or smashing. The ventilation grid high on one wall didn’t look any more promising, escape-wise, nor did the ancient and obviously deactivated security camera. Given a few hours and some broken knuckles, she and Spike could probably smash the door down, but they’d have to take the guards out first.
“Mom,” Vicki whispered, “what’s going on?”
One thing at a time. Buffy squeezed her daughter’s cool hand tightly. “Don’t know, but stick close to me and your father.”
At Chalmers’ nod, Alicia sauntered over and began patting them down for weapons. Buffy caught Spike’s eye as the young Slayer frisked Vicki with brusque efficiency, and his shoulders lifted in brief, puzzled response to the question in her gaze. The stamp of those Pratt cheekbones was unmistakable. Alicia could have been Vicki’s sister. But that was impossible – yeah, sure, in theory Spike was physically compatible with any Slayer, but in practice? The idea that he had been catting around on her was laughable.
Lydia Chalmers tugged her sensible tweed jacket straight and tucked a flyaway wisp of greying hair back into her severe bun – no concessions to vanity there. “Do pardon the dramatics, but this isn’t a conversation I wished to conduct in the lobby.” She waved at the chairs. “Please, have a seat.”
Buffy shook her head. “Rather stand, thanks.”
“As you will. I’ll be brief.” Chalmers raised her eyes to the ceiling for a moment, as if divining her next words from the patterns upon the acoustic tile. “Ms. Thackeray informs me that Adele has told you about her theories regarding the state of Slayer souls, and her claim to have a remedy for this condition. I suppose it would be too much to hope that you kept the information to yourself?”
“It might have come up once or twice in conversation,” Buffy said, examining her nails. There were better ways of ensuring privacy than at gunpoint; something was up here.
Chalmers made an irritable noise. “We of the Council are not monsters, Ms. Summers-Pratt,” she said, “however satisfying it is for you to paint us as such. There is a price for everything. You made the Slayer power an inseparable part of those girls – ”
“Quentin Travers would have had them killed if I hadn’t!” snapped Buffy.
One of the Slayers shifted uneasily, but stilled as her partner elbowed her.
” – at the possible cost of their souls,” Chalmers went on, unperturbed. “Now Adele wants to save those souls, but that, too, carries a price. The ritual she stole hasn’t yet been tested on Slayers whose powers haven’t manifested, but in older Slayers, the results are… less than optimal.”
“Wait – you’ve already tested it?” Addie burst out. She turned wounded-puppy eyes on Ms. Thackeray. “You told me you’d taken my idea to the Council and they said it could never work!”
Honoria Thackeray adjusted her glasses and looked miserable. “I really am sorry, Adele. But after the preliminary tests went so – the results weren’t – ” She waved both hands to indicate the enormity of the forces arrayed against her. “Ms. Chalmers ordered me to, er, quell your curiosity.”
Chalmers’ nod was both economical and elegant. “Indeed. The first volunteer died. The second…” For a moment her iron mask slipped. “Begs me on a regular basis to kill her. Even if performing the severance ritual on a younger Slayer proved to be safer, the whole point would be to leave the subject entirely human. The consequences of using the ritual incautiously could be the wholesale elimination of the next generation of Slayers – and since their deaths will no longer call others to replace them… in the hands of an enemy, it could destroy all Slayers, forever.” Her keen eyes shifted Buffy’s way. “Exactly what you fought to keep Angelus from doing, over thirty years ago.”
Damn. She hated it when the bad guys had a point. Addie had gone pale beneath her freckles – had she not thought about the long-term consequences? Heck, Addie was fourteen. To her, ‘long-term’ was next Saturday.
“Whether or not it was your intention, Ms. Summers-Pratt, by creating more Slayers you’ve done great good,” Ms. Chalmers said. “In the last thirty years, the Council has been able to expand its operations to a degree previously undreamed of.” She placed a slim, well-kept hand on Addie’s shoulder, and her tone was not unkind. “Adele is an extremely bright girl, and to give her the credit she is due, it was her speculation which led our researchers to develop the ritual. Eventually, with further study, our adepts may come up with a method for employing the ritual safely, and then, perhaps, we may be able to offer the girls in our care some form of, er, retirement plan. Until then, it’s in everyone’s best interests to…”
“Hush it up,” Spike drawled, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “So the Council can keep a monopoly on your so-called cure an’ dole it out as you see fit.”
“Avoid endangering more girls with a half-tested and possibly unnecessary spell,” countered Ms. Chalmers. She spun on her heel, pacing like a general in sensible shoes. “I need to know who else knows about Adele’s visit, and how much they’ve heard. We intend to talk to them, nothing more. Perhaps employ a minor spell to cloud memory if it seems warranted. And then this incident will be closed.” For a moment, her flinty eyes were wistful. “It was all so much easier when we operated in secrecy.”
Buffy shrugged. “It was never that easy.” And never that secret, either. If there was one thing she’d learned as she’d gotten older, it was that there was a big difference between not talking about the weirdness, and not noticing the weirdness.
It wasn’t like Lydia Chalmers was the enemy. Both of them were in the world-saving biz, after all. They just had… philosophical differences. Buffy bit her lip. “Look… whatever this de-Slayerizing spell is, obviously it’s not just add eye of newt and stir, or Addie would have done it in my bedroom instead of making with the baby-snatching. There’s a spell to make vampires human, too, but how many ex-vampires do you see thronging the mall? If the ingredients are hard enough to get – ”
Addie looked up, hopeful. “It only works if you have the Guardian’s axe.”
“Adele!” For the first time, Chalmers sounded angry.
A mutinous expression flashed in Addie’s eyes, and her cheeks flushed behind the freckles. “It doesn’t matter if she knows if you’re going to make us all forget about it, does it? They call it a scythe.” She nodded at the Watchers. “But it’s really an axe.”
Buffy’s throat went tight. For a second the years fell away and she was a girl again herself, standing in the stuffy, somnolent warmth of the Guardian’s lair. Of course. She should have known. The scythe-that-sure-looked-like-an-axe. The weapon forged to kill the last of the pure demons, the weapon that could, in the right hands, cleanse the world of all the rest. Her own voice echoed in her ears: What does ‘cleanse’ even mean? Do half-demons only get half-cleansed? The scythe’s Guardian hadn’t had any answers for her then, and she’d turned the gift down – too many strings attached, and she’d had enough of being prophecy’s puppet. “But the axe – scythe – whatever – the Guardian still has it, right?”
“The Guardian is dead,” Chalmers cut her off. “And the Scythe is in the Council’s care, as it should have been all along, and – ”
The voice was soft, but there was steel in it, drawing every eye to the speaker as if by magnets. Buffy felt her muscles tense in preparation for whatever was coming. Alicia took a step forward, her chin rising defiantly. “The Guardian chose me to take the Scythe, before she died.”
Everyone startled – the Council Slayers had been so silent. “So she did,” Chalmers replied, impatient. “To use under our guidance.”
Alicia shook her head, fair curls bouncing, jaw set in a stubborn line that Buffy found all too familiar. “No. She gave it to me.” She turned to her comrades. “To a Slayer, for all Slayers. Now!”
All four Council Slayers spun on the nearest members of the Council’s wetworks team, crossbows firing in unison. One man went down immediately; three more staggered, screaming. For a second the other two froze in surprise; then they returned fire. Chalmers whipped a little automatic from her purse, aimed, and squeezed the trigger with indefatigable cool.
The Slayers were already a blur of motion as the triple volley of gunshots rang out. Bullets pinged and whined off the reinforced walls. The room was a maelstrom of punches and kicks. “Come on!” Buffy grabbed Vicki’s hand and sprinted for the door, Spike right behind her, game-faced and snarling. Behind them she heard an anguished wail from Addie’s Watcher as one of the ricochets struck home. She threw a glance over one shoulder – Addie crouched frozen in the thick of the fray, looking as bewildered as Buffy felt.
“Slayer,” Spike growled, “No time to play the fucking hero! Whose side are we on, anyway?”
It wasn’t a rhetorical question;. A guard’s cosh started its downward arc towards Addie’s head. “Hers,” said Buffy. She flung Vicki into her father’s arms, and leaped.
Alicia shouted, “Addie! Are you with us?”
“Who’s us?” Addie screamed back. The choice was made for her as a guard lunged – training took over as Addie ducked under his blow, grabbed his wrist, and slammed him to the ground. Two guards down. Lauren and the guard she was wrestling tumbled past in a tangle of plastic chairs. Across the room, Spike launched himself at the door and bounced off, leaving a shoulder-sized dent in the metal. Zeidel and Alicia had boxed two more wounded guards into a corner at the back of the room, and Gertruda was covering the Watchers, confiscated pistol in one hand and the other pressed to the scarlet flower blossoming across her belly. Which meant that the sixth guard had to be –
Addie whipped around in time to see Buffy’s heel intersect the sixth guard’s hand with the sick crunch of snapping bone. The guard’s cosh whistled past Addie’s skull and grazed her shoulder as she threw a hard left to the man’s jaw. The guard slammed back against the wall and collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap.
The young Slayer stared at the older one for a long moment. The corner of Buffy’s mouth quirked. “Watch your back.”
“Good advice. Too bad you didn’t take it yourself.”
Alicia was standing behind Buffy, her breath coming hard and fast, the muzzle of the fallen guard’s pistol pressed to the back of the older Slayer’s skull. Vicki screamed. Spike spun away from his assault on the door with a snarl – in the stark fluorescent light, his demon mask was more bestial and terrifying than any vampire’s Addie had ever seen. Alicia gestured with the pistol. “You! Vampire! Get over there, with the Watchers. Bring the girl with you.”
Spike’s growl ratcheted up a notch, but Buffy’s expression was almost serene. “Spike, don’t,” she said, and whatever Spike had been about to do, he didn’t. He gave Vicki’s shoulder a squeeze, and whispered something too low for Addie to hear in her ear. Vicki gulped and nodded, shadowing her father as Spike stalked across the room to stand with Ms. Chalmers and Ms. Thackeray, his golden gaze never moving from Alicia’s face. The Watchers didn’t seem any too happy with his company.
Ms. Thackeray clutched her left arm where the bullet had just grazed the skin – blood was dribbling down her arm and spotting the ugly carpet. “Alicia, this, this – this is insane! Addie, you can’t – ”
“Do be quiet, Honoria.” Ms. Chalmers sounded more weary than anything else. “They can, and have.”
“Shut up, all of you.” Alicia’s voice was shaking, but her hands were rock-steady as they held the pistol. How much of this, Addie wondered, was she making up as she went along? “Lauren, those plastic wrist things are in that knapsack in the corner – tie everyone up. Zeidel, cover her. If anyone moves an inch, Zeidel or I will blow off a body part. Addie, get the first aid kit and fix Trudy up.”
That was it. Addie flung up her hands. “Maybe I’d like to know exactly what we’re doing before I get all rah-rah about it! God, Lish, this is rogue territory! We can’t go back to the creche after this, not without some serious deprogramming! What’s the freaking point here? There’s only five of us, and we need to get Trudy to a hospital! The whole Council will be on your back so fast – ”
On cue, almost, Trudy gave a little moan, and her pistol slipped through lax fingers and thudded to the floor. Trudy’s eyes rolled back and she thudded to the floor right after it. Alicia’s mouth pinched up, and she glared at Addie, eyes accusing. Addie clenched her teeth on her questions and dropped to her knees to pillage the first aid kit. Alcohol, scissors, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, adhesive – why couldn’t Ms. Chalmers have picked a secret hideout with running water? Trudy’s shirt was a mess, blood everywhere, and while Ms. Thackeray’s injury seemed superficial, she had no idea how badly any of the guards were wounded. Maybe she should just call 911. Except that would get everyone arrested, and what the hell was Alicia thinking?
She snuck a sideways glance at her friend’s set and determined face. OK, fine, Alicia had been really upset over their discovery – both the things she’d told Buffy, and the things she hadn’t. But it wasn’t the Council’s fault that they were bound for Hell. If Ms. Chalmers was telling the truth, the Watchers had a reason to keep the ritual secret.
Trudy gasped a little as Addie pulled powder-burnt scraps of shirt away from the wound. Her dark skin had taken on a weird yellowish undertone, and sweat beaded her forehead. “You doing OK?” Addie whispered. Stupid question, but she had to ask.
The other girl grimaced. “This sounded like way more fun back in the creche.”
“I’ll bet.” An argument had broken out behind her, but Addie couldn’t spare the attention for it now. Slayer strength and speed were great as far as they went, but in a contest between Slayer and bullet, bullets still won. She ripped Trudy’s shirt up and doused it with hydrogen peroxide, swabbing off as much blood as she could. The entry wound was a red, angry hole a few inches below Trudy’s ribcage. When she checked the other girl’s back there wasn’t an exit wound. Which meant the bullet was still in there somewhere, which meant infection. Crap. She packed gauze over the wound and taped it all down; Trudy still looked sickly and sweaty and awful.
When she came up for air, Zeidel and Lauren had finished trussing everyone up. Buffy was still staring at Alicia like she was trying to solve the mysteries of the Pyramids or something, but Spike was doing what he did best – aggravating people. “Chit’s gut-shot, you stupid little cow. Punctured bowel. I can smell it.” The vampire bared his teeth in possibly the least friendly expression Addie had ever seen. “She’ll need more’n a Band-aid if you don’t want her dying by inches, poisoned by her own shite.”
Alicia’s lip curled. “Like you care.”
Spike’s mirthless grin grew wider. “More’n you do, apparently. First time for everything.”
The uncertainty that flashed across Alicia’s face was a relief – maybe the girl Addie thought she knew was still in there somewhere. But it vanished in a quick shake of golden curls. “Slayers die. I can’t stop that. I can stop them going to Hell when they do. Trudy knew the risks.” She turned to Addie with a deep breath, as if she’d rehearsed this a lot. “I swear, I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid you’d tell La Thackeray. I never figured you’d try this on your own, but I knew they’d try to stop you, so we had to stop them. You’ve heard for yourself how they’re lying to us, using us – ” She was earnest now, almost pleading. “The Guardian warned me not to trust them, and she was right. But it’s okay now – we’re together! I brought the scythe with me, and we can go get the baby and do the spell just like we planned.”
Slayers died, yeah, but she hadn’t lost so many of her own agemates that she was used to it. Alicia had always been the take-charge type, and till now she had always been willing go along, but… With a twinge of guilt for ruining her borrowed clothes, Addie wiped bloody hands across her thighs. Oh, well, maybe Vicki would think eau de Slayer’s blood smelled delish. “When we made the plan I didn’t know the Watchers had already tried the spell on anyone. It’s too dangerous.”
“You can’t seriously think Ms. Chalmers is telling the truth?” Alicia sounded disappointed, but unsurprised. “They’re not even going to try to cure us! They don’t care if we go to Hell as long as they have their Slayer army.”
Addie cast an agonized look at her Watcher. Ms. Thackeray’s eyes were damp and entreating behind her glasses; she’d bound up her arm in one of her numerous scarves, and was making a desperate and mostly successful attempt to emulate Ms. Chalmers’ calm, but she couldn’t entirely suppress a distressed meepy noise every now and then. Addie wanted to go over and hug her, but… Ms. Thackeray had lied to her, after all. Even Spike seemed to think the Watchers might not have the best interests of the Slayers at heart. But if anything went wrong with the ritual… “What if Nita’s not like us after all? Her mother was only a Potential – maybe she’s not a Slayer at all. There’s seeking spells – the ones they use on the eggs we donate, to see which ones carry the Slayer line! We could cast one on Nita to make sure – ”
Alicia wasn’t buying it. “You’d have to revise it to work on a live baby instead of an egg. And that would take days, and the Council would find out and stop us. We don’t have much time, Addie. It’s too late for you and me. But there are plenty of girls back at the creche we can still save.” A doubtful note entered her voice. Under the bluster and big talk was the same scared kid who’d cried on Addie’s shoulder the night they’d found out the big secret. “You trust me, don’t you? We’re still friends, aren’t we?”
She was waiting, Addie realized, for her to cave, just like she’d caved every other time Alicia’s plans clashed with hers. “We are,” said Addie, throat aching. “But I still can’t let you do this.”
Alicia’s shoulders slumped, and her head drooped. “I wish things were different.” Her head came up, and the pistol was aimed right at Addie’s chest. “Lauren, tie her up too.”
The plastic wrist restraints cut into her skin as Lauren pulled them tight. Addie stared at Alicia through the whole humiliating procedure, gaining small satisfaction from the fact that Alicia wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“That’s everyone,” Zeidel said. “Here’s the key cards for the door. Now what?”
“I’m going to get that baby.” Alicia took a deep breath, steeling herself. “You and Lauren stay here with Trudy and keep an eye on things.” She surveyed the incapacitated guards and Watchers with a grin of satisfaction – Addie wondered what her reaction would be if she knew how very much like Spike’s it looked. “By the time anyone back at the creche worries I’ll have the cure.” She grabbed a suspiciously knobbly gym bag from the pile of luggage near the door and slung it over one shoulder. She smirked at Ms. Chalmers. “And once the rest of the Slayers find out how you’ve been lying, how many of them will stay with you?”
“I’m not lying, you obstinate child!” The fabled Chalmers cool was cracking. At any other time, Addie would have been awed. “The ritual is more dangerous than you can imagine!”
“Wait.” Buffy cut through the argument with no apparent effort. “There’s a very easy way to tell if Lydia’s telling the truth. Test it on me first. I’ve been a Slayer longer than anyone else alive, and if you’re looking for some kind of revenge – ”
“You don’t know anything about me!” spat Alicia. She set the gym bag down and eyed Buffy, considering. “You think you can do something to stop me if you come along. All right. I’ll let you. On one condition.”
She bent over the ravaged first aid kit, and pulled out a plastic-capped syringe and a small bottle of translucent amber liquid. Addie didn’t need to see the label to know what it was. You could keep a secret like the Cruciamentum when there was only one Slayer at a time, but not when there were hundreds. Alicia looked back at Buffy. “They had to change the formula after what you did,” she informed the older Slayer. “It’s stronger now. You’re just going to be an ordinary old woman.”
Buffy shrugged as Alicia uncapped the syringe, stabbed the needle through the rubber cap of the bottle and sucked up ten milliliters of industrial-strength adrenal blocker. “If your ritual works, I’m just getting a head start on the rest of my get-out-of-Hell-free life, right? And if it doesn’t, it won’t matter.” Her eyes locked with Alicia’s. “If it doesn’t work on me, I want your word you won’t do anything to Nita.
Alicia’s mouth firmed. “It’ll work.”
She jabbed the needle in, none too gently. It would only take a few minutes for the drug to kick in, Addie knew. Vicki scrunched her eyes shut and whimpered, leaning into her father’s shoulder. A muscle in Spike’s jaw twitched as he watched, and the look in his eyes wasn’t one Addie ever wanted to see turned on her.
Buffy didn’t make a sound. After a minute Alicia undid her wrist restraints, turned half away, and whirled back, throwing a punch straight at Buffy’s face. The eldest Slayer flung her arm up in an automatic block, but Alicia’s fist slammed through her too-slow, too-weak defense and right into her jaw. Buffy staggered backwards and managed to turn her fall into a roll – all the muscle memory of how to fight was still there, but the muscles were only human now. Wiping the blood from her split lip with the back of one hand, she got to her feet. “All right,” she said. “Let’s get this over with.”
Alicia grabbed the gym bag again and swiped the key-card for the door, hustling Buffy out into the hall. “Keep an eye on the Watchers, and don’t listen to a word they say. I’ll call as soon as I’ve tested the ritual.”
“Wait a minute,” Lauren pointed at Spike and Vicki. “What about them? These wrist things may not be strong enough to hold him for very long, so what do we do if – ”
“If he makes trouble?” Alicia patted the gym bag impatiently. “What do Slayers usually do with vampires, Laurie?”
And the door slammed shut behind her.
To Be Continued…
The final installation is in progress, and will be posted on my journal some time soon (I hope!)
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/805653.html