Oh, yeah, and Joss owns Buffy and Co. I own Hunter, Trevor, Tobin, Kari, Julia, Mary, and everyone else you don't recognize.
Dedication: Huge thanks to Petronius, who has proven once again that he is the Beta Reader Extroirdinare. Thanks to Stone Cold, who sent me letters filled with great Angel-insults. Thanks to my Official Nagger, Jai, whom you can all thank for this part. Thanks to Sam, for such great encouragement. John and everyone else who offered advice, thanks.
And a special thank-you to Ana Banana, Bedwyr, and everyone else who sent me feedback on the previously posted parts.
Kari looked on nervously as Tobin emptied an odd assortment of supplies for the seance out of her backpack. Thirteen black candles, seven white candles, a capped Coke bottle, some Lifesavers, and an old dog-eared book.
"Tobin, maybe we should just go home." she proposed tentatively. She had gone along with some of Tobin's weirdest ideas in the past, including one particularly memorable incident involving togas, Kool-aid, and the front steps of Town Hall, but this idea sent a chill up her spine for some reason. She liked Hunter, and the idea of even pretending to raise his mother's ghost just seemed disrespectful.
"Come on, Kari, we came all the way out here, we might as well raise some spirits." said Julia cheerily as she carefully set the candles up in a circle around the tombstone. Tobin nodded absent mindedly in agreement with the blond girl, paging through the book in search of something.
Kari sent a pleading look at Mary, but the tall redhead was busy blowing her nose. Outnumbered, she submitted with ill-grace, wrinkling her nose when Julia handed her a small bundle of what looked like garlic and sage, which set poor Mary sneezing again.
"Have you gone to a doctor about that cold yet?" Kari asked her, digging around in her pockets in search of Kleenex to give her. Shaking her head, Mary stiffled another coughing fit.
"No, but if I'm not in school tomorrow don't be too surprised. Just get my assignments and give them to me when I come back." Mary croaked through a sore throat.
"Kari and Tobin will have to," answered Julia, handing Mary another wad of tissues, "I have a French paper due tomorrow that I haven't even started, so I'm going to take the day off to work on it."
At that, Kari sighed while Mary threw Julia a reproachful look. Julia had a habit of putting projects off to the absolute last minute, and if she couldn't get them done the night before, or a few times the class before, she made certain that she was absent the day it was due.
"Okay, all ready!" chirped Tobin, holding the book open.
Snuffling loudly, Mary asked, "Where did you get that book, Tobin?"
"I borrowed it from the library." Tobin said, suddenly finding the ground at her feet absolutely fascinating. Her three friends all exchanged glances. Tobin could lie to strangers flat out, or teachers, or her parents, and do it well and convincingly, but she had never been able to tell even the slightest falsehood to her friends. Needless to say, Tobin usually fled the vicinity if one of them asked her opinion on a hair style or an article of clothing.
"Borrowed?" asked Julia, just as Kari said, "What did you do now?", and Mary sneezed suspiciously.
"So the librarian doesn't know that I borrowed it, so what? I'll return it tomorrow." Tobin said defensively.
"When did you snitch it?" asked Mary, stiffling another sneeze.
"Yesterday afternoon, when I had to serve my detention for 'extreme insolence' in the library." Tobin made a disgusted face at the memory. "Stupid fascist relic Snyder," she muttered, "I bet he doesn't even know what insolence means."
"Continuing.." prompted Julia. Once Tobin started griping about something, it took her a while to stop.
Sending a knowing grin at Julia, Tobin continued. "The librarian, Mr. Hiles or whatever his name is, just told me to sit in a corner while he researched something, so I used my hour to get some homework done. Most productive detention I've had in a while."
Kari sent her an exasperated look. "Have you ever considered just keeping your mouth shut from time to time? I'm sure it would save you plenty of detentions."
Tobin laughed. They had had this conversation many times, and her answer was always the same. "But what would be the fun in that? The detention is well worth expressing my opinion." With a glance at Julia, she continued, "Anyway, after about forty minutes, he went to go look for something in the stacks, I assume a book. When my hour was up, he was still gone, and I started to leave. I happened to pass by the table he had been working at and-"
"One of the books just fell into your backpack without you even noticing it?" Kari asked teasingly. "Let me guess, you waited until the moment the librarian left the room, then you bolted over to the table to satisfy your curiosity. Seeing an interesting book, you grabbed it and high-tailed it out of there."
Tobin paused a moment before saying, "That was some guess."
Three exasperated groans echoed throughout the cemetery.
"Let's just get this over with and go home." suggested Mary. Actually, it sounded more like, 'Led's dust geb dis over wid anb go homb.' Clearly her stuffy nose was getting worse. Tobin quickly explained what each was required to do, nothing major, just blowing out five candles each at a certain point and waving their little herb bundles around. Passing out packets of matches, Tobin flipped to the beginning of the ceremony and began chanting.
Sean Mona shivered in the chill of his cell as he huddled beneath the sheets. His head was pounding, his tongue was thick in his mouth, and his fingers shook as he clenched the blankets in his fists. But he was used to the physical discomfort and knew how much he could take. What he could never get used to was the betrayal of everything he was.
Three years ago, Sean had been sitting at a bar, drowning his sorrows in a mug of beer. His girlfriend Andrea had left him to find a guy with a 'real' job. Sean was the first to admit that his job as a professional clairvoyant was a bit off the beaten track, but he made money doing it and he was good at it. Besides, he was an intelligent man with a degree in political science from Yale. Another plus, he was a nice guy.
Andrea's biggest problem was that Sean was the real thing. He wasn't just someone who knew people and made lucky guesses, no, he could look at a person whom he had never met before and 'feel' what they were like and where they were headed in life. He didn't like doing that, though. It felt too much like an invasion of privacy, but there were other aspects of his power that he couldn't control. Looking at a person, he would often see a wispy outline standing behind their right shoulder. If he concentrated, he could make out what that translucent form looked like.
It was the person's past clinging to them, especially people who had influenced them. Sean could see them.
Sometimes, also, he would get a full-blown vision that left him babbling what he had seen in a desperate attempt to keep his sanity. The images would appear to his inner eye, and he would describe them as they occurred, not knowing or caring who might overhear. Afterwards, though, he never spoke of them.
He had met Andrea when he was visiting a friend in the hospital, she had been the attending nurse. And then, after an almost five-year relationship, she had just left him, and he had never seen it coming. Snorting bitterly, he had mused darkly on the fact that people paid him to look into their futures, and he couldn't even see his own. He had barely registered it when a bleached-blond man in a black leather duster had slid onto the stool next to him and ordered a beer. They had both been drinking with the steady intention of passing out, and somewhere along the way they had gotten to talking. The man introduced himself as Spike, and after Sean's seventh beer he told him his profession. They chatted about that for a while, with Spike clearly thinking that he was a complete fraud, and then Sean had done something incredibly stupid, that he would never have done if he had been even half-way sober.
He had looked over Spike's shoulder, and told him what he saw.
As he described the dark-haired woman he saw there, Spike's eyes widened. Immediately Spike had gotten off of the stool, and told Sean that he would give him a ride home. Sean had been too out of it to protest, or even to remember that Spike had no idea where he lived, and had passed out in Spike's car. When he woke up, he was lying in this windowless cell, with its cement walls and single cot, and an incredible hang-over.
Spike had walked in, then, looking unnaturally chipper for someone who had had so much to drink the night before. He had proceeded to tell Sean just how unnatural he was. Sean later had to admit to himself that if he had been sober when he met Spike, he probably would've guessed that there was something very strange about him, but that he never would've figured he was a vampire.
For three years Sean had never left this room, his food and necessities were taken care of by one of Spike's lackeys who was always posted at his door. He soon learned that his whole job was to wait for visions to hit him, and tell them to either Spike or whatever lackey was currently on 'Sean Duty'. He had nearly gone insane with boredom before Spike had started giving him newspapers to read, and sometimes providing him with books. For the first few months, Sean had spent most of his time trying to escape, but after a few demonstrations of what would happen if he tried again, he had settled back to his fate.
For some reason, Spike seemed to like him, or as much as the vampire liked anyone. Some nights when he was bored or in need of company, he would visit Sean and they would both get drunk and talk until the early hours of the morning. Sean hated Spike for taking away his freedom, but the hours of solitude would wear on him until he was desperate for any company, even if it was from his captor. From those talks, Sean had gotten a general understanding of the town his cell was located in. It was called Sunnydale, and it was situated over a mystical convergence called the Hellmouth. It was the presence of the Hellmouth that really affected Sean, since that was what seemed to trigger his visions more often.
Tonight, he was still recovering from a hang-over brought on by another visit from Spike, where they had played poker and gotten drunk. Despite the fact that Sean's position was far from as bad as it could be, he still found himself drinking a great deal to stave of depression. One of his greatest regrets was one of the things that he had hardly noticed or cared about when he was free: the sun. It had been three years since he had seen the sunlight, and he was amazed at how much he missed it. The dark tan that had contrasted so much with his light blond hair and gray eyes had faded, leaving his skin as pale as that of the vampires around him.
He considered suicide as a way to escape, but rejected the idea long ago for three reasons. First, a vampire was always watching him. Second, Spike had promised to turn him into a mindless minion if he even tried to kill himself. And third, he simply loved life too much to try to end it.
Rolling onto his side to reach for a glass of water, Sean stopped when he felt the familiar rushing sensation that always heralded the beginning of a vision. Groaning, he pressed the heels of his hands to his forehead as it began. Looking up with his rapidly dimming sight, he saw the vampire on duty place a recorder to catch every word he said before running off to tell Spike.
Clenching his blanket tighter, he watched the vision unfold before him. He could hear the pounding of feet as someone ran in, but by that time he was lost in what he saw. He began to tell what he saw, not even aware that he was speaking aloud.
"A graveyard....night...four girls...young...probably in high school...two have dark hair....one has blond hair...the last has long red braids...they're standing in a circle around a tombstone...holding candles...one is chanting something....a book...the tombstone has a name...a name....Summers....Summers-Harris..."
At that name, Spike's eyes became bright and intense as he gripped the back of the chair he was leaning against. The tension of his grip splintered the back as he watched the thirty-year-old human intently, but he didn't even notice.
"...blue light...she's coming...she's coming back at their call.." Sean trailed off, lying back limply on the bed. Spike turned to his minions, his eyes gleaming with his fervor.
"Go to the graveyard and bring those girls back here. Alive and unharmed." Looking carefully at their faces to make sure that they understood, he barked, "GO!" They went, nearly tripping over each other in their haste, knowing that their unlives depended on rounding up four specific girls based on the vague description given to them by Sean.
Turning back to Sean, Spike was surprised to notice that his light gray eyes had darkened until they were almost black, and he was apparently caught in the throes of a trance. When Sean spoke again, his voice had changed, losing all traces of its light Boston accent. Instead, it was slow and stately, a voice of prophesy.
"For know ye this, when the wolf shall mate with the bitch shall come from them the Hunter. And he will have the strengths of both, for he shall be half of the wolf and half of the bitch. And when he has passed his childhood, then shall both return to guard their pup from the dangers of an enemy from the past. And the Companions shall be there, and so shall the new Companions be there. Look ye well, and guard the Hunter well, for it shall come that he shall stand alone against the Darkness."
Sean's eyes closed, and his head fell back against the pillow, leaving Spike to ponder his words alone.
The radiant figure strode through the vast grey hallways, lit only by an endless twilight. Reaching its destination, the figure became aware of three shadows across the path. Turning eyes outward, instead of inward, the shadows took on form and substance, of the living beings that they had been, three young women, two with dark hair, one with golden. Their faces were troubled.
"Children," said the radiant figure.
The first woman merely murmured her name, hiding her face. She had been here many years, but her ties to the world remained. The second said her name firmly, looking up at the figure quietly. This woman had been here for almost eighteen years, and only one link to the living remained for her. The third woman lifted her face proudly, stating her name with a ring of challenge.
"Buffy Summers." This woman's link to the life she left behind was strong, and manifold. It was on her behalf that the figure had come.
"What may I do for you, Buffy?" the radiant figure asked, looking closer at the petite blond. She wore in death the clothing she had worn in life, dark pants and shirt, a leather jacket, and a silver cross around her neck. Her wide green eyes radiated both respect and defiance at the same time.
"I am being called." she said simply, but with a multitude of emotions mixed up in that single statement, hope and fear among them.
"Children at play." the figure explained gently. "But why would you go? You left the world behind eight years ago."
"My child is in danger. My loved ones are in danger. Their children are in danger. How could you ask me to abandon them? Especially now...." she said softly.
"You will see them - through the eyes of God. Submit yourself to His will, and trust in His wisdom."
Buffy shook her head slowly.
The radiant figure was stern. "Would you tamper with their freedom of choice? With their free will?"
"Why not?" she asked bitterly. "You're doing it! Throughout my life I was controlled by you, and now you seek to draw in my son!"
"No," the figure said gently, "you were made the Slayer, but all choices were your own. Your son will make his own choices, and those with him will help him. Trust that he will make the right choices."
Mutely, Buffy again shook her head.
"You defy us then." The figure did not make this statement in anger, but in sorrow.
"I will do what I think is best. That is my free choice."
"This is true. We may not stop you. But know this, Slayer. If once you leave our presence, the Mind of God will be closed to you. You will not see with our clarity. And if you cross over into the physical dimension, if you attempt to physically alter or change that which was meant to be, you will be damned. You will not be permitted to return here, except by a path that is long and difficult and filled with pain. Many are those who have perished on it, to live in dreadful torment and agony, bereft of all hope of comfort, peace, and redemption. That is the fate you face. And you face it alone."
The path opened up at her feet. Buffy looked down at it, and her soul shrank back at the sight. But she thought again of her son, and drew herself up to look at the figure unflinchingly.
"It is your choice," admonished the radiant figure. "But beware that if you tamper with what you do not understand, you may do irreparable damage. And if you do, you will be punished."
She thought long moments. Then "So be it," she said, and left, leaving the two dark haired women to stand silently by the figure.
Kari shoved her hands into her pockets and tried to huddle further into her worn jacket as the temperature in the graveyard seemed to plummet. Julia and Mary were echoing her movements, despite the fact that not even ten minutes ago the night had felt comfortably warm. Tobin's voice was calm and measured as she read the foreign words of the spell, and at some points during the reading her expressive voice took on an almost sarcastic lilt. Watching her friend's obvious amusement at their reactions, Kari made a mental note to get back at her later. She watched as the candle flames began to spark higher and higher until they seemed almost to leap off of the candle wicks themselves, and then abruptly extinguished themselves as Tobin slammed the cover of the book shut with a sharp smacking sound that made Mary jump.
"All done!" she said cheerfully, ignoring the expressions on her friends faces as she began to gather up her supplies, stuffing them carelessly into her backpack. Kari opened her mouth to comment, but her words died on her tongue as she saw a soft blue glow at the center of their circle. From the strangled sounds coming from the others, she knew that they also saw it as it grew in intensity until she had to squint, holding up a hand to partially shield her eyes. For an instant, Kari almost thought that she could see the figure of a woman, but as suddenly as the light had appeared, it was gone, leaving the girls blinking and trying to readjust their eyes to the darkness of the cemetery.
"Ooh, group hallucination." Tobin said, to all appearances unimpressed by their close encounter of the second kind. But despite her devil-may-care attitude, Tobin was just as eager as the others to leave the graveyard, and the pace Julia set was just a few strides short of a sprint. While Julia was an excellent runner, even the slowest of the girls were no more than a few steps behind her when they exited the south gate of the cemetery.
Gasping hard, they all spent a moment of simply leaning against Tobin's car, getting their breath back. By unspoken agreement, no one mentioned the light, or even what they had been doing there in the first place. Julia was the first to recover, and with a quick wave to the others began to walk in the direction of her house.
"Wait," called Tobin, "my car is right here, I could give you a lift home." With a grin, the dark haired girl spun her keys around in her hand.
With a guarded expression on her face, Julia turned back. "No offense," she said, "but I'll get home faster if I start walking now, and I'll also have the added bonus of getting there in one piece."
Wrinkling her nose at her, Tobin turned to the others. "Well, I guess it's just the three of us then."
"Actually," Mary said, "I'm with Julia on this one. See you later." Walking quickly to catch up with the other member of their foursome, the red-head left them.
Tobin gave a martyred sigh, and turned to Kari with a raised eyebrow. Kari looked at her friend hopelessly.
"Did you fix it this time?" she asked Tobin.
"Of course!" Tobin responded, looking rather hurt at her friend's lack of faith.
"Just get me home alive, that's all I ask." Kari said, opening the passenger side door.
Tobin laughed lightly as she perched herself in the driver's seat. "Don't you trust me?"
"Of course." Kari said quickly. "It's the car that worries me."
And that was true. Tobin's car was an '88 Jeep that had seen better days when her father had been a teenager. It had the disconcerting habit of overheating at inconvenient times, to the point where Tobin kept a bucket of water and a jug of antifreeze in the back seat to cool it down with. The car had once had a paint job of a strong steel-gray, but it had faded over the years to the point where it was white in places. The Jeep always spent every weekend in Tobin's driveway being tinkered on by any one of her five brothers and their numerous friends, and it was a point of fact that the battery was held together by solid rust. Tobin was one of the few people who owned a standard shift car these days, and she sometimes had to scour antique car shows for spare parts. The past three days had been punctuated with rather spectacular Jeep breakdowns, which had left everyone but Kari and Tobin terrified to be within ten feet of it, much less inside it. On the bright side, Tobin had been quick to point out, that meant that Kari always got to ride shotgun.
Climbing in, Kari lowered herself carefully into the seat, sweeping aside old McDonolds containers to make room for herself.
"What do you want?" Oz asked coldly.
"I need some answers." Angel said, getting a strong sense of deja vu as he found himself standing on a front stoop like an unwanted stray for the second time that evening.
"Well, that's a shame. Have a nice afterlife." Oz began to close the door, but was stopped when Willow squeezed his hand.
"Answers about what?" she asked, swallowing the terror that had gripped her from the moment she had seen Angel's darkly handsome face.
"A lot of things, but mostly about the boy." Angel replied, noting Willow's loss of color at his words, and how Oz's expression became even colder. "Interesting that he is alive, after all, I was told that he was dead."
"Why don't you do us all a favor and take a walk in the sunlight?" Oz said harshly. "Haven't you done enough to that boy? The best thing you could do for him would be to never let him even suspect that you exist." For the second time, Oz began to close the door, and this time Willow made no move to stop him.
"Maybe, maybe not." Angel interrupted. "But I'm not the only one who knows about him. Somehow Spike knows, and apparently he wants the boy for a ritual of resuscitation."
Willow's eyes widened in fear and understanding. "The prophesy..." she murmered softly, but Angel's vampiric hearing caught the words easily.
"So you know about it? I thought Giles was the only one. Xander was pretty surprised to learn that it even existed."
"I helped him translate it, and told Oz about it." Willow spoke reluctantly. The prophesy had haunted her nightmares for years, but as the children had grown older her fear had lessened as the events of the past grew even more distant. Her thoughts snapped back to the present, and her voice took on a cutting note as she remembered that the cause of so much of their pain was standing in front of her.
"Xander was dealing with enough at the time, we didn't want him to have to deal with that too."
Angel flinched at her words, but refused to back down. "I need to hear everything you know. Hunt...the boy," Angel stumbled over Hunter's name, finding himself unable to say it, "was attacked by two of Spike's men tonight. I happened to be walking by at the time, and stopped them. The boy was unconscious, so I took him home. But Spike won't give up easily, and I need to know what's going on so that I can stop him."
Willow and Oz exchanged a long look, both struggling inwardly. They loved Hunter as much as their own sons, but the thought of Angel having a free pass to their home sent chills up their spines. Finally, Oz tightened his grip on Scooby's collar and muttered, "Come in."
As Angel stepped into the house, Willow found herself praying desperately that they wouldn't regret the action. To distract herself, she asked quickly, "What do you want to know?" The sooner she told him, the sooner he would leave.
Turning, Angel looked at the couple with burning eyes. "Everything that happened after Buffy's twentieth birthday."
Julia watched as the Jeep drove off, noting absently that Tobin would need to add some more duct tape to the back bumper soon. She and Mary had just started walking when they heard a desperate cry of, "Help!" behind them. Spinning around, they saw a man in a dark blazer trying to help a thin woman who was apparently fainting. The helpless and frightened expression on the man's face convinced them that the woman was in real trouble, and they both ran over, mentally running over what they remembered from a first aid class that they had taken together in Freshman year.
Reaching the couple, Mary began to gently lower the woman to the ground, while Julia pulled out her cel-phone in case they needed to call an ambulance. Pressing her fingers to the woman's neck, Mary felt for a pulse, and froze with a jolt of fear when she couldn't find one. Glancing up at the man, she was shocked to see him punch Julia visciously, knocking her out immediately. Mary started to jump up, but found her wrist caught in an iron grip. Looking down, she was shocked out of several year's growth when she saw the woman staring up at her with a cold grin as her other hand came speeding up to meet Mary's face.
Her last thought before unconsciousness claimed her was that she should have risked a ride in Tobin's car.