Title: Shadows of Winter
Author: Robyn the Snowshoe Hare
"Mom, I'm home!" the words echoed through the small apartment as the handsome teenager walked through the door. With a casual movement that was so habital that it probably done unconsciously, he tossed his bookbag onto the floor, his jacket over a chair, and his keys onto a small endtable. Running a hand through his windtossed brown hair, he bent down to untie his shoelaces, whistling absently. Kicking his sneakers into a corner, he suddenly froze as his eye caught at the sight of a long stain of red on the white door. Moving slowly, he tentatively placed two fingers on the smear, noting in horror that it was fresh blood.
"MOM!" he called frantically. Glancing down, he saw several red puddles on the rug. Following the trail, he ran into his mother's bedroom, where he found her, lying on the floor beside her bed.
"Oh, God..." he gasped. Dropping to his knees, he stared down at his mother. He fought down the urge to vomit as he looked at her. There was blood everywhere, and there was a knife embedded in his mother's stomach. Numerous other cuts could be seen on her arms, and one cut ran across the left side of her face, missing her eye by only a hair's breath.
In a sudden, almost convulsive movement, he reached onto her nightstand and grabbed the phone. It took him two tries for his shaking fingers to dial out the number, but finally he managed to tell the operator his address, and give her a basic description of his mother's wounds. Dropping the phone lifelessly back into its cradle, he reached out and gently took her hand. He gasped when her eyes opened, and she gave his hand a weak squeeze.
"Mom, who did this?" he whispered, smoothing her long blond hair, now matted with blood, out of her face. Her mouth opened, and she whispered something, too low for him to hear. Leaning closer, he listened closely as his mother murmered softly, almost choking on her own blood.
"Um..brae...th..." having said that, she slumped back.
"Mom? Mom!" the boy shouted in a torn voice. "Don't leave me, you can't leave me! You have to hold on, the ambulance will be here soon. You can't die!" sobs shuddered through him, and he clutched her to him, as if by will alone he could keep death at bay.
Looking up at him through her rapidly clouding vision, his mother whispered again, and only through is acute hearing could the boy understand her words.
"I....love...you...Jared..." shaking his head desperately, the boy gripped her hand. As his mother's hand slowly relaxed, he felt something drop into his own. Looking down, he saw an intricately carved stone, the size of a swallow's egg, covered in her blood.
She said something, but all he could make out were the words, "....guard...it..."
"What do you mean? Mom? You're going to be fine! You can't die!"
"Swear..." his mother whispered, with a strange urgency. In the distance, he could hear the faint scream of an ambulance.
"Yes, I swear, damn it! Just hold on! They're almost here!"
The female paramedic looked sadly at the young teenager. His mother had been pronounced dead upon arrival, and it had taken two of the largest hospital security guards to make the boy leave her. Now, he sat slumped in a plastic chair, where a sypathetic nurse had wrapped him in a blanket and given him a cup of tea. She placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder as the RN, a harried man in his late 50's, asked him questions.
"Name of deceased?" he asked in clipped, impersonal tones.
"Anne Winter." the boy said in a dull, emotionless voice. Clearly he was entering into shock.
"Relationship to deceased?"
"She is...was...my mother." the look of pain on the boy's face tore at the paramedic's heart, and after the RN had bustled off, she knelt down in front of him.
"Where is your father?" she asked gently.
"I don't have one." he answered her grimly.
"Do you have any family?"
"Just my mom."
"Is there anyone who can take care of you for a few days?"
"Yeah, I called my mom's friend Laura Todd." as the boy wiped his face with one hand, the paramedic noted that the boy was covered in dried blood. Noting the empty look on his face, she prompted him to continue talking.
"Is she a close friend?"
"Yeah, they co-own a diner." The boy looked blankly at the floor, and his voice was dull as he spoke. "Laura is my godmother, because she was my mom's first friend when she came to the city."
The paramedic looked up as a woman in her late forties ran up. Slightly overweight, she had short brown hair that bounced around her face in curly locks. She wore a brown overcoat that had clearly been thrown on in a hurry, and her homely face was a mask of worry.
"Jared? Honey?" she asked anxiously. Jared flung himself into her arms, sobbing into her shoulder. He was taller than her by easily a foot, but he crumpled into her arms like a small child. Gently rocking him, the woman glaced questioningly at the paramedic.
"Laura? Laura Todd?" the paramedic asked. The woman nodded, and gave her a look that clearly asked whether her friend was alive or not. Gently, the paramedic shook her head. Laura seemed to somehow deflate, and she sank into a chair, still holding the still-crying boy. Stroking Jared's brown hair, Laura closed her eyes as silent tears slid down her cheeks. Quietly, the paramedic turned and walked to the elevator. She knew it would be days before she could forget this.
The short man walked quietly into the small hospital room, not making a sound. He paused a moment in the doorway to take in the situation, judging carefully how he should proceed. After all, this had to be handled quickly and carefully, and with as little fuss as possible.
The first thing he saw was the body of the Slayer. In a sudden fit of compassion, one of the doctors had ordered her body placed in this out-of-the-way room for an hour or so, rather than have her son's last memories of his mother be situated in the morgue. The same doctor had covered her wounds with gauze, and wiped the blood from her face, lovely even in death.
The second thing the man saw was the older woman who sat in a chair at the far side of the bed, gently running a callused and work-scarred hand over the dead woman's golden hair. Strain was clearly showing in the woman's eyes, as was a quiet desperation. The man had done his homework, and knew that this Laura Todd was in a tight spot right now. 'Laura and Anne's Place' would require all of her attention now that her partner was gone, and the coming months would probably be filled with financial difficulties, to say nothing of emotional difficulties. To add to that, Laura already had three children, and would not be able to take in the son of her best friend, especially with that child's college years looming before him, even if she was able to convince her husband to take the boy in.
At last, the man's eyes rested on the third inhabitant of the room. The teenager was sitting with his back to the door, and all the man could see was the boy's hunched over back and an unruly head of brown hair. Taking a deep breath, the man cleared his throat slightly and stepped forward.
Laura looked up immediately, and stood unsteadily with a soft, "Could we just have a few more minutes to say good-bye?"
Despite the situation, the man was amused that she had mistaken him for a member of the hospital staff. Even disregarding his loud and discordant clothing, he simply didn't have the air that unmistakably marks any member of the medical profession.
"Don't worry," he said softly and respectfully, after all, the woman lying dead certainly deserved all of his respect, and then some. "I'm not here to kick you out. Actually, I was here to pay my last respects. Anne was my sister." Mentally, the man crossed his fingers. He wished that the woman in question was there to laugh at his statement, as he had no doubt that she would've found it vastly amusing. The two people nearest to her, though, found it downright shocking. Laura looked at him with an expression of amazement, and just a bit of hurt that her friend had never told her about having a brother, and the boy was finally stirred out of his stupor to look up at the man.
The moment Jared turned around, the man knew that this was indeed who he had been looking for. The woman had hidden both herself and her son so well that he had been looking for them for five years and had only caught a few rumors about her whereabouts. Her old friends had looked for her for four years themselves, when the trail was still warm, and they hadn't found any trace of her. And even walking into the hospital room, the man had had his doubts, even when he had looked at the face of the woman who looked so much like the girl he had met just twice. But just one look at the boy washed all of the man's doubts away. For a moment he could only stare at the boy with his mouth hanging open like that of a fish. He knew he looked ridiculous, but he couldn't help it. The boy's bright green eyes were exactly like his mother's, and there was something in the way that he held his head that brought her clearly to mind, but in all other ways he clearly bore the stamp of his father. Dark brown hair hung into his eyes, and even sitting down the man could tell that he was tall. Jared's face bore a strong resemblence to his father's, and the man would bet good money that both girls and women were already paying attention to him, though the boy's deep tan was something that his father would never be able to boast, and neither did he suggest a propensity toward brooding. His frame, though clearly muscled, was more wiry than his father's had been, giving Jared a lean, predatory look.
It was when the boy opened his mouth to speak, however, that the man first began looking at him as the person he was, rather than a mixture of sire and dam.
"My mother never told me about any siblings, and I'm quite certain that that is something that would've come up sometime over the years." despite his grief, Jared's voice was steady, and very, very, suspicious. His green eyes were cool and calculating, and all of his movements had a careful grace to them. Once again, the man couldn't help but note how predatorial this boy looked. It was if he had taken every bit of poise and intimidation from the vast resources that both his mother and fathe rcould genetically offer, and then molded them into his own psyche. The man had to suppress the urge to step back, which alone amazed him. He had stood his ground against all the minions of Hell, enraged Slayers, and what did he quail and cringe back from? A teenager barely old enough to shave and about to vote for the first time!
Steadying himself, the man met the Jared's gaze calmly. "It's been years since we talked, and Anne was never one to bring up the past. My name, by the way," he continued, easing himself further into the room, "is Whistler." seeing the boy open his mouth to comment, he quickly continued with a slight smile, "Our parents had odd tastes in names."
This time it was Laura who spoke up. "Anne is a perfectly normal name." she protested mildly.
Jared smoothly joined the ocnversation before Whistler could speak, with the ease of what was obviously long practice. "Mom changed her name right before I was born. She told me what her old name was when I was about fourteen, said she needed to distance herself from everything that she had been and done." the boy raised his clear green eyes to Whistler in a clear challenge, to give them his mother's old name.
"Her name was Buffy Summers." Whistler said softly, looking gently over at the shrouded form of 'Anne Winter'. Looking back, he saw the calculating eyes of her son.
"So what do you want?" the boy asked shrewdly.
"Jared!" the woman admonished her charge sharply. "Why would you think that he has some ulterior motive in mind?"
"Because he does." the teenager said, never taking his eyes from Whistler's. "why else would he show up so suddenly? I've never met him, and you knew my mother for eighteen years and never laid eyes on him or even suspected he existed. Now," he said, his voice becoming detached, as though he were merely reading a grocery list, "he is obviously not my uncle, simply because I do not *have* an uncle. Mom never talked about her past, but she would refer to it occationally. A brother was never mentioned, or any other siblings. Add to the strangeness the fact that he shows up not even four hours after my mother is murdered, claiming to be a direct relative, my only one at this point, which would leave him as my legal guardian. It certainly is interesting, isn't it? My guess is that he's a shadow from my mother's past. Maybe one that she was trying to escape when she changed her name."
Laura looked stunned, but Whistler was inwardly applauding. Not only was Jared proving himself to be intelligent, but he was able to put all of this together even when his mother had only just been killed. He was seperating himself from his emotions, something that she had rarely been able to do, and that could either be his greatest weapon, or his greatest weakness. But in the meantime, Whistler knew that he had some explanations owed.
"You win, kiddo, I'm not your long-lost Uncle Whistler. Far from it, actually, but some documents are going to show up that prove irrevocably that I am the older brother of Buffy Summers, recently known as Anne Winter, and therefore the legal guardian of her son, the executor of her estate, and also the caretaker of her earthly remains." he paused a moment, gauging their reactions. Laura was clearly shocked silent, but Jared was biding his time, absorbing the story, repressing all reactions at Whistler's words. "Trust me on this one, though, you are far safer with me than you would be with anyone else. The nasties that killed your mother would be more than willing to make it a double funeral. In fact, they're probably already trying to arrange it. If you plan on living to see graduation day, you'd better pack up your life and ship out with me." As Laura opened her mouth to object, Whistler snapped his fingers, speaking foreign words under his breath, and she slumped back into her seat, eyes closed. Jared leapt to his feet, but Whistler explained quickly to him, "She'll be just spiffy. She just won't remember a thing apart from the fact that your estranged uncle heard the news of Anne's death while on a business trip to the city. Rushing to the hospital, he found you, and is taking you to live with him in California. No worries."
Seeing a stubborn look come into the boy's expression that he remembered all too well, Whistler quickly snapped his fingers again. Jared slumped back into the chair, fast asleep, to all appearences worn out from the recent strain. At the same time, Laura woke up. Now completely convinced that Whistler was the brother of 'Anne', and had only his 'nephew's' best interests in mind, she ran off to find a nurse to fill out the proper paperwork. Pulling out his cel-phone, Whistler began to quickly make arrangements for two plane tickets, and for movers to be sent in to the Winter apartment and ship all of their belongings to a certain house in California, which had been left vacant for almost a decade. With a last call, he arranged for the shipment of a body, for a funeral to be held, and an obituary placed in a certain local paper.
Replacing the phone in his pocket, Whistler heaved a heavy sigh as he looked sadly at the remains of one of the greatest Slayers. Even as this boy was aching for his mother, somewhere there was the spirit of a mother who would have done anything to stay with her child. Reaching out, the demon gently brushed a lock of hair from the dead woman's face. Kneeling down, he whispered a promise to her gently, not to the empty body in front of him, but to the spirit that he knew would never abandon her son.
"I'll try and protect him, Summers." he murmered. "I'll do everything They let me to keep him safe."
The dimunative man stepped back abruptly, as though embaressed by the sudden moment where his cynical shield had slid down for a brief instant. The sheets on the bed and the lapels of his jacket stirred slightly, as though moved by a gentle breeze, and the brown hair hanging in Jared's closed eyes was brushed to the side, as if smoothed by unseen hands.