Kaleidoscope

 
 

Rupert Giles scratched the stubble on his chin as he sat up in his bed, looking around the cluttered little room and trying to get his bearings. He heard movement in the kitchen just outside the door and, turning his head to the great glowing red numbers of his bedside alarm, he surmised that those noises would be Willow, brewing coffee and fixing him a small breakfast. As she always did, odd as the hour might seem.

He rolled, naked, from the bed, and pulled on a dark robe, wincing at an almost forgotten shoulder injury. Opening the bedroom door, he shuffled out into the kitchen like a zombie, arcing to the counter and the waiting cup, black, and toast, buttered, then back towards his room without stopping.

“Morning, Willow,” he mumbled without looking up.

“Evening, Rip,” she answered. “Hey, eggs before you shower, okay?”

“Sure thing,” he answered, and closed the door behind him.

Rupert kicked out the chair at his desk and sat, shoving one corner of the toast into his mouth to free a hand, with which he clicked on a lamp, and then pulled out the last leather-bound volume from a shelf above his cluttered work surface. He opened it with the one hand, and for the tenth day in a row, reached for the pen instead of the pack of cigarettes that lay there. He felt proud of himself.

He wondered yet again why he kept up this thing. Maybe because someone on the front line needed to record the beginning of the Slayerless era. Someone who actually saw the reality of it, unlike Witless Wesley, “Rogue Demon Hunter”. Besides, it was cathartic. Writing down all the horrors he and the others faced nightly allowed him to put them behind himself. Rupert glanced up at the shelf. All thirteen volumes. Behind himself.

“February 11,” he inscribed in a handwriting considerably more shaky than what adorned volume one. “Five and a half weeks until the full moon on the equinox. Still have to research what grave celebrations might be awaiting that momentous occasion.

He swallowed a mouthful of coffee, then, brow furrowed, looked at the cup. Willow must be trying a new blend. Rupert smiled. He did adore his Willow. Selflessly working the counter of their store every day, never once mentioning that the shifts they were supposed to split had gradually become the shifts he never took. Well, come the wedding he’d make it up to her. He’d a very nice nest egg saved, and since he’d first seen the ring on her finger, Rupert had planned to use it as a down payment on a little house she and Xander had been admiring.

Setting the coffee back down, he noticed writing on the side, and turned the mug curiously to read it. “Kiss the Librarian,” it said.

Numbly he reached for the cigarettes. But his hand froze as he saw where he’d placed them to discourage himself. They sat before a small, wooden picture frame, and the sparkling brown eyes of his Jenny. His hand started to shake, poised between here and there, between now and then.

He turned the picture face down on the desk, and left the cigarettes where they were. Willow had some eggs for him to eat. He could finish the journal entry later.

*   *   *   *   *

Faith was bouncing down the sidewalk alongside a park with energy to burn. She’d barely looked at the motel room, to Annie’s irritation. As long they’d been on the road, Annie could only get her companion to make the requisite safety checks — clearing paths to the exits, setting out the holy water on the nightstand, plenty of wooden furniture — about half the time. Annie had given up yelling.

Now she was trying to rush their circuit. But Annie was stubborn.

C’mon, Annie,” the brunette pleaded, walking backward three paces ahead. “There’s people waiting to dance with us.”

“Watch where you’re going,” Annie growled, drawing on her smoke. “And slow up.”

Faith exhaled, exasperated. But she waited.

Annie looked at the girl beside her as she fell into step. Her voice was cold. “You know the routine, Faith. First we sweep, then we party.”

Faith threw up her hands. “It’s a hick town, B! What’s there gonna be to sweep up?”

The blonde stopped in her tracks. Her eyes bored into her friend as she flicked away her cigarette. “Have you counted how many graveyards we’ve passed?”

Faith stood uncomfortably. She looked down at her shoes, shuffling her feet slightly. “Maybe it’s just an old town,” she said, her voice very small.

Annie couldn’t stay angry when Faith was like this. She suspected the other girl was aware of it, but her heart wanted to believe her companion ingenuous. Annie lifted a hand to Faith’s soft dark hair, smoothing it gently.

“It’s easier to take care of things up front,” she said softly. “You know that.”

Faith turned her cheek into Annie’s palm momentarily, enjoying the caress. “I know, Annie. I just wanted one last night off before we hit L.A.” Her dark eyes were liquid. “Who knows what we’re gonna find there, you know?”

Annie was very tempted by the sweet face. But looking over Faith’s shoulder, she decided it would have to wait.

“Same thing that’s right here. Behind you!”

Faith had seen Annie’s expression and her hand had already produced a stake from the back of her belt. She thrust the weapon back shoulder high without looking, and felt it connect. She held her breath against the dust cloud and turned into the combat.

Three more had apparently decided two young girls were enough to go around. Two young Slayers, however, were not what they’d prepared for.

Faith bent low and felt Annie leapfrog her into one oncoming vamp. From her crouch, Faith turned back to her right and lifted off into a helicopter spin, planting one boot after the other into the chest of a second.

She reached out a hand, which Annie grabbed, and they pulled past one another, stakes out and soon buried in the chests of the vamps that were each struggling to their feet. Annie kept rolling, coming out into an air tackle of the last demon, who’d decided running was a good strategy. They rolled through the grass, each trying for the upper hand. The vampire ended on top, locking into a choke maneuver on the smaller Slayer. It lasted about a second and a half, when his head jerked up, and he realized, in his last crumbly moment, that the upper hand wasn’t always a good thing.

Faith tucked away her stake, then reached down a hand. “Now are we ready to party?” she asked.

*   *   *   *   *

He could feel the throb of the music from the parking lot. A pulsing cacophony, louder than the growl of the bike between his legs. After the silence of Sunnydale’s streets and his half of the cemeteries, the noise was welcome.

He swung to a stop and kicked down the stand. Taking off the black helmet, he shook out his sandy hair and turned off the engine. Shoving his gloves in the pocket of his leather jacket, he flashed a toothy smile back at a pair of young lovelies, probably about Willow’s age, that had chatted him up just a few nights ago inside the Bronze.

“Hiiii, Ripper,” the taller one, a buxom blonde, called.

“Hallo, ladies,” he answered, exaggerating his accent, and they giggled.

“Do I get a dance tonight?” from the petite, curly haired brunette. Adorable. Ripper thought she looked quite like that actress on TV… Felicity something. Or maybe that was the character’s name; he didn’t really care.

“I think you need to get a permission slip for that, sweetheart,” he moved to the door, then looked back. “See you inside,” he winked.

When he stepped inside the club, Ripper saw Oz was already holding court by the billiard tables. The DJ was spinning at a bracing clip, though they were obviously setting up for a band on stage. He worked his way over towards his young friend, plucking a beer from the tray of a passing waitress, who looked angry until she recognized him, then relented.

Rip dropped his helmet and then himself onto the couch, then went to plant his booted heels onto the table amidst a cluster of bottles and glasses. The respective owners all scrambled and retrieved before his feet touched down. Beer by his side, he laced his fingers behind his head, leaning back.

“Quiet night, huh?” Oz stated, rather than really asked.

Ripper looked about at the bustling crowd. “Actually seems rather hopping.”

The younger man shook his head. “I meant…” and he gestured with a nod to outside.

The ex-Watcher agreed. “Yes, seemed so.”

“More quiet than it should be,” Oz said, and leaned back down to line up his shot.

Ripper cocked his head. “You know something?”

“Felt it.” He stroked, then stood. “Shouldn’t be quiet.”

“Have you heard anything?”

“Thought maybe you’d know.”

The older man took a long pull on his beer, then frowned. He should have lifted something imported. “Willow did say that Witless had been by. Portents of some kind.”

Oz grinned. “Where’s that respect for your superiors you’re always telling me about?”

“Elders, I said. Gotta be clear on these things.” He stretched out his arms on the back of the couch, then looked about. “Anything you might’ve heard here?”

The werewolf leaned over his table again. “Nothing new or unusual,” he said. But then Ripper saw his head come back up, like he’d sensed something.

“What?”

Oz took his shot, then looked back over his shoulder. “Door,” he said.

Ripper reflexively slipped a hand inside his jacket for the stake secured there. But what he saw made his heart pound for a different reason. The song had slowed, and they came in dancing to it. Nineteen, maybe twenty years old. Younger than he usually took seriously. Except when it had been his job to.

One was brunette, and taller. The other was blonde, and perfect. He grinned at that. Maybe not perfect, exactly, and the other was no slouch, but the shorter one captivated his gaze.

She’d be five foot three if she stretched. Her hair was full, and to the middle of her back. It was kinked, as if she’d had it in a braid until recently. She was fit, sleek of arm, and lithe. They were both fit, actually, with a light flush and sheen as if they’d been exerting themselves recently, because the night outside was cool. And she seemed, his little blonde one, to possess all the confidence in the world.

And then she looked right at him.

*   *   *   *   *

She looked right at him.

He was older than she usually took seriously. Late thirties, early forties. But though he was clearly above the average age for this club… he was also clearly above average.

Sandy brown hair, trim, well-muscled chest beneath the open leather jacket. A little chest hair curling out from beneath the scoop-necked white tee. The almost-arrogant look of owning the place.

When she spotted him, he’d been checking her out. Not that that didn’t happen a hundred times a day, but for some reason she felt the irrational need to measure up.

“Check out Mr. King of the Bar,” Faith whispered in her ear.

“Way ahead of you,” she answered.

She decided to play it cool. Then she shook her head… since when had she ever had to decide to play it cool?

Annie and Faith made their way to the dance floor, beginning a slow grind that attracted willing partners immediately. Still, the blonde Slayer kept up an intermittent eye contact with the older man.

“I like his little friend,” Faith said.

Annie took in the other one, playing pool with some wholly uninteresting third party but chatting with the man. Smallish, but solid. Wild hair a wicked black that was obviously his shade of the month. Black fingernails for that goth look, which she usually didn’t go for, but which somehow suited him well.

“Nice,” she said.

“Maybe we need to shoot some pool later,” Faith grinned.

Annie met her companion’s eyes. “Ya think?” she smiled.

*   *   *   *   *

Ripper attempted not to be obvious with his hungry stare. “You scared me for a minute there,” he said to Oz.

“Well the hair stood up on my neck,” the wolf gave a small smirk.

“Tell me you were looking at the brunette.”

“Reserving the blonde for yourself?”

“That was the idea.”

Oz leaned on his cue. “Feelin’ the need to dance later.”

“You think?” the ex-Watcher chuckled. He waved down a waitress for another beer, then caught a pair of friendly faces at the club door.

*   *   *   *   *

Angel spotted Ripper over by the pool tables, and offered a nod of greeting. His hand touched the small of Cordy’s back, and she glanced at him then followed his gaze.

“All right,” she said tersely, “I’ll talk to him.”

“No pressure,” Angel grinned.

She glared at him. “Witness me, unpressured mental girl, scheduling an appointment with the doctor of weird.” She slipped off her jacket. “After I clock in.”

“I’m gonna say hi,” the vampire told her. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

She let him kiss her, then headed towards the back room.

Angel slipped through the crowd easily, though his eyes kept scanning. He could feel something in the air, as he had at home.

“Rupert, Oz,” he greeted the others.

Oz nodded. Ripper stuck out a hand, which the vampire clasped.

“Nice to see you, Angel.”

“Likewise,” he responded, eyes still nervous.

Ripper cocked his head. “Something amiss?”

“Just a feeling,” he shook his head.

“You’re not the first tonight,” Oz said. “Plus… portents.”

“An entirely unique night in the City of Sunnydale,” Ripper commented wryly.

“Cordelia felt it too.”

“Vision?” Oz asked.

“No, just a general—” he grinned at Cordy’s color. “—sense,” he finished.

Oz sat down on the arm of the couch. “So what’s our plan?”

“Well I think we need something more substantial than a feeling to go on,” Ripper said. Then he caught their looks. “Which… means…” and finally he gave in, “…that I’ll talk to Wesley.” He took a swig of beer. “I don’t have to start now, do I?”

*   *   *   *   *

“Who’s the new hunk?” Faith asked, over the pulsing music.

“We don’t even know who the old hunks are,” Annie answered. Something about the new guy bothered her, but she couldn’t place it. “You’re not getting fickle already, are you?” she smiled.

“Nah,” Faith wrinkled her nose as if she’d caught a foul odor. “I think I saw him come in with somebody anyway.”

“Oh darn,” Annie chuckled. “You getting thirsty?”

“Getting?” Faith wiped her brow.

Annie grabbed her hand and they headed for the bar. They perched on two swivel stools and Annie swung around with her back to the counter, while Faith tried to flag down the bartender. There were two, one male and one female, but the male, who was desperately trying to head their way at Faith’s appraising smile, couldn’t get the patron he was serving to shut up. Finally the other, a startlingly pretty brunette about their own age, came their way.

“What can I get you two?” she asked.

Faith played nonchalant. “Couple of beers.”

The bartender looked them over. “…that I can actually get you two?”

Annie smiled. “How ’bout his number?” she said without looking back.

The woman followed Annie’s gaze. “Tall, dark, in the black duster? Not that either; that’s my boyfriend.”

“There’s a surprise,” Faith laughed.

Annie shook her head. “Meant the one on the couch.”

“Who, Ripper?”

Faith tilted her head. “As in ‘Jack the’?”

The bartender smiled. “Never can tell. Actually he’s a good friend of mine. Runs a magi— er, a New Age shop over on Main, near the Espresso Pump.”

Annie’s brow furrowed. “New Age shop? Doesn’t seem likely.”

Faith reached for the bowl of peanuts. “Where’s the Espresso Pump?”

The woman raised her perfectly sculpted eyebrows. “You two are new here, aren’t you?”

“Just got into town,” the dark-haired Slayer said.

“Faith…” Annie warned, shutting her up.

“Oh, where are you staying?” the bartender asked.

“Why?” Annie half-turned, her voice sharp.

“God,” the woman frowned, “just thought I’d give you directions. Or I could just call him over for you.”

*   *   *   *   *

“I’m not sure if we’re getting somewhere, or if we’re in trouble,” Oz said to Ripper from the arm of the couch.

The older man met his gaze. “What about?”

Oz nodded his head at the bar. “Cordelia is talking to our girls.”

Ripper rubbed his eyes. “Fifty-fifty, I’d say.”

Angel looked at the bar. His face was clouded. “Who are they?”

“They’re new,” Oz said.

“And they’re magnificent, aren’t they?” Ripper added with a grin.

“They’re… trouble,” Angel said quietly.

Ripper sat forward. “Meaning what, exactly?”

The vampire shook his head. “I’ve had an uneasy feeling since I walked in tonight. And they’re the reason.”

*   *   *   *   *

“No, that’s all right,” the blonde girl said. “No need to trouble yourself.”

Cordelia shrugged. “It’s no trouble, really.” She lifted a hand to gesture to Rupert, and suddenly it felt like a Rottweiler had grabbed her. She looked down at the girl’s hand around her wrist and a wave of nausea and weakness hit her, along with a blinding pain as the images crashed through her mind. She felt her knees start to buckle, but the girl held her upright.

*   *   *   *   *

Angel saw the girl grab Cordelia’s arm, and then saw the expression on his lover’s face. He started clawing through the crowd.

*   *   *   *   *

Faith saw the black-coated man, the one the bartender said was her boyfriend, start in their direction, his face a dark scowl. She started to turn towards her companion… they didn’t want any trouble. Then her eye caught the mirror behind the bar, and the uneasy feeling the man had given her before suddenly made sense. “Annie, let’s go.”

Annie was trying to hold the bartender up. “You okay?” her voice was concerned.

The other bartender started their way.

Faith tugged on Annie’s arm. “Annie… her boyfriend… has trouble shaving…” she gestured to the mirror, and the boyfriend. Or rather, not the boyfriend.

Annie’s eyes widened. She let the bartender go and turned to face the new threat, hand reaching into her jacket.

Faith grabbed her wrist. “Not in here,” she whispered harshly.

The blonde shook herself. “Right… right.” She took Faith’s hand and they headed for the door.

*   *   *   *   *

Angel slid to a stop at the bar with Ripper and Oz a step behind. “Follow them,” he ordered, and they headed for the door.

He hopped onto the bar and swung his legs over. Matt, the other bartender, was trying to hold Cordelia up. Angel slipped between them and lifted her into his arms. He carried her to the manager’s office quickly, issuing a command of “Water!” over his shoulder.

He laid her down on the couch in the office, wiping her forehead with his hand. His voice was soothing. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Rupert and Oz went after them.” He examined her wrist quickly, where the girl’s fingers had left the beginnings of bruises. “You’re okay now.”

Cordelia swallowed, looking at him through haunted eyes. “It’s not them,” her voice quivered, close to breaking. “It’s worse.” Angel met her eyes. “Much, much worse.”

*   *   *   *   *

Oz skidded from the alley into the parking lot to find nothing but two couples walking slowly towards their cars. He focused his wolf-enhanced vision into the dark beyond the lot’s lampposts as Ripper slowed up beside him.

“Bloody hell,” the older man panted. “Anything?” he asked.

Oz shook his head.

“They couldn’t be gone,” Ripper growled. “How fast could they run?”

Oz raised an eyebrow. “How long have you lived in Sunnydale?”

*   *   *   *   *

The monitors echoed loudly on the mostly empty hall of the mostly empty wing of Sunnydale Medical Center. It was a place for the hopeless and the abandoned, and few were more so than the girl in the bed. All that spoke for her was a piece of paper and a well-stocked bank account, both in the legacy of Richard Wilkins III, deceased Mayor of Sunnydale.

She’d served him well, but more, been like a daughter to him. In the end though she’d failed him, or at least those were her last conscious thoughts, before slipping off a building and into a coma. That she lived at all was a tribute to his work, his training. That he taught her how to tap into the energy of the Hellmouth that lay beneath his city.

But now she was helpless, as well as hopeless, and her very presence within the realm of the Hellmouth was, ironically, the cause. For while she lay sleeping, another force was searching for just a one as her. Indeed, the other creature thought, finding her — especially her — was a true gift.

Inside the girl’s mind was a fragmented wasteland, time passing in snatches of dreams and visions, and no way to tell the difference between. The flow of the ley lines and the energies of the Hellmouth collided in this tabula rasa, images prophetic and images profane equally abundant. Into this melange came a single voice, one soothing and powerful, more powerful than the girl herself. Unable to move, unable to fight, her mind and body too far from healed to resist, the voice, the spirit took control.

No one could hear the girl’s scream, because her body couldn’t produce one. Instead, anyone nearby, had there been such a one amidst the hopeless and abandoned, would have heard a soft chuckling, as the vampire Drusilla awoke in the body of the werewolf Veruca.

 

II: Lust at First Sight