Kaleidoscope

 
 

Cordelia’s hand was starting to cramp, and her eyes were starting to blur. She’d drawn and erased what she could remember of the scribbles in the cheese more times than she could count. Every once in a while, Willow would peer over her shoulder and offer a “hmmm”, then snatch up the paper and scan it into a computer program she was working on. Cordy wasn’t sure whether the whine of the scanner or the magic shop’s cloying mixture of old books and strange herbs was getting to her more. She lowered her head to the table.

“More tea?” Willow’s voice startled her back upright. The witch’s pot was poised over her cup. The brunette sighed and shook her head, and Willow stepped back behind the shop’s counter, filling her own cup beside her terminal.

The Runes & Wicca’s main front room was spacious. After the library, Rupert had needed a place for his collection, so he’d sold his loft and opened the R & W. Though hardly any customers browsed the shelves, much less sought to buy any of the volumes, the vast array of tomes gave the shop character. Or at least more so to Cordy’s taste than the cabinets of hideous creepies that passed for spell components and talismans to Sunnydale’s bevy of Goddess worshippers. Spook factor very high on those. Yet for the most part, she had to give Willow points for the décor. Even her computer had been disguised with a dark wooden cabinet (and who knew that Xander had that kind of hidden talent?), accented with delicate crystal fetishes that were probably some sort of anti-virus wards as well as being nice to look at.

“I don’t know how much more I can draw here,” the bartender rubbed her eyes. “Or if any of these are right. Have you found anything yet?”

Willow sipped her tea. “A couple of things have turned up. Mostly the demon equivalent of ‘do not disturb’ signs so far.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be looking at some book?” Cordy frowned.

The redhead laid a hand on a thick volume on the counter. “Tascen’s Symbology. But I wanted to get your first impressions before I threw you into it.”

“This isn’t a pop quiz, Willow. You don’t have to hide the teacher’s edition from me.”

Willow smiled slightly as she carried the book over to the table. “Well, plus I wanted to try out my new computer program.”

Cordelia flipped through the pages silently for a moment or two. “You miss it, don’t you?”

Back at the terminal, Willow’s fingers clicked at the keyboard. “Miss what?”

The brunette didn’t look up. “Teaching.” The clicking stopped. After a moment, Cordy raised her head. She didn’t have to look to know that Willow was staring at the framed portrait on the wall, the one so many customers regarded wistfully as they waited as well.

She was wearing a short, flower print sundress and black, ankle-strapped heeled shoes, toes painted black to match, sitting on the stone steps at the back of a green cottage in Breaker’s Woods. She was bent forward, elbows on her knees and hands clasped beneath her chin. An old watering can was beside her, and a few fallen leaves were strewn about the steps. The half-smile on her face spoke of many mysterious things, and Cordy wasn’t sure if she was more Jenny Calendar, Computer Teacher in the picture, or Janna, beloved daughter of the Kalderash.

If only she’d gotten to finish that curse, none of this would be happening. So much wouldn’t have happened.

Rupert had taken the photo, and sometimes when Cordy looked at it she felt, looking at Miss Calendar’s expression, like she was intruding on a private moment.

Like right now. “Sorry, shouldn’t have asked,” she said, and Willow looked at her. “Bad timing.”

Willow shrugged. “No, it’s okay. There is no good timing, I guess.” She resumed her typing. “I do miss it some.”

“So why didn’t you go to Oxford? Okay, maybe overkill for getting a teaching degree, but you could have gone anywhere. Anywhere but here,” Cordelia said bitterly.

The witch kept looking at the screen, but Cordy didn’t think she was seeing it. “I… couldn’t leave him.” The brunette knew she wasn’t talking about her fiancé. “Anyway, UC Sunnydale is a good school.”

Cordelia chose not to answer that. Paging through the book in her hands, she also tried her level best not to wonder why Willow’s reason seemed both so familiar, and so fragile.

*   *   *   *   *

Oz’ cell phone trilled from the seat beside him as the van drove along the eastside strip. His lack of luck continued as Devon, his band’s new lead singer, spoke from it rather than Ripper.

“Dude…” came the greeting.

“Devon,” Oz replied. “Kind of busy.”

“S’alright. What’cha up to?”

Oz slowed with the traffic at a stoplight. He tapped the steering wheel impatiently. “Looking for a girl.”

“Alright Oz!”

The wolf rolled his eyes. “Devon. What did you need?”

“Oh, I just wanted to know if we had a set list for tomorrow’s gig.”

Oz rubbed his eyes. “We have a gig scheduled for tomorrow?”

Devon sounded aghast, which under better circumstances would have been funny. “Yeah man, at the Bronze.”

Sunday night, at the Bronze. Well, if he cancelled they’d only be disappointing like three people. But that was possibly premature. Meeting at the Bronze wasn’t too much worse than meeting at Ripper’s. Other than the complete lack of weapons or research tools. “Hey, Dev, I’m gonna have to get back to you.”

“Oh, okay. But, uhm, is there a set list?”

“Well, since I completely forgot about the gig, I’m thinking no.”

“Okay, cool. Thanks man.”

“Glad I could help. See ya.” He tossed the phone back to the passenger seat as the light changed and the traffic started forward again. He should check the Downtowner Apartments Motel next; it wasn’t too far. Assuming this wasn’t a wild goose chase.

He shouldn’t get irritated with Devon, he knew. A few years back, that was how Oz sounded. (Well, except for the repeated use of the word “dude”.) Getting excited about a gig, or finding a girl for the normal reason one found girls.

And what ever happened to the E-flat diminished ninth?

But he knew what had happened. His cousin Jordy biting him had happened. Ripper and Ethan had happened.

Veruca had happened.

It wasn’t all of the bad. When Willow and Xander had first taken him to Ripper, Oz had been a mess. Of course, so had Ripper.

Oz had known Mr. Giles casually when the man had been his school librarian. He’d also known the shy Jamaican transfer student Kendra, from a couple of his classes. He’d seen Kendra in the library almost every time he’d gone there for research (rare as that was) or to pick up something by one of his favorite existentialist writers (more often); so Oz knew when the girl had become another of Sunnydale’s mysterious deaths that the librarian had taken it hard. But then Miss Calendar, the school’s computer teacher, had been murdered, and the librarian had resigned his post. Oz figured to never see the mild-mannered Englishman again.

Actually, he’d been right. For the man that his friends had taken him to wasn’t very much like that librarian at all.

When Oz had first woken up naked in the woods outside Sunnydale, and started piecing things together, he’d first fallen into a funk. The suspicions he’d had over the years about the town began to make some sense to him. But then he realized the sort of role he’d fallen into in Sunnydale’s scheme of things, and the funk had escalated to a near panic. At last he had turned to the smartest person he knew, the somewhat nerdy but ever sweet Willow Rosenberg, a quiet but observant girl he had seen often at school. Though she’d been dating the sort of clownish Xander Harris since earlier that year, Oz somehow felt she might have some insight to the real Sunnydale, and anyway, he was getting desperate.

As luck would have it, Willow and Xander knew the town’s underbelly quite well. Still, he’d been dubious when they told him a friend named “Ripper” might be able to help him, and even more so when they’d dragged him to a seedy private dive and the leather- and T-shirt clad, chain-smoking man they were referring to. It took Oz ten minutes to even recognize Mr. Giles. He surmised that that’s what happened to you after you found your girlfriend murdered in your bed.

Yet somehow, Oz and Ripper had managed to hold one another up. And over time Oz had gotten the complete Hellmouth education with the help of the occasionally trustable Ethan Rayne, his classmate Cordelia’s “older” boyfriend Angel, and, of course, Veruca.

So now, two years later, he was using those same skills that had haunted him in those first few days to make his hometown a safer place. Not a bad thing.

It was only, he thought, pulling into the parking lot of yet another motel, that the life of an unsung hero sometimes even lost the joy of self-satisfaction. Maybe he should play the gig. It might be a good moment’s calm, amidst the coming typhoon.

*   *   *   *   *

Faith came out of the bathroom toweling her hair, wrapped in her precious fluffy robe, monogrammed with the logo of the Four Seasons in Chicago, where she and Annie had stolen a night some time back. Those people really needed better security, she smiled to herself.

B was still sound asleep in the bed where Faith had left her, twisted up within the sheet and paper-thin blanket, one leg and the opposite shoulder exposed to the room, but little else below her disheveled mane. The brunette tossed her towel on the back of the chair at the obligatory desk and bounced down on the side of the mattress, but her companion didn’t awaken as she’d hoped. So she walked two fingers up Annie’s bare thigh until the blonde extricated a hand to brush at the ticklish sensation. Faith linked her fingers with Annie’s then, and planted a series of warm kisses up Annie’s arm until she saw the eyes flutter open, and then spot her, sharing a tired smile.

Annie untangled herself enough to push up on an elbow, while Faith continued her progression up to finally plant a lingering kiss on the blonde’s lips. But then she pulled back.

“Eww, morning- and cigarette-breath,” Faith mock-frowned, and Annie swatted at her. “I used your apple shampoo again,” she ran her fingers through her hair, “I keep forgetting to buy some.”

“Typical,” Annie rolled her eyes slightly, but brushed her cheek alongside Faith’s, and breathed deeply. “But it smells nice.”

Faith popped up from the bed and began to rummage through her duffel as Annie lowered her head back to her pillow. The blonde Slayer watched as Faith dropped her robe and started to dress. “What’s got you all perky this morning?”

“Afternoon.”

“Whatever.”

“I don’t know… this town. It’s freaky,” Faith fastened her bra behind her and reached for a tank top.

“Tell me about it,” Annie concurred.

The brunette smiled at her. “And waking up with you. I missed you last night.”

Annie looked at the bedside lamp idly. “Long night.”

Faith hesitated. “Yeah, well I was worried about you,” she said at last.

The blonde met her eyes. “You know me…” she forced a smile, “five by five.”

Faith looked away, then shook herself. She rummaged again for some makeup. “Well, you know, strange town,” she headed for the bathroom, leaving the door open to keep talking as she parked in front of the mirror. “Literally.” She did a quick eval in the mirror before applying anything. “So, any lead on the bartender’s boyfriend?”

“Not really. Nothing… substantial. You?”

“Nope. But there was definitely something going on with my guy.”

Annie cocked her head. “How do you mean?”

“Well, for one thing? If he was looking for us like we thought, he was doing it in some weird places. Like, he kept traipsing through cemeteries and stuff.”

Annie sat up again. “I’d give that a thoughtful ‘hmm’ if that wasn’t the place to find us on a normal night.”

Faith stuck her head back into the room. “Or he lives there.” She disappeared again. “He also went down into the sewers.”

“So you’re thinking vampire?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe something else. I did have the feeling he knew I was following him, though.”

“Faith?” Annie’s voice was worried.

The brunette came back out of the bathroom. “Well maybe not me, but he thought something was on his tail. Then there was this time when he just jumps over this nine foot iron fence, like it was nothing… like he was on springs or something.” She tossed her supplies back into her bag. “I didn’t get a vamp vibe, but these guys aren’t human.”

Annie smiled inwardly. “Mine was.”

Faith looked up at her tone. “Excuse me?”

The blonde looked at her. “Hmm?”

Faith put her hands to her hips. “Mr. Buddy with Vampires, and you sleep with him?”

“I didn’t say that.”

The younger Slayer snorted. “You didn’t have to.”

Annie looked away, sighing.

Faith shook her head. “Great. That’s just great. I waited up half the night for you.”

“Faith, it wasn’t anything… it was just—”

The other girl held up her hand. “Save it.” She looked away for a moment. “Look, this isn’t a jealousy thing, you know that.”

“So what is it?”

“You said recon only, and then you’re getting horizontal with this guy.”

Annie shrugged, not understanding.

Faith’s voice was hard. “Last night you’re totally paranoid about this place. In front of me. We split up, and suddenly it’s nothing.”

“It wasn’t nothing—”

“You keep protecting me.”

Annie stared at her. “What?”

“You heard me. So we ran into some vampires, so what? This place is like a hundred other towns we’ve been to.”

“No, it isn’t. You just said so yourself.”

“Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop treating me like a kid. I’m eighteen.”

Annie pushed back against the headboard. “Oh, yeah, you’re eighteen, you know the world.”

“I seem to remember bringing you back from the dead, Annie.”

“Yeah, I was there.”

“So, what,” Faith shrugged angrily, “I can be trusted with your life, but not with mine?”

The blonde tapped her temple. “Think, Faith! This guy was looking for you in a cemetery. He knows something.”

Faith was exasperated. “God, Annie, he doesn’t know anything! Listen to you, you’re paranoid! I mean, you fucked his friend, did his friend know anything?”

Annie fumed silently.

The brunette took a deep breath and tried to hold her voice steady. “We have traveled the entire way across the country, Annie. No one has followed us, no one has been looking for us besides the cops we got on our own tail.”

“You don’t know them,” the older Slayer’s voice was quiet.

Faith approached the bed. “No, but I know you. And you have this, this notion that you’re responsible for me. We blow the foster home ’cause you think someone’s after us, and I’m like, whatever your reason, I’m just happy to be out of there.”

Annie turned haunted eyes on her companion. “You don’t believe me.”

The younger girl sat on the edge of the bed. “I believe in vampires. I know you knew about them somehow, but you won’t tell me how. I’ve gotten little bits and pieces, but you keep everything you can from me. We’ve come three thousand miles, B, and I don’t know shit about who it is you think is chasing us.”

“We’ve had this discussion. I— I want to keep you safe.”

“From what, B? I can’t be safe from something I don’t know about.” She raised her hands. “The best I can do is pretend this Council of yours doesn’t exist.”

Annie’s voice almost trembled. “You can’t…”

“Can’t I? All I need to know is how to kill vampires and demons, right?” She stood and shrugged. “So far, so good. I’m still alive. Maybe there is nobody. Maybe knowing about vampires just made you crazy.”

“Crazy?” the blonde’s eyes narrowed, and she tossed off the covers. “You think I’m crazy?” Her arm whipped out and grabbed a metal lamp stand beside the bed. “Is this crazy?” She stood and picked it up, then bent it in half easily. “If I’m talking about nothing, how’d I do that?”

Faith took it from her hands and straightened it back out. “I wish I knew, Annie. I wish I knew how we can do that, but you won’t tell me.” She threw the lamp down. “What am I supposed to think?”

Annie took a deep breath to regain her composure. She reached out a hand. “Faith…”

“Don’t Faith me!” the brunette recoiled. “I’m not a fucking kid! God, haven’t we been through enough together? Just talk to me.”

Her companion looked at her. “I—”

Faith waited, hoping.

“I can’t,” Annie sank to the edge of the bed once more.

Faith snorted. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I didn’t think so.” She grabbed up her jacket.

“Where are you going?” Annie asked apprehensively.

“Out,” the younger woman stated flatly. “Patrol.” She scooped her shoes from the floor, not bothering to put them on before she headed for the door. “Maybe find a Mr. Happy and not do recon on him first.”

“Don’t go.”

“I can handle it.” And she slammed the door behind her.

*   *   *   *   *

The sun was slanting strongly across Rupert’s desk as he came back into his room. It shone like a spotlight on the journal still out from yesterday, the one she’d almost read before both of them got… distracted.

He tossed his helmet on the bed as usual, then pulled out the chair and sat. The thought that had flitted through his mind this morning had been niggling him as he prowled the motels. When it finally took root, he had to return here and investigate. Anyway, he needed the break.

Rupert slid his fingers along the spines of the leather volumes, marked only with start and end dates. They hesitated over the one that contained the time he was looking for, and after a moment he noticed his hand was shaking. He gathered himself and plucked the book from the shelf.

June 3, 1997

That I write these words is evidence that the disaster for which I’ve been planning, as per my previous few entries here, has been averted. That is to say, the rise of the Master, the ancient vampire known in life as Heinrich Joseph Nest, has been thwarted, with, as my Council advisors would say, minimal loss of life. Given that the entire prophecy as foretold by the Pergamum Codex came to pass, I suppose I should feel lucky. But I do not feel lucky.

I don’t, in fact, give a damn about the slaying of Heinrich Nest. Neither, at this moment, do I give a damn about the survival of Sunnydale, or the sealing of the Hellmouth itself, open for a time during the circumstance.

My Slayer is dead.

Even that is not fair to say. Her name was Kendra. Kendra is dead.

The Council will frown on the previous two paragraphs; they see the Slayer as an icon, a tool. “My” Slayer is a foreign idea to them, and I doubt half of the members even know what her name was.

Bugger them.

Kendra descended into the buried church that housed the Master just after sunset yesterday. He managed to drain her enough to empower himself and break the seal of the Hellmouth. Angel and young Xander brought her back to the surface, and she managed to kill Nest while the rest of our brave group held out against the other demons. Their final battle was on the school roof above the Library; it ended when she and the vampire plunged through the skylight and down to the floor. Nest was impaled and vanquished. Kendra died in my arms.

Our small service will be held tomorrow; Mr. Zabuto, Kendra’s first Watcher, will be flying in later today. We were her only family, he and I and my other young friends. She was taken from her parents almost from birth by the Council, as they are wont to do with every Slayer.

I have already spoken with Mr. Travers, in fact. He assured me the search is closing in for the next Slayer, whom they believe is located in Boston, Massachusetts. Her name is apparently Faith, though from how he said it, it seemed he was reading that from a file folder, not that such personal attention should surprise me. In any case, he seemed to wish to convince me, for a reason I cannot fathom, that the debacle prior to Kendra’s calling wouldn’t be repeated.

“Rupert?”

The ex-Watcher hurriedly brushed at his eyes. “Yes, Willow?”

“I didn’t think you’d be back from your search so soon,” the young witch said from the doorway, teapot in her hand. “Does that mean you found something?”

He cleared his throat. “Not of yet. Have you heard from Oz?”

She shook her head. “I was going to make some more tea for Cordelia and I. Would you…” her voice trailed off as she stepped further into the room. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” he said, but his voice betrayed him. “I’m fine,” he turned his head away, trying to focus on the passage to make his point. “I’d love some tea,” he said.

Yet it seems the Council is as far from properly organized now as when they assigned me some months ago. They have assigned a neophyte Watcher named Wesley Wyndham-Pryce to this undiscovered Faith. Privately I believe this is because they suspect she won’t last very long, untrained even until her calling. No need to waste a proper Watcher on a lost cause. Once I read the Codex, my own suspicions became that this is why Kendra was reassigned to me from Mr. Zabuto. Her death was inevitable and very likely soon, and the “lost Watcher”, as I’ve been called behind my back, was sufficient for that. Though this had crossed my mind many times before, I had always hoped to outdo the Council’s expectations. But I did not. In the end, I failed my dear little girl.

He heard the clink of the teapot on the desk. From the corner of his watery eyes, he saw her kneel down beside his chair.

Mr. Travers said I was to return to England after I’d put my affairs here to rest, but I cannot imagine fulfilling any task they might set for me back home. I can’t quite wrap my mind around anything at all at the moment, but for this blinding grief. Is this how all Watchers feel, if they are so unfortunate as to outlive their Slayers? Did Dr. Mitsuda grieve like this for Hiroko? Herr Klein for Greta Braiden? Mr. Merrick for young Buffy Anne, only a trainee, in those last moments for both?

Willow took his hand, and he felt the tears slip down his cheeks. Rupert looked at last into those liquid eyes, then lost himself in sobs as she wrapped her arms around his waist in comfort. And they were like that for a long time, neither saying a word, even as the tears dried, and the light faded from the window, his eyes staring into space, her head atop his knee.

*   *   *   *   *

Annie sat on the bed, back against the headboard, staring at the sun-framed curtains on the window. She wanted to get up and follow Faith. Faith couldn’t understand what they were up against. To someone like her, fate didn’t exist. You made your choices, and your life went a certain way.

But Annie knew that was a lie. You only thought you had choices. Fate was a hungry animal, and whichever way you turned, you were still bound to end up in its mouth.

Some part of her still thought like Faith, though. Maybe, she hoped, you could outrun the animal. You had to, or else you might as well sit down and let it eat you. So they hopped train after train, always moving. Annie wanted to go out and track Faith down, argue with her on the way out of town, but going, nonetheless. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to climb off the bed.

She covered her eyes. Then opened them again at the whispering. At first she thought it was from the next room, through the wall behind her head. But when she listened again she couldn’t place it.

Annie checked the clock radio without success, and the television was off. She heard a scraping. High pitched, like… fingernails on glass.

Swinging her legs to the floor, she rose and, drawing on Faith’s robe, started for the window. The curtains were dark now. She shook her head; she must have dozed off for a little while. The noise was now a scratching, like a dog pawing at the door. Probably the guard dog the manager kept.

She continued towards the window. The whispering was definitely from outside. Must be the manager come to bug them about staying the extra day. She slipped her hand behind the curtain to push it aside, and her palm was suddenly cold. Annie pulled it back, flexing her fingers. She clenched a fist and blew into it to warm her hand, and could see her breath. The room was like ice.

Annie hugged herself in the robe, and pushed the curtain back. She thought she saw a woman in the dark outside, caught a glimpse of dark hair just at the edge of the pool of light spilling from behind her through the window.

She started at a pounding on the door. Peering around the curtain, though, she could see nothing. The blonde Slayer stepped over and peered through the peephole. Again, nothing. She sank back from her tiptoes and puzzled.

Another knock.

Annie slipped the chain on the door and cracked it open. Faith stood outside.

“Forget your key?” Annie asked, opening the door wide.

The brunette stood there. “Something like that,” she said.

Annie left the door ajar and headed back for the bed. She needed to get a blanket against this cold.

“Can I come in?” Faith said.

Annie froze, her back to the door. “It’s open, right?” she said.

“Can I come in?” Faith repeated.

Jaw trembling, Annie turned around very slowly. The other woman looked at her blankly. “Let me in, Luv,” came a voice that was not Faith’s. Annie shook her head, tears spilling down her cheeks.

The girl backed away from the door, backed into the darkness. “Help me…” she said, “kill me…”

Annie clenched her fists, then dove for the stake on the nightstand. She ran out the door.

The figure was gone. Then, to her right, she heard a deep, dangerous snarl. Not a vampire’s growl, but like an angry dog’s. She backed away. Something prowled forward, into the light. It was not a dog. It was bigger.

She heard a laugh from behind her, farther along the motel front. She eyed the room’s door, judging how fast she could move, but the door was closed. She didn’t have the key.

The creature growled again, poised, watching her. Saliva dripped from its mouth. She felt something brush her from behind, and started. The creature bared its teeth, and Annie turned and sprinted for the corner of the motel. The office was that way, if she could make it. The beast pounced—

—and Annie rounded the corner into a giant chamber. Torches burned all around her, but at the room’s far end danced a column of lights beneath a crystal chandelier. All about was silence.

Annie turned back around, but before her was only darkness. She could feel eyes upon her, but see nothing.

“Annie…” came Faith’s voice.

She turned back around once more, and all about her now were demons, fighting with people she didn’t recognize. But she couldn’t hear them. She walked forward, towards the column of light, but no one noticed her. Past the column was an arc of mirrors. She thought she saw Faith within them, and hurried forward to them. Annie looked about for the Faith that had cast the reflection, but didn’t see her.

Suddenly Ripper was beside her. “I need you…” he said, then turned back to fight a scaly yellow demon with horns.

Around and around she looked, then heard Faith’s voice again. “Help me.”

Annie looked up, mirrors at her back, and saw her companion to the right of the column. Faith was pointing a crossbow right at her. Before Annie could duck, the wolf-beast leapt from the darkness onto Faith’s back. Annie tried to move, tried to run to Faith, but couldn’t.

“She was pretty,” came a whisper from nowhere, “such a pity.”

The mirror shattered behind her, and two hands grabbed Annie’s shoulders, as a dark-haired vampire lowered her fangs to Annie’s neck and bit her.

Annie sat up from the bed, soaked in sweat. The clock read past seven; the curtains were dark. She jumped from the bed and started for her clothes.

She had to find Faith.

 

VI: Memories