Author: Blinky the Tree Frog PM
Yes, this is still going. Honest. Apparently, this chapter is rather creepy. Heaven knows why people would say that.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 13 - Words: 48,507 - Reviews: 30 - Favs: 10 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 08-30-05 - Published: 03-26-03 - id: 1283137
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thanks to niannah and Erica Olson for the beta.
"But you can get no answers
And you feel no pain
And the strangest feeling
It's coming around again
Blowing in like thunder
And it's coming low
You gotta keep your head down
And take it blow by blow"
Blow by Blow - John Farnham
"What happened? What happened?"
"Is he okay?"
Dust and Andrew burst out of the basement to find that the younger Andrew was currently the focus of the entire household. Willow had him by the shoulders and was attempting a conversation, but to Dust's relief, there didn't appear to be anything immediately wrong with him other than the fact that he looked as though he'd just run the 30 second mile.
Dust's Andrew slipped out from behind him and hurried forward. "What happened?"
Willow look up at him, her face half bemused and half concerned. " I don't know. He ran down the steps so fast he nearly tripped and cracked his head open. I just caught him." She turned to her charge. "Andrew? Come on, talk to us here..."
Younger Andrew was white as a feather. "Hewasthere!"
The elder Andrew swept his eyes over his other self, checking for injuries. "He was there?"
"Tucker was there! I saw him!"
A ripple of concern passed over the gathered crowd.
Willow looked alarmed. "Tucker was in the house?"
"No! At the window! Right in front of me! He looked at me, and then he ran away!"
"Tucker was at the window? And he ran away?" The expressions on several people's faces were sliding into scepticism.
"He was! I saw him! I'm not lying!"
Willow patted him on the back hurriedly. "No one's saying you're lying, Andrew. But you are under a lot of stress..."
"He was there! He was..."
"Okay, what is going on here?" The crowd look up to find Buffy standing at the top of the steps, looking tired and unimpressed.
Andrew saw another chance to be validated. "Tucker was here. They don't trust me but I wasn't seeing things! I swear I saw him! I mean, he might be miles away now, but he was here!"
She frowned. "Okay, everyone into the living room, and let's hear what happened."
"Andrew," Buffy glared at him from the sofa where she sat with Willow and the newly awoken Spike. "Get to the point."
He pouted. "Okay, okay. I went up to Dawn's room and I just sat staring out the window for a bit. After a minute I thought I heard something from outside under the window, like something was on the trestle thing that the plants were supposed to grow on. Is trestle the right word? I'm not sure..."
"Sorry! I'm sorry! So I went up to the window to see what it was..."
His Andrew snorted slightly and murmured, "And there's a priceless idea," in a voice that could barely be heard. Dust elbowed him in the ribs and favoured him with a scowl.
"...then Tucker just popped his head right up!"
Willow nodded. "So you screamed?"
"Well, no. Not then. I was so terrified I just froze."
Buffy looked at him with faint disbelief. "You froze in front of the insane madman?"
"I was really scared, okay? I mean, he was looking right at me! And that's the weird thing! He didn't even try to get me or anything. He just kept staring at me and I kept staring at him. And then he..."
Buffy looked at him expectantly. "Then he?"
"Then he said. 'Thanks, little brother', and he dropped out of sight. Then I screamed, and ran down the stairs."
Willow raised an eyebrow. "Okay. That's strange. Assuming that this is true and not some kind of hallucination..."
"It's not a hallucination!"
"But why wouldn't he try and get you if you were right in his sights?" she said reasonably. "With only a piece of glass separating you?"
Spike looked thoughtful. "You got those magic charms you put in the walls the other day, right?"
"Those? Oh! Yes. They're more alarms than anything threatening, though. I'm... working my way up."
"He mightn't've known that though. If he just felt the magic, he could have thought that it was something more nasty. Didn't want to risk breaking the window in case there was feedback. Figured he'd be better off waiting to catch Andrew outside."
Buffy bit her lip. "Okay, that could be true. If, as you said, it's not some kind of hallucination..."
"But why did he thank me?"
Spike shrugged. "He's messing with your head. It's what your basic evil guy does. I know I did, anyway."
Buffy looked mildly irritated. "I suppose we could see if he's around the area still, if he ever was. I wish Spike could identify him by smell."
"Kinda wish that myself. It's disturbing, the whole 'lack of scent' thing"
"Maybe Willow could do some kind of spell to see if he was really there..."
"I guess I could try. I don't want to do anything too taxing, though."
"Willow, I'm sure it wouldn't be..."
"I told you he was there. Why does everyone think I'm lying?"
Dust raised a hand.
Buffy looked at him. "Yes? Dust, is it?"
He nodded. "You have checked for footprints outside the window, right?"
There was an awkward silence.
Then Buffy coughed self-consciously. "Well, obviously we were about to do that too," she said.
Willow looked sympathetic. "I think damn about covers it. It's quite tactful."
Buffy rubbed her eyes. "Y'know, I was really, really hoping that this was just another one of Andrew's stories. Not even because having the insane killer near us is bad. Just because I sincerely need the sleep."
"There's no chance that they're Dawn's footprints, right?" Willow bent down to look again. "Ah. No, not really."
"What gave it away, the size or the claw imprints?"
Dust fidgeted worriedly behind them both. "So what are we supposed to do about it? Are you going to do a search for him again?"
Buffy straightened up. "Not a full scale one, no. I'm down one vampire in daylight, and it doesn't sound like Tucker stayed around anyway. God knows what he was trying to do, but it doesn't look like he's succeeded."
"But he did say thank you..."
Willow looked thoughtful. "It's weird, yes. But it could be just like Spike said, evil head-messing. The bad guys do tend to do that a lot."
"But what if it's not?"
"If it's not." Buffy's voice brooked no argument. "Then there's not a lot we can do about it right now. You guys should go back to the house. I'll do a scan, be back in half an hour or so."
Dust opened his mouth to argue, and closed it when he saw her face. On reflection, he decided, she was probably being quite sensible. She did make a habit of that.
Both Andrews sat at the table with her looking tense and giving each other nasty glances, and Dust sat with them for all of two minutes before he couldn't stand it any more and marched determinedly back to the kitchen to try some more lunch preparation. After all, he reasoned to himself, if Andrew was going to insist on being like this, it wasn't as though Dust had to sit by and pretend that he condoned it. He was a companion, he was a partner. He wasn't a... a... lackey. Okay, the younger Andrew kept making these irritating comments... but he was young. It wasn't like he really meant what he was saying, it was just the... youngness.
Dust frowned at the sandwich steak he'd plunked onto a cutting board and then wandered over to the cutlery drawer to find a knife. Younger Andrew's shriek had caused him to drop his earlier sandwiches, so he'd decided for something slightly more challenging this time. There was still some salad left, so he figured he could add that to the... and the... the hell?
He pulled the dagger from the drawer and blinked at it. Okay. That was a little odd. Who the hell had decided that ancient ceremonial blades were appropriate cooking utensils? It looked kind of ritualistic too; what if someone accidentally summoned something hideous while they were trying to make their medium-rare-with-a-side-of-fries? Maybe he should go put it somewhe--
"Oh, you're making steak sandwiches? You can make me one too. Andrew, the little one, keeps trying to force defrosted stew on me and it's getting tiring."
He jumped and dropped the dagger back in the drawer. "Anya."
"Yes, that's me. You're a very jumpy person, you know. Or is it only around me? I haven't done anything hideous to you in the future, have I?"
He abandoned the drawer for now and smiled at her awkwardly. "Uh, no. Sorry. I'm just... I'm a little stressed out at the moment."
"Well, that's understandable; someone is trying to kill you. I've got demon assassins periodically trying to kill me too, you know. I'm finding it very nerve-racking."
"Oh, it is. Though I'm sure I'd feel much better having been fed, preferably with steak sandwiches."
He blinked. "Oh? Oh, right." He turned back to the meat. Maybe he could fry it up first and cut off the fat later. It'd be easier, and it wasn't like he was watching his weight.
Anya sat herself on one of the benches and watched his meal preparations approvingly. "You're quite good at this. I can see why Andrew would like having you around."
The bluntness was going to take some getting used to, he suspected. "Thank you? You should probably say 'Anthony' with the potentials in the next room, you know."
"They've gone all silly and giggly. I really don't think they're listening. How long have you been with him, anyway?"
"I'm not actually with..."
"Yes, yes, of course you're not." She sounded suspiciously disbelieving about this, he thought. "How long have you been wandering around with him, then?"
"Three years. Well, three and a half years, almost. I came from this little sub-dimension. You probably haven't heard of it, it's quite small. And it's not very interesting, just a lot of farmers and small villages. My village was called Scathck."
"It certainly does sound very boring," agreed Anya helpfully.
He couldn't help but grin at her. "Well, it really was. I basically begged Andrew to let me tag along with him. I just had to get out of there."
"And it's a lot more interesting with Andrew."
"It's about ten thousand times more interesting. I'm not exaggerating."
"Oh, well then." Anya smiled at him in a way that didn't quite seem sincere, and then frowned very slightly. "You must be quite close to him."
Dust looked at her suspiciously. "Look, we're really not..."
She waved a hand vaguely in the air. "No, I'm not talking about that. I was just..." Her face held the expression of someone who is trying very, very hard to be tactful, while simultaneously knowing that they are very, very bad at doing this. "You must have... talked a lot, right?"
Dust looked at her uncomprehendingly. He suspected that there was an important point that she was trying to get to, but it was completely eluding him at the moment. "Yes?"
"About all types of things. What you've been doing with your lives, in fact. That might be the type of thing you'd talk about."
"Well, yes. That is one of the things. We've talked about a lot of things."
"From the past. A lot of things from the past?"
"Yes." Anya nodded seriously. "Things that might have happened around this time in the past, even. Perhaps... a few weeks ago?"
He stared at her blankly. What was she...
Oh. Oh wait. She was talking about... She didn't think he even... Oh. Why was she... He didn't want to think about this right now. There was too much to think about right now, really important things like saving the damn world, for heaven's sake and he'd told Andrew. His Andrew. Three and a half years ago he'd told him that it didn't matter and that it was in the past and he wasn't going to bring it up and...
Except that this was the past. And it hadn't happened all that long ago, not at this point. And he'd been avoiding thinking about, deliberately pushing it to the back of his mind because, when it came right down to it he didn't want to know. He didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to admit that he might know why Andrew was acting the way he was. And Andrew shouldn't be acting the way he was, for god's sake. Andrew had been young, and he'd been stupid, and it wasn't as though he hadn't done other things with questionable morality. Dust had done things with questionable morality with him. This wasn't such a damn big deal. Dust wasn't bringing it up, and he wasn't saying anything, and he wasn't letting it affect his judgement. He damn well wasn't and why the hell was Andrew being such a...
For heaven's sake, what was the point of picking at scabs?
Dust bit his lip and looked at her tightly. "I know."
She looked slightly surprised. "Look, we are on the same wavelength here, aren't we? You do mean you know about Jona..."
"Yes I know, for god's sake. You think I wouldn't? We've been travelling together for three and a half years! I trust him, he trusts me, we tell each other this kind of thing!"
"Oh." She blinked. "Fair enough. Look, I hope you're not thinking that I'm passing judgement here. I mean, I'm responsible for quite a lot of people dying myself, I certainly wasn't trying to..."
"It was one of the first things he told me, okay? Before I even started travelling with him. He told me three and a half years ago. I practically begged him to be able to follow along and he said that he wasn't going to let me until he told me the kind of person he'd... But I told him it didn't matter. It was a stupid mistake. Everyone makes stupid mistakes. You can forgive stupid mistakes. He's a good person. He does good things. It happened in the past and it's over. That's it. Okay? Fine?" He yanked the pan off the stove and dropped the sandwich steak on a plate. It was a stupid conversation, the whole thing. It was irrelevant.
"Well, that's good then."
"Good." He buttered a piece of bread with just a little bit more force than was strictly necessary.
"I think it's really nice, actually. That you're so loyal. I mean, some people would let that type of thing get between then, but not you!"
"Right!" He applied salad. Salad was good.
"You must be great friends. I mean, I have to say, if I was in your position personally I might not be as nice about it, especially considering how much you look like him."
Dust blinked incomprehensively. "I don't look like Andrew."
She smiled reassuringly. "Oh, not Andrew, Jonathan."
"I mean, it's obvious that you're different people, but it is rather uncanny. You're both fairly short, and you've got the hair colour, and your build is about right."
"I mean, if it were me I'd find it rather creepy that I looked so much like the guy my good friend slaughtered, but obviously you've gotten beyond that. I think it's admirable." She gave him a playful punch. "More people in the world should be that tolerant; we'd all be better off!"
"I look like..."
She looked approvingly at the sandwich he'd finished making and took it from under his unprotesting hands. "Thank you for the lunch, anyway. It looks delicious. You should probably make your own now. I'm just going to go and see what the potentials are talking about. It was nice talking to you."
He stared. "Right," he said. "Nice talking to you too."
She beamed and gave him a friendly pat on the back before wandering off.
Happily, Buffy walked in and saved her from having to make the decision. She looked annoyed.
Willow tried to look sympathetic. "No luck?"
"No sign of him."
The older Andrew bit his lip. "What did he think he was doing? There must have been a reason for showing up here."
The younger one sounded distinctly sulky. "'Cause he's turned into an evil person. Duh."
Elder Andrew glowered. "There are deeper reasons out there than 'Gosh, he's evil'."
"Well of course you'd know, because you're just sooo much better than--"
"All right, stop it. Now. Both of you." Buffy glared at them until young Andrew sunk back into his chair sullenly and the elder one stood up and pretended to be very interested in Willow's laptop. "Thank you." She turned back to Willow, pointedly ignoring them both. "Look, I don't know what his deal was, but I'm getting pretty sick of just missing him. I'm going to get some sleep, and then we're going to have a meeting and discuss strategy. There's got to be something more productive we can do here."
"I could try some magic. I've been practicing, a little. There might be a tracking spell that will stick, though he's proving kind of slippery."
"And he's moving around a lot. Still, if you could see if you can find something--"
Elder Andrew's head snapped up from the laptop screen and he said sharply. "What are you researching here?"
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "If you don't mind--"
"Uh." Willow frowned and shot Buffy a placating look. Future Andrew was looking worryingly concerned. "They're descriptions of the demon corpses that Buffy and Spike found last night, the ones Tucker ate. I've been trying to find something about them. You know something--?"
The concern shifted ever so slightly to something like horror, and Willow felt cold. Andrew picked up her laptop and jabbed a finger at one of her descriptions. "This is one of the demons he ate?"
Buffy crossed her arms and looked at him steadily. "Ugly, green, brown warts and blue lips? That's it."
And for just a second, Andrew went white. Then he turned and grabbed his rucksack from the corner of the room. "Get Spike. We have to get to the school."
Buffy was incredulous. "I'm sorry, you're telling me to--?"
"We have to get to the school! Now!"
"And you're going to have to explain yourself before I'm going anywhere."
"There's no time."
"Then make some time! I'm sorry if this hasn't occurred to you, but you are not one of my best friends here and I'm not rushing into panic mode just on your say-so!"
He glowered at her for several seconds and then seemed to visibly reel himself in. "That demon," he said, "Is a Seethash. It has a wonderfully useful ability that allows it to learn the patterns of its prey. It can see history."
"People's history. Animal's history. The history of living things. All it needs to do is look at someone and it knows every prior move that person or animal has taken in their lives. Not why they did it. Not what they were thinking. Just what they did."
Willow's eyes widened. "Tucker ate this thing."
"Tucker got its abilities. And Tucker looked at him." He nodded to his younger self. "At me."
Buffy frowned. "What has this got to do with the schoo--"
"The Seal of Danzalthar." Willow looked appalled. And Buffy's eyes widened in understanding.
Andrew's voice was grim. "The Seal of Danzalthar. He knows how to open it. And if you think he's hard to fight now? You don't want to know what he's going to be like when he's chomped down on a Turok-han."