Joanie's life changed dramatically in July of 1968, not too long after her fifteenth birthday. It wasn't something she'd ever expected, to put it mildly. Joanie was a musician, and the only wooden stick she wanted to be proficient with was a conductor's baton. Before that first fateful night, she'd never so much as hit another person in anger, not even her little brother, and the only knowledge she had of the supernatural was from movies and the weird books her neighbor Mr. Travers kept trying to get her to read. Joanie wasn't much of a reader, being more of a listener, but Mr. Travers was about twenty-five and very attractive, with an amazing accent. She read the books just to give her something to talk with him about over the backyard fence, and blushed over the way he seemed to study her from time to time. He was obviously much too old, but it was nice to have his attention.
On the fourth of July, Joanie's father took the whole family out to Compo Beach for a picnic and the fireworks show. She'd been feeling strange and bad all day, waking up from horrible nightmares to a clinging feeling of foreboding, like something evil was lurking nearby. She'd tried to ignore it in every way she could, putting Schubert on her record player and listening to the Ave Maria over and over again, painting her fingernails, even playing with Joshua. He wasn't even quite seven yet, so they didn't have much in common, but it was sometimes fun to try and teach him music or join in on one of his little-kid games. That day he'd been unusually biddable, so she'd scooped him into her lap and let him listen along with her, tracing the rhythms in the air with her fingers. The bad feeling had receded, at least for a little while, and she'd leaned in close to him and whispered, "I'll always keep you safe." She didn't know why she did that, but it seemed important and felt right. Later on in the day, when her mother forbid her from wearing her ultra-hip and maybe just a little bit too short skirt to the picnic, Joanie slammed her door so hard that the wood splintered. She didn't tell anyone, afraid she'd be grounded and miss the fireworks.
The beach was busy that evening, full of people there to watch the fireworks. Josh immediately found a couple of first-grade cronies and ran off with them to the water's edge to get filthy, while Joanie's father and mother chatted about boring things with the neighbors. Of course, the second Joanie asked to go find her own friends, she was told to go keep an eye on her brother. Life was very unfair. If her parents were going to ruin her whole evening, the least they could've done was let her wear something fashionable. It didn't help that the sinking sun brought that bad-things-are-coming feeling back a hundredfold. She trailed listlessly down the beach after the cadre of little boys and tried to ignore the prickling down her neck. The fireworks were going to start soon, they needed to get back.
Just as she was about to corral the kids, Joanie spotted movement from the corner of her eye, and the prickle was suddenly a cold shudder, almost nauseating in its intensity. Someone, some_thing_ was watching the kids from the shadows, and it looked ready to jump. Without a thought, Joanie began to run, much faster than she ever had before, silent and kicking up sand with each long stride. In a second, she'd put herself between the lurking danger and the still-oblivious children. "Who are you?" she demanded. The first firework went up at that moment, and for a second the world was bathed in light, as was the face of the thing standing in front of her, ridged and toothy and nothing human. It hissed at her, showing fangs, and suddenly an instinct much deeper than thought took over and she was fighting it. Her kicks and punches were not graceful, but they were very hard and fast. The hissing thing was knocked off-balance momentarily, but not nearly like it should've been. It closed in again, a terrible smile on its inhuman features.
"Miss Lyman, catch!" Joanie looked just in time to see a small object flying towards her, and once again instinct got the best of her. Her hand closed around it, she saw that it was a sharp wooden stick, and then she was driving it forward, directly into the heart of the monster. It let out one startled cry, and then it was gone, dissolved into the darkness. Joanie could feel something gritty blowing against her legs, and suddenly wished she'd worn pants. Her ears were ringing loudly enough to drown out the happy yells of the boys watching the fireworks, and sitting down seemed like a really good idea.
Just as her legs were starting to fold, someone caught her by the elbow and held her up. She jerked with surprise, falling back into a defensive stance until she recognized the person who'd caught her. Mr. Travers looked a lot less shocked than she was feeling, in fact he looked almost... smug? Like he'd had a theory confirmed. "Well done, Miss Lyman," he congratulated her crisply. "But you'll want to practice keeping your grip on the stake, otherwise it will turn to dust and you'll have lost your weapon." He extended his hand and proffered another wooden stick, just like the first.
Joanie stared at him. "...What?" she finally managed.
Mr. Travers cleared his throat. "Yes, well. We clearly have a great deal to talk about."
The living room was a terrible place with nobody else in it, cold in late November, boring and lonely. Josh drummed his heels against the front of the couch and listened to the conversation in the next room, even if he didn't really want to hear it. It was too loud to miss, especially with nothing else to occupy his attention. Joanie was yelling because she wanted to go out tonight, but Mama and Papa wanted her to babysit. She was too young to be going out every night anyway, and she stayed out too late, and people were going to start talking about her. Papa was yelling some, too. Joanie insisted that she had to go out tonight, it was very important, much more important than babysitting while they went out to dinner with a bunch of lawyers. Papa laughed at that and told her that if there was any more backtalk she'd be staying in and babysitting a lot more in the future. Joanie made a frustrated screamy noise, but she didn't say anything else, just went up to her room and closed the door with a carefully loud smack.
Josh looked up as his mother walked into the room. She was wearing a long dress and perfume, and looked very beautiful. "Why doesn't Joanie like me anymore?" he blurted out. Joanie didn't used to mind babysitting him, or playing with him, or talking to him. Now she never had time for anything anymore, and she didn't even want to be around him tonight.
"She still loves you," Mama assured him, taking his hands and tugging him to his feet for a hug. "She's just a young woman now, and her interests are changing. But she loves you very much, and she'll take good care of you tonight. Behave yourself now, and go to bed when she tells you, all right? There's my good boy." Josh got a kiss on the forehead and a flower-scented hug, and then Mama and Papa were gone. Bored, he began fiddling with the record player, dropping the needle in different spots and picking it up again to make the music play funny, until Joanie yelled at him to knock it off. He sulked. He was still bored.
He went upstairs and nudged his way into Joanie's bedroom without knocking. The wood made a funny sound when he pushed on the door. Joanie had changed out of her school skirt and blouse, into blue jeans and a dark sweater. She was kneeling on the floor over a funny little pile of rocks and sticks and flowers, and something was burning in a little dish that made the room smell funny. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Playing soccer," Joanie muttered without looking up. "You can't be in here, Joshie. I'm trying to do something important to keep us safe."
Josh looked around at the very secure-looking house. "Is it not safe now?" he asked, trying not to sound worried. "Can I help?" It seemed like maybe the wind was blowing harder now than it had been a few minutes ago. The house made creaky noises, and Josh suddenly wished that Joanie had won the argument and Mama and Papa had stayed home.
"I'll keep you safe," Joanie murmured distractedly, then began muttering over the pile of sticks in a language Josh didn't understand. He thought maybe it sounded a little bit like Hebrew, but not like any of the prayers he knew from shul. The little pile suddenly caught fire, burning with a strange green flame that didn't smell like smoke. He was alarmed anyway.
"Joanie, you can't make a fire on the floor! It's dangerous!" Josh danced from foot to foot, backing away from the fire but not wanting to get too far from her. "Mama says playing with fire will burn the house down!"
"Trust me kiddo, not playing with it is a lot more dangerous tonight," Joanie told him, her voice dark and flat. "Something bad is coming, and I didn't want to meet it here, but if I don't deal with it tonight, a lot of people are going to get hurt." Climbing to her feet, she went to her dresser and picked up a small, familiar bag.
Josh was scandalized. "Those are Papa's!" he insisted, even as Joanie drew the leather tefillin from the bag. "We aren't supposed to touch them!"
"I know," Joanie told him curtly, "but you haven't got any of your own yet. I just hope they work. Hold still." Something in her voice kept him from arguing further, and he just watched with wide brown eyes as Joanie secured the first tefillin around his thin arm, murmuring the prayers under her breath, fast and in English. "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who has hallowed us by Thy commandments and hast commanded us to put on the tefillin..." She did the same with the head tefillin, which drooped over Josh's curls, almost covering his eyes. When she was done, she opened her jewelry box and drew out the delicate Star of David necklace she'd received for her bat mitzvah. She started to put it around her own neck, hesitated, then reached down and put it on Josh instead. "There you go," she murmured with a faint smile. "Good against vampires, too."
Just then, the wind rose to an unearthly howl, loud and strong enough that long cracks began appearing in the window glass. Joanie's smile disappeared. She opened her closet, rummaged behind all her school clothes and party dresses, and brought out a gleaming silver sword. It was possibly the most beautiful thing Josh had ever seen, but Joanie handled it as easily as if it were something she used every day of the week. "Stay here," she ordered him. "Stay away from the windows, and keep your eyes and ears closed. I'll be back in just a few minutes." She left the room without looking back.
Josh tried to do what Joanie told him to, he really did. But moments after Joanie left, the lights went out in the bedroom, and all he could see was the green glowy light of the weird fire. It looked like an eyeball, he thought crazily, like a monster eyeball, like there was a monster in the dark attached to the eyeball and it was looking at him... He bolted from the bedroom and ran into the wall of the hallway before realizing he couldn't see anything. Much more carefully, he felt his way to his own bedroom and grabbed the silver flashlight from under his pillow, then headed for the stairs. As he reached the top, he heard an enormous bang, like the loudest door-slam he'd ever heard, and the roar of something that didn't sound like a person or an animal. He heard Joanie's voice, not the words, but the defiant tone, and was comforted. Joanie wasn't scared, so whatever it was, they would be okay.
He made his way downstairs and realized belatedly that the green fire was following him, tracing a pattern of green behind him like markings on a map. Even though it was fire, it didn't seem to be burning anything up, so he ignored it for the moment and headed for the kitchen. As soon as he opened the door, Josh was frozen in fear. Something horrible was in their house, something big and with scales and with yellowy-red fire all around it. His overwhelmed six-year-old mind couldn't even make out the details, but he could see that Joanie was fighting it, using her sword to block its massive arms and curving tigery claws. Josh screamed, he couldn't help it. Both combatants turned to look at him.
"Josh, run!" Joanie screamed. "Go to Mr. Travers!" The monster made her pay for the moment of inattention, smacking her across the face and sending her flying backwards, even as flames leapt from the monster's hands to chase her. She hit the wall near Josh, but was up again immediately. "Go!"
"Joanie!" Josh was too scared to move, to think, to do anything, but when she glared at him, the same big-sister glare she always gave him when she was ordering him around, he at least knew what he was supposed to do. Darting back through the kitchen door, he raced through the house and out the front door, into the screaming wind. The wind was almost as scary as the monster, but somehow when it touched his skin, it didn't hurt, like he had faint green Starship Enterprise shields around him. He staggered across the lawn, flashlight bobbing crazily, tefillin hanging down in his face, trying to get next door, get help, do something.
He hadn't even made it as far as the fence when he saw Mr. Travers, carrying a sword of his own and a book as big as Josh's whole chest, racing the other way towards the house. He paused when he caught sight of Josh. "Stay there!" he ordered, in a voice that was not to be argued with. Josh let his legs give out under him and crawled under the lilac bush nearest him, closing his eyes and rocking while the wind howled and the air filled with the smell of smoke.
Josh lost track of time under the bush, but eventually there were sirens and many excited voices, and people running around near, but not too near, his hiding place. He could've gone out to see them, but he wasn't supposed to go anywhere. Why wasn't he supposed to go anywhere? He'd run away from the house, because... bad things. Terrible things. Where was Joanie? Suddenly feet appeared in front of Josh's sanctuary, and then Mr. Travers was there, crouching in front of Josh and speaking gently.
"Ah, Joshua, you've had a terrible shock tonight, a tragedy for someone so young." He gently removed the tefillin from Josh's head and arm, tucking them away somewhere. "But appliance fires can happen to anyone, it wasn't anyone's fault. The popcorn maker, you know. It must've had a short circuit." His voice was soft and soothing, making Josh's already muddled mind feel even more fuzzy and uncertain. Had there been a popcorn maker? He'd wanted to watch television... "Joanie was making you popcorn, and a fire started in the kitchen," Mr. Travers told him inexorably. "You ran out to get help, but it was too late. I'm so sorry, Josh." Mr. Travers' soothing voice broke on those last words, and when he gathered Josh up in his arms, there were tears on his face. "Let's take you back to your parents, they will be very glad to see you're all right."
Later on in his life, Josh Lyman had memories of the night his sister died, but they were mostly informed memories, things he'd been told rather than things he remembered on his own. Normal, he'd been told, he was so young, and it had been such a trauma, such a tragedy. He remembered something about a popcorn maker, and the smell of smoke, and Joanie telling him to run. Sometimes he had nightmares where the fire was personified as some kind of monster, but always dismissed them upon waking. The one mystery he never did solve was why he'd been wearing his sister's necklace that night, but for whatever reason, he was glad of it. They hadn't recovered much from the fire, and it was nice to have one keepsake, especially one so prized. Whenever he touched it, which wasn't often because it was not easy, he could remember his sister's fierce and fearsome love, and for just an instant, the flicker of green fire on a silver blade.
The life of a slayer is always violent and usually short, sometimes shorter than others. Joanie Lyman's tenure lasted just one hundred forty-seven days in 1968, but she was remembered for her bravery and her heroic sacrifice in killing the demon lord Loctenjo at the cost of her own life. Her young Watcher, who had arrived in time to see but not avert the final exchange of killing blows, never took on another Potential. He moved instead into administrative work, where the emotional connections were not so painful, and eventually became head of the Watcher's Council. Her little brother, whose life she saved against all the odds, grew up to get an education, have a family of his own, and get three good men elected president of the United States. As epitaphs go, it was not a bad one.
Slayers, though, are not quite the same as other young women. Joanie's soul may have flown on to her reward the instant her heartbeat ceased, but not all of her was lost. Time passed and the wheel turned, and the spirit of the Slayer moved into another young woman, then another, another, another. Most of them never gained any real understanding of what they carried inside themselves, but the ones who lasted, they were different. Nikki Wood cracked down on the demon population of New York City while trying to raise her baby at the same time. She also had a lovely singing voice and knew all the words to the Ave Maria, despite having never heard it till well after her calling. India Cohen hunted vampires on two continents, fell in love with her Watcher, and dreamed of breezy Connecticut summers on Compo Beach.
And Buffy Summers, slayer of The Master, lover of vampires, god-killer, looked into familiar-unfamiliar blue eyes one day and instantly understood how to love a younger sibling enough to die for them. Despite false memories, despite her Watcher's advice, despite her own fear, Buffy threw herself from a tower to save her sister with the enthusiastic support of the Slayer spirit inside of her. And later, after death and life and all its pain, after a singing demon and a spell that wiped her memories clean away, she looked at that beloved younger sibling asking her name, and she knew exactly who she felt like.
Years after that, once Sunnydale and its Hellmouth were wiped from the map and Buffy had gone from one girl in all the world to the leader of a small but powerful army of Slayers, she had occasion to go to the White House and brief the President himself on things that went bump in the night. Slayers were still on a very need-to-know basis, but the New Council decided that it was better to control the flow of information than risk another Initiative. So Buffy and Xander flew to DC with a small coterie of junior Slayers, and tried not to be too intimidated by the pomp and circumstance of the nation's capitol. They spent two days playing tourists, pretending to be normal all day and then hunting vampires through the landmarks and cemeteries all night. It was great fun, and good exercise for the juniors who didn't get a lot of practice in slayer-saturated Cleveland.
Buffy suspected that strings had been pulled to get someone with her own checkered background access to the White House, but their passes were issued at the door without a hiccup. They were escorted to the Oval Office, where they had a moment to gawk, some at the room itself, some at the very handsome President, before his advisors came in. President Santos, who had obviously had a pre-briefing from somewhere, shook Buffy's hand and thanked her for her service, and chatted amiably with Xander about some sports-related topic that left Buffy free to process for a minute. Being thanked was rare, but it always felt good. Being thanked by the President, that was a little overwhelming.
She looked up sharply when a concealed door at the side of the room opened, but neither the President nor the secret service seemed nervous about it. She was about to relax when suddenly the voice, the face... Every slayer in the room was suddenly focused entirely on the new arrival as the President introduced his chief of staff, Josh Lyman. Josh was obviously acutely aware of the scrutiny, managing a smile and a slightly awkward wave. Buffy stepped forward and took his hand, pointedly resisting the strong desire to give him a hug. Instead she said it was very nice to meet him, and made a note to remind him that he should be wearing a religious symbol at all times. Later though, after the briefing. She released his hand, and all the girls smiled at him as one before turning their attention to Xander as he began telling the story of a world that did not start as a paradise, but was slowly getting better.
Tikkun olam: "repair the world." From the Jewish Mishnah, an idea of performing acts of kindness and service to heal and perfect the world.