Author's Note: Today's entry in the Fic-A-Day-Til-The-Election is a sequel to my first completed fanfic, Tikkun Olam. Yes, it's both a crossover and a sequel! :D But if I can't be self-indulgent after knocking out a fic every day for a month, when can I be? This might make sense on it's own, but you really should read the first part first.
Josh hustled into the Chief of Staff suite after lunch, actually feeling pretty good about the world for once. China and Russia had stopped threatening to nuke each other for the moment, the Congress was being no more infuriating than usual, and nobody on his staff had done anything terribly stupid for at least twelve hours that he knew of. He thought he should probably check on that, but not right away, because he'd gotten out of the office today for a full hour's lunch with his fiance and he was feeling good. "What's on the docket for this afternoon?" he asked Margaret as he handed over his coat and briefcase.
Margaret hung up the coat and began pulling files from the briefcase with great efficiency, both things that Josh could've done but had learned better than to try with Margaret around. When he wanted to hold onto files, they had to go in his backpack. "You've got McElroy at two, DHS at two-fifteen, State briefing at two-thirty, conference call with Ways and Means at three, then you're scheduled to be in with the budget guys till six, but you can probably get out before seven if you staff out some of the briefing memos."
"I'll keep that in mind," he promised. "Anything now?"
"Um, yeah," she said, sounding unaccountably nervous. "There's a woman in your office who insisted she had to talk with you today. I told her you were booked, but she had priority documentation... I think you really need to see her."
Josh straightened up and glanced towards the closed door to his office. Anybody with the kind of authority that could cow Margaret, veteran of three chiefs of staff, was almost certainly somebody about to ruin his previously good day. "All right then," he muttered. "What's this woman's name?"
"Buffy Summers." Margaret's voice was only a little incredulous.
Josh froze. "Oh, shit." He looked to the door again, and suddenly visions of apocalypses were dancing in his head. "Cancel everything till three o'clock. Be ready to cancel the afternoon if I tell you to." She nodded and hurried to her desk as Josh opened the door and strode into his office.
He'd only met Buffy Summers once, when she and some of her... colleagues had come to the White House for the most bizarre briefing Josh had ever been a party to. If they'd come in on Big Block of Cheese Day, he'd have laughed her right out the door. But instead he'd watched as a teenage girl bent a crowbar into a pretzel and another one pulled a rabbit out of thin air, and then he'd listened to a story about a California town called Sunnydale that didn't exist anymore. Then the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had come in, along with the Chief of Staff of the Army, carrying a pile of heavily redacted folders and telling a story about a really unfortunate military venture gone awry, one that would've ended even more disastrously if it weren't for Buffy and her friends. Josh had left that meeting believing that vampires and demons were real, and not really knowing what else to believe. Even now, months later, he didn't like to think about it. Even if he could've told Donna, he didn't think he would have. There was just stuff that normal people didn't need to know.
Right now, the woman at the center of his ongoing existential crisis was standing at the side of his desk, poking one curious finger into the fishbowl. CJ had left Gail behind when she headed for California, presumably because it would be a logistical nightmare to fly a goldfish cross-country, so it had become an office decoration that Josh only thought of occasionally. Somebody fed the fish and cleaned the bowl, and somebody with a very weird sense of humor kept changing the decorations as well. Today's decoration was some kind of thick brown book with intricate letters too small to read. Gail seemed unaffected by either decoration or marauding fingers. Buffy, on the other hand, jerked upright as soon as Josh walked in, hiding her hands behind her back as though he'd caught her stealing. "Um, hi Joshua."
"How bad it is?" he asked without preamble the moment the door shut behind him.
"What?" She looked baffled.
"The apocalypse," he clarified impatiently. "Or monster attack, or invasion from another world, or whatever it is. Are we looking at end of the world stuff, or just an invading demon army, or what?"
"There's no apocalypse," she told him, suddenly catching his drift. "At least, not yet. It's only February, so things usually aren't getting all apocalypsy yet."
"What?" he asked, then shook himself. "I mean... it's nice to see you, Ms. Summers, but if there's not an apocalypse, then why are you here?" With all else failing, he could at least fall back on his political manners. Such as they were. He gestured her to the sofa and sat down in the side chair he still thought of as being Leo's.
Buffy took the offered seat, laying her oversized purse across her knees. "It's a more personal thing," she told him. "Well, not entirely personal, it's also business, like, Watcher's Council business, but also personal to me but that's hard to explain, and definitely personal to you." She spilled all that out without a breath, then sucked one in at the end. "I have something that belongs to you," she told him.
Josh blinked. "To me?" he repeated dumbly. "What is it?"
She rested both hands on her purse. "Do you remember a man named Quentin Travers?"
"Travers?" Josh racked his brain, sorting through the enormous mental rolodex that everyone who worked in Washington eventually amassed. The name teased at the edge of his mind, but brought up no actual details. "No, I don't think so," he finally admitted. "But if he's some kind of demon, I'm probably better off that way, right?"
Buffy's smile was rueful. "Your mileage may vary on that one, but it doesn't really matter. He's dead now anyway. I know him as the head of the old Watcher's Council, from before it was destroyed. He liked to think of himself as my boss, but I liked to think completely ignoring him was part of my job description, so things got a little frictiony. But he was never affiliated with the New Council, and really has nothing to do with the work we're doing now."
"So you're completely disclaiming this guy, in other words."
"Yeah, pretty much," Buffy agreed. "He was an asshole for all the time I knew him, though I think he was different when he was younger. Working for the Council changes people." The utter weariness in her voice belied the youth of her face.
"I can believe that." Josh was still treading warily, but he was curious. "So what has Quentin Travers got to do with something that belongs to me?"
Buffy reached into her purse and pulled out a thin, leather-bound book. Josh didn't recognize it at all, but it could've been any book in a million. It looked like one of those blank journals sold at office supply stores, just considerably older. "Do you remember when we talked in the debriefing about Watchers and Slayers, how in the old days every Watcher kept a journal about his or her Slayer? How they were called, how they trained, all the stuff they killed, how they died?" When Josh nodded slightly, she held up the book. "This one is your sister's."
Josh stared. "I don't understand," he said, very carefully. There was a dull rushing noise in his ears, maybe his own heartbeat, but he kept his attention focused on the woman in front of him.
She met his eyes unflinchingly. For a split second he thought he saw something else in them, something familiar, but then she spoke and it was gone. "Joan Lyman was the Slayer from July 4 to November 28, 1968. She died defeating a demon lord who was trying to bring down an early apocalypse that year. Quentin Travers was her Watcher."
He was already shaking his head. "That's ridiculous," he scoffed angrily, his voice rising. "I don't know what the hell you're aiming for, Buffy, but my sister was a normal girl who died in an accident. And if you think you're going to use that to somehow manipulate me, or get whatever it is you want, you've another thing coming, lady! There's nothing-"
"I don't want anything from you!" Buffy cut in, her voice quieter, but ringing with sharp command. "It took us months to decide if we were going to say anything at all about this. We all recognized you the second you walked into the Oval Office, but I didn't say anything then. It's important that we keep a good working relationship with the government, and telling you about Joanie isn't actually that likely to help us out. But she was one of us, and you deserve to know that she was a hero. She didn't die in an accident."
Josh was silent for a minute, his mind racing. The idea was crazy, there was no reason at all to believe it. Joanie had died in a house fire, something about a popcorn machine that had short circuited and sparked on the curtains... He suddenly remembered those curtains, and the kitchen from his old house. He remembered Joanie standing in front of them with a long silver sword in her hands, and a monster he'd seen in his dreams but dismissed as fantastical. He shook his head violently. "This is crazy."
"It's not crazy, it was her life!" Buffy exclaimed, frustration obvious in every line of her body. "Maybe it seems crazy to somebody who's never had a weird British dude come up to them and tell them they have a destiny, but it's what happens to us. It's what happened to her! Don't you want to know?" She stood up from the couch, a movement just a bit too fluid to be quite normal, and walked to the other side of the room. "God, I suck at this," she muttered. "I should've made Xander do it."
Josh stood up too, much more slowly, but stayed on his own side of the room. Despite her harmless, nearly vacuous appearance, there was something overtly dangerous about Buffy at this moment, some barely-leashed tension that unnerved him as much as anything she'd said so far. He'd seen grainy video of Buffy Summers in action; it was enough to make him keep his distance. "What did you mean when you said you all recognized me?" he finally asked. He didn't even know where to start with the rest of it.
She half-turned to look at him again. "Every Slayer is powered by the same... spirit, benevolent demon, motivating force, whatever you call it. It passes from one girl to another when one dies, right up until we changed the rules on it. When the Slayer is in a girl, it is the girl, and she is it, and when it moves on, it takes a memory of who she was and what she loved." Buffy turned the book over in her hands, staring down at it. "It's only gotten stronger since more girls started being called, but I've been having dreams of six-year-old you since I was fifteen. And when we heard your name..." She shrugged. "We all know you, at least that much. We remember how she loved you."
Josh sank back into the chair. He couldn't even begin to wrap his mind around that thought. Joanie had been gone for close to four decades now, her memory reduced to little more than scraps and photographs in his own mind. The idea that someone, someones, should be running around with her memories in their heads was insane. All of this was ridiculous.
When he was silent, Buffy continued. "Usually my memories of past Slayers is all mixed-up and dreamy, but since the calling, it's been getting stronger, especially if I focus. I remember putting- I remember she put little pouches on you and she was praying, they were holy symbols, I think. And she gave you her necklace instead of putting it on herself because she was desperate to protect you. She didn't care about having to face down the demon so long as you were safe."
"Why don't I remember this?" Josh demanded, his voice shaking a little despite his best efforts. He'd been wearing Joanie's necklace the night of the fire, he hadn't allowed anyone to take it off him for days, but he'd never remembered why. "I was young, but you'd think a- a demon battle in my living room would be pretty memorable!" It was in the kitchen, he thought, remembering his dreams, but he wouldn't say it.
"It was in your kitchen," Buffy told him, "and it was a combination of trauma and magic. Normal people forget supernatural experiences really well, if you just let them. We used to call it Sunnydale Syndrome, and its why people still go out at night in towns with vampire problems. But Travers wanted to be sure you wouldn't say anything, so he boosted the effect with a little magic." She proffered the book again. "It might be easier if you just read it. It's all in here."
Josh reached out and took the book, leafed through it to judge its length. He picked up the phone. "Margaret, move Ways and Means to four- no, move them to tomorrow. Tell the budget guys not to hold their breaths."
"You know how to use the intercom?" came Margaret's surprised voice over the phone.
"Not now, for god's sake!" he snapped, then felt a little guilty. "Just get it done, please."
"Done," Margaret said and hung up. Josh knew that unless he could prove the existence of an actual emergency, he'd probably be punished for that, but it was easier to buy Margaret lunch than to try and explain this to anybody. Though Margaret would be maybe the one person who'd definitely believe him if he told her the truth. He opened the book.
"Do you want some privacy?" Buffy asked.
"Nope," Josh told her shortly. "Stick around, I have a feeling I'm going to have some questions. There's stuff in the little fridge in the closet if you're thirsty." Buffy headed for one of the room's five doors. "Not that one," he warned. "You'll end up in the Oval Office."
Buffy backed away hastily and sat back down on the sofa to wait for him. It took Josh nearly forty minutes to read all the way through the journal, laid out in neat script and with a faint British flavor to the words. He remembered Quentin Travers now, very vaguely, a neighbor who had sometimes spoken to them over the fence and given Joanie some odd books to read. Apparently he'd done a lot more than that when nobody else was watching. The idea of grown men supervising the lives of young teenage girls had bothered him back when the one-eyed man was giving them the story in the Oval Office, but it was even more discomfiting now that his sister was involved. Not that the diary suggested any kind of normal everyday perversion, just the sort where an adult man tells a young girl it's her duty to fight and die for the sake of the world, then sends her out in the the night armed with a wooden stick. He read the book all the way through, then hurled it at the far wall as hard as he could.
Margaret opened the door and peeked through, wide-eyed. "Everything okay?"
Josh waved her off. "It's fine. Actually... no. Call Donna and tell her I'm going home early tonight. I'll have my cell if something comes up." Margaret nodded, now looking even more concerned, and shut the door. Josh turned to Buffy. "You people are monsters," he grated.
Buffy didn't even look surprised, just raised her hands to proclaim her innocence. "I was born in 1980," she reminded him, "and so were most of my friends on the New Council, or even later. I'm not responsible for what happened to your sister."
"Your Watcher's Council sent her to die!" he insisted, his hands fisted around the arms of his chair. He couldn't yell, not with so many people outside, not with the President on the other side of the wall. God, he wanted to. "She could've lived a full life if it wasn't for him!"
"No," Buffy told him, leaning forward in her seat. "You're wrong about that. The Watchers were bastards, don't get me wrong. We're trying not to make the same mistakes they did, but they didn't kill your sister. Whatever force chooses the Slayer did that. We live on borrowed time from the moment we're Called. Vampires can sense us; they're attracted to areas where we live. It's like a supernatural bug-zapper kind of thing." She smiled ruefully. "Look in the book, Joanie faced down her first vampire before Travers ever talked to her about Slaying, and she might have died if he hadn't been there. A good Watcher is there to keep their Slayer alive as long as they can. It just usually didn't tend to be very long," she admitted.
"But you still called them all," he accused. "That's what you said, you used magic so that now there are a lot of Slayers instead of just one at a time, right? That's what, a hundred girls, a thousand, all marked for death? It sounds like you're the force that chooses the Slayers, Miss Summers, so who's responsible for all those girls?"
"I am," she told him coolly, though she'd lost a lot of the color in her face. "You think I'm not thinking about that every day? Every time we lose a girl? Having teams of Slayers has cut the mortality rate by seventy-five percent, and we've gone from an average length-of-service of six months to three years and counting, but they still die because I called them. You know what would've happened if I hadn't? The world would've ended, and they'd have died anyway. At least now they have a chance to fight for it."
She stood up and walked over to lean on his desk, too short to be intimidating in her size, but still somehow filling the room with her presence. "I'm betting you know something about having to make hard choices for the greater good, Joshua. You don't get to sit in the big chairs if you can't. But I've killed and I've died for this world and I've sent other people to do the same thing, so don't think for a second that I don't feel the weight. I'm truly sorry about what happened to your sister, but doesn't it mean anything to you that she died a hero, with her fate in her own hands?"
Josh hesitated for a minute, struck by the thought, but shook his head anyway. "I don't see how it matters when she's still been dead for forty years."
Buffy eased back and leaned on the chair across from the desk. "Up until today, you thought she'd died because one of your appliances was faulty, right? It was a senseless tragedy and nothing good came of it, just pain and loss. Now you know that she died because she picked up her sword and used it to literally save the world, and to save you. She still died, but it wasn't senseless. That means something, doesn't it?"
"It's not nothing," he admitted, the words coming out painfully around the lump in his throat. "Is there anything I can do to get my memories back?"
"I talked to Giles about that," Buffy told him, "he says from the sound of it, Travers used a really simple mind-clouding spell to make you forget, and it worked because you were already confused and in shock. Reading through the book might be enough to make the memories start coming back, but they're still memories from when you were a little kid. Nothing's probably going to be very clear." She walked across the room and picked up the book, smoothing out the pages and closing it almost reverently. "We made a copy of the diary for our records," she continued, "but the book belongs to Joanie by right, so it belongs with her family. If you don't want it, we'll put it back in our library."
Josh took the book, still hating it some, but not ready to let it go, either. If nothing else, it was the story of Joanie's last five months on Earth. "How much do you remember?" he heard himself asking.
"Not a lot," Buffy admitted. "There are a lot of Slayers, and a lot of memories. Usually the clearest memories are of the deaths, and paying too much attention to those memories can screw up a Slayer pretty damn quick. I remember that last night pretty well, and some little bits of her first night out slaying on the beach." Her face softened. "And I remember sitting with you on my lap and listening to Schubert on the record player. Your hair was much lighter back then."
"And there was a lot more of it." Josh managed a smile, though he was shaken to the core.
"Maybe a little, yeah," she agreed with a smile. "Anyway, I don't know if you still have the necklace or anything like it, but we wanted to make sure you kept something on you in case of emergencies." She picked up her purse and dug back into it. "You probably don't want to be wearing a necklace all the time, but one of our Watchers recommended this." She held out a small box to him, which he opened to reveal a leather watch band. On its inner side, the Hebrew symbol chai was embossed several times in silver. "It's not perfect, you have to take it off to stop a vampire with it, but it's better than nothing."
Josh took the watchband out and held it in one hand while he studied Buffy's face. Small and green-eyed and California blonde, she looked nothing like his big sister, but there was still something there behind her eyes. Something he could swear was still watching out for him. "Thanks," he said to Buffy, or to the Slayer, he wasn't really sure. "And... thank you for telling me," he finally managed.
"You're welcome," she told him quietly, slipping her purse back over her shoulder. "Sorry I'm not one of the people who are good at this kind of thing. But I felt like I owed it to her to be the one." She grinned wryly. "See you in April, if things go pear-shaped."
"Don't take it the wrong way if I say I hope not," he told her with a half-smile." She slipped out the hallway door, bypassing Margaret's office, which was probably wise. Josh sat at his desk for a few minutes, staring down at book and watchband, thinking about nothing, thinking about too many things.
A gentle tap on his door brought him out of his reverie. Donna stepped in, concern written large on her lovely face. "Margaret said you're planning on going home early. Are you all right?"
"Yeah," he managed, "I just had some family stuff come up. Mom's okay," he added, preempting her next question. "Can you blow off any of the afternoon? I want to talk with you about some stuff."
He could feel her studying him, measuring him in that way she had that somehow let her determine how close he was to the edge of whatever cliff he was approaching. "Yeah, just give me ten minutes," she told him. "Mrs. Santos has a quiet week coming up. I'll meet you in the lobby." She gave him a kiss, her lips cool and soft against his, then stepped out. Josh packed up his backpack, with the book going in first thing. After a moment's thought, he went to the back of his coat closet, found the pretzeled crowbar, and put that in his bag as well. He suspected this was going to be a very weird conversation.
Amor fati: Latin for "to love one's fate;" the joyful acceptance of everything, good and bad, that happens in a life.