Setting: Set in the continuation-verse, which picks up about three months after the end of "Chosen". So, spoilers for pretty much everything, including any "episodes" in this series that have come before it.
Notes: Here we go with my most ambitious 'fic project ... well, ever, basically. A virtual continuation of a show with a whole heck of a lot more story to tell. Since deciding to do this project I've discovered that there are, in fact, many Season 8's ... but this is the only one with the Jet Wolf Seal of Involvement, so that guarantees freshness. Or something.
Episodes are posted to www.btvschosen.com weekly, at 8pm EST on Tuesdays, all pretty and HTML'd with graphics and oo! Credits. We have credits, too. Eps will appear the following Friday or Saturday on ff.net. So if you don't want to wait all that extra time (and really, how could you?), the site is the way to go.
(23 April 2004)
Episode 3: "Hide & Seek"
Story by: Jet Wolf & Ultrace
Written by: Ultrace
Unflinching, Kennedy faced the Mogari, waiting for it to make the first move. It snarled, a rumbling, threatening sound, but the Slayer was unimpressed. She said nothing, made no move – simply waited.
Taking a step towards her, the Mogari snarled again and then sniffed the air. Turning its attention to Hazel, who was still sprawled on the ground, it sniffed again. Immediately, its lips curled to reveal a set of sharp teeth, and its tongue flicked hungrily. The creature slunk forward, focused upon Hazel. The girl scrambled back with a frightened squeak.
"Come on, over here," Kennedy called, moving now to try and divert its attention. She whistled two shrill notes and clapped her hands invitingly before drawing a stake from her jacket pocket. "Over here, ugly, that's it."
The Mogari turned and moved toward the Senior Slayer. Without warning it charged, lunging with alarming speed, but its intended prey was faster. She sidestepped the attack and thrust the stake into its leg with all her strength. A jet of warm, purplish-black goo sprayed all over Kennedy, but the wound was merely superficial and it did little but make the creature angry. Retaliating immediately with a roar of pain, it hurled itself at the Slayer. Kennedy dropped the stake to the ground and managed to catch the Mogari's front paws, one in each hand. Staggering, she nearly collapsed under the weight, but after a few steps managed to regain her balance.
It was all Kennedy could do to keep the thing's snapping jaws from ripping her face off. She landed a few solid kicks to its underbelly, but the demon paid no attention to the blows. Unnoticed by either, Hazel had made it to her feet and was anxiously watching the struggle. She wanted to help, but had no idea what to do.
"That's it, buddy," Kennedy strained from between clenched teeth. "No more Jerky Treats for you until you lose a few pounds."
Pausing in mid-snap, the Mogari once more sniffed Kennedy, then glanced toward Hazel and repeated the action. It growled and pulled itself free from Kennedy's grip, nearly knocking the Slayer off balance, then charged at Hazel.
"She got Milk Bones in that bag or somethin'?" Kennedy asked herself, tearing after the creature.
Hazel was petrified as the monster galloped toward her. "No!" she screamed, lashing out instinctively and landing a heavy punch directly across the Mogari's jaw, snapping its head around. This gave the creature pause and it slowly turned, malevolence and hunger evident in its snarl, the emotion coming through loud and clear and wholly unnerving, given a face devoid of eyes.
"Uh... Good boy?" offered Hazel hopefully.
With a swipe of its massive paw, the Mogari knocked Hazel to the ground and leapt on her. The girl threw her hands up defensively, managing to jam one underneath his muzzle and the other against his neck, effectively keeping its snapping jaws at bay. Hazel's grunts of effort sounded almost like panting screams, and it was obviously only a matter of time before the monster broke the girl's and tore out her throat.
Then Kennedy was there, throwing herself on the Mogari's back with a bellow of rage. Reaching around, the Slayer dug her fingers into the shoulder joints of the creature's front legs and, muscles straining, began to pull back. The monster snapped its jaws at her, desperate to stop the pain, but it didn't come close to reaching her. Further still Kennedy pulled, cords standing out on her neck as she threw everything she had into stopping its attack. The beast began to tip forward, losing leverage, and with a final savage yank, the snap of breaking bones echoed down the deserted street. A howl of agony soon followed, and the Mogari fell, landing directly on top of Hazel. Despite the suffering, its nose began twitching again, and with its maw only inches away from the girl's neck, it tensed to execute a final, fatal lunge.
Still perched on its back, Kennedy sensed what was about to happen and without hesitation, wrapped her hands around either side of the thing's head. She twisted brutally and with every ounce of remaining strength, succeeding in breaking its neck.
Dead, the Mogari slumped forward and Kennedy followed suit, panting to catch her breath as she rested on its back. Hazel, too, was gasping, partly from fear and partly from the weight of both creature and Slayer piled on top of her. Nothing stirred for a moment, and then the Mogari began to shimmer, becoming translucent before completely vanishing without a trace. With a startled yelp, Kennedy found herself in the air. She fell, landing on top of Hazel with a decided lack of grace.
"Thanks for saving my life an' all," snickered Hazel, "but we only just met."
With a groan, Kennedy rolled off the other girl, lying on her back for a moment and staring up at the night sky. "Don't flatter yourself," she retorted, getting to her feet and extending a hand, easily pulling Hazel to her feet. "You okay?"
A little dazed, Hazel nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I think so." She grinned at Kennedy then, finding something terribly amusing. "You know, I've only had two meetings with you guys, and nearly died both times. This does not bode well."
Kennedy retrieved the backpack and duffel bag from where they had fallen and continued walking, jerking her head to indicate Hazel should follow. "Yeah, but how cool was that? I mean, what other job lets you beat the crap out of overgrown hairless puppies?"
The die bounced across the surface of the Trivial Pursuit board, landing on four. Using his finger, Xander counted four places away from the brown token, pointing to a blue square that featured a picture of the Tower of London. "What's blue?" he queried.
"'People and Places'," replied Dawn.
Xander counted four places in the opposite direction of the brown token, arriving at the image of a caterpillar. "An' what's green?"
"'Science and Nature'."
Sighing heavily, the carpenter glanced from blue to green, green to blue, wracked with indecision.
"Before I graduate would be good..." Dawn prompted, motioning her hand in a "come on" gesture.
Resigning himself to the inevitable, Xander set his token on the blue space. "'People and Places' it is. Last time I checked I was a people, so I at least have a 50% chance of understanding the question this time."
Dawn pulled a card from the box next to her and covered the back with her hand. "'What Tanzanian volcano has a Swahili name meaning 'mountain of the god of cold'?'" She avoided looking at the reverse of the card, instead focusing on her opponent.
After a few seconds of squinting, Xander conceded, "And now we see that comprehension of the question in no way guarantees an answer." There was more squinting, with some furrowing of the brow and a little sighing thrown in for good measure. "Mount Everest?"
"Mount Everest is in Nepal," Dawn vetoed, opening the window for another attempt.
"And I don't know where that is either, so—" he shrugged. "I know when I'm beat, I give. Cold god mountain: 1; Xander: 0."
"Kilimanjaro," Dawn announced. She flipped over the card in confirmation and beamed when she saw she had it right.
Xander openly gaped. "How do you know this stuff?"
"Just smart I guess," she responded, without the good grace to look even a tiny bit chagrined.
"Well, quit it!" Xander demanded, and turned to the board, distaste evident in his expression. "These categories are too hard. They don't cater to the stupid among us. What I need is my own category. A Xander category. It can be all red, like my papers were in high school, and have a big dumb guy on it, just standing there and shrugging."
Dawn was about to respond when the sound of the front door opening caught their attention. They turned to watch a dejected and bushed-looking Willow enter the living room with very little spring in her step.
She waved a weary arm at the pair. "Hey."
"Willster!" greeted Xander, and then, reappraising, "Pouty Willster. No luck, huh?"
Willow shook her head. "No. She apparently went out with a group of newbies at some point, but nobody knew where. I looked every place I could think of, but," she shrugged. "Zippo."
"Maybe they went to Nepal," Xander suggested.
The redhead kicked off her shoe and began rubbing her foot gently. She pointed with an exaggerated gesture that screamed 'Isn't that typical'. "And now I've got a blister."
"Not your day, huh?" Xander asked with a sympathetic look.
"Anything but. And I think we can safely rule out the chance of 'comforting post-crappy day' snuggles, too."
Dawn gestured at the game board. "Do you wanna play? I could do with an actual challenge." Xander fixed her with a beady one-eye glare, but all it did was make her giggle.
"Love to. Can't," Willow reluctantly declined. "Gotta get all meditate-y for the spell tonight. The preparations take a little while and I only have a narrow window where I can reach Buffy the strongest, so I can't put it off any more. Rain check?"
"Sure," Dawn smiled.
Willow nodded, picked up her shoe and tromped up the stairs, the other shoe still on its respective foot. Dawn watched her go and waited a moment until she was safely out of sight and sound before turning to Xander.
"Okay, so what was that all about?"
"Oh, well, you know how she and Kennedy had this whole nice day planned?" Xander asked, receiving a confirming nod and just a bit of an eye-roll from Dawn in response. "Well, it sorta turned out not so nice."
"Ahh," Dawn acknowledged perkily with the beginnings of a smile.
Xander treated her to another beady-eyed squint, only this time with real feeling behind it. "Dawn Summers, I know you're not getting a kick out of your friend's misery."
"What? No! No way!" came Dawn's offended response, along with a look as if someone had suggested she tortured kittens for fun. "I totally feel bad for Willow! Geez!"
"Then what's with the happy face?"
"Oh! Uhh... I didn't mean... Well, it's just..." She floundered, surprise obvious in her face, then shrugged and gave up. "I mean, come on, you know Kennedy's totally wrong for her, right?"
"I'm pretty sure only Willow knows who's right for Willow."
Dawn stared at him flatly. "Xan-der, come on. Kennedy's so irritating." She raised her arms. "Walking around like she belongs here, like she isn't Door #2, when we all know—"
"Dawn, I'm serious," Xander cut her off. "Whatever you think, Kennedy's been good for her. You know what Will was like after..." He checked himself in mid-statement and reconsidered. "She's happy again, and that's all I care about. It's all you should care about too."
"Yeah, she looks real happy," Dawn muttered to herself.
There was understanding in Xander's voice, but caution all the same. "Dawn..."
"Okay, okay, I'm being good. I'm playing." She picked up the die. "Watch me play."
The resulting roll was a one, exactly what was needed to move her token to the "Arts & Entertainment" pie square. "Whoo-hoo!" she cheered.
"You sure about that move?" Xander questioned. He waved his hands over the box of cards as though it were a crystal ball. "I sense much karmic good fortune in the next 'Sports & Leisure' question. Bad juju emanating from this 'Arts & Entertainment'."
"I'm sure," Dawn confirmed. "Quit stalling and Pink me."
"Next time we're playin' something more my speed," Xander grumbled. "Like Candyland."
Giles slowly paced back and forth in his office, his glasses off and being polished absently. Kennedy was standing casually in front of his desk, watching him with an expression approaching amusement. Behind her, Hazel tried to relax in one of the chairs, still adjusting to her new life. It was evident that the experience had left her just a tad frazzled.
"And you're sure you didn't recognize it?" Giles asked Kennedy.
The Slayer made a mock expression of deep thought. "Lion-sized, no eyes, no hair, lots of teeth, bit on the snappy side? Pretty sure I'd remember one of those things."
"Fascinating," he responded, replacing his glasses. "I don't believe I've ever heard of this creature like this before."
For a moment, he considered the situation, then grabbing a pad and pencil from his desk, he thrust them both at Kennedy. "Do you think you could sketch it?"
Kennedy accepted the items and began drawing while Giles continued his one-sided discussion, still in the mood to pace. "As-as much detail as you can. This could quite possibly be an entirely new species, one that—"
He frowned at Kennedy, who was already holding out the pad and pencil. With a genuine look of surprise, he walked over to review the sketch, eyeing Kennedy curiously. Giles glanced down at the paper, and took in the stick figure man with four legs instead of two. He stared at it for a moment, and then returned his attentions to the Slayer.
"Right," he continued. "Well, if you could perhaps meet with someone tomorrow and describe it in detail while they sketch?"
"Sure thing," replied Kennedy with a mild nod of the head.
"Excellent." Giles gave a small smile that faded slightly. "Pity the body disappeared."
"Tell me about it," Kennedy grumbled darkly. "I'm maybe the first Slayer to ever kill one of these things and I don't even get a souvenir."
"I was thinking more that we might have learned something about its origins," corrected Giles. "Still, can't be helped." He pondered for a moment. "Its behavior does puzzle me, though. You say it wasn't interested in you?"
Kennedy shook her head. "Nope. I mean, sure, while I was in its way it was paying plenty of attention, but that was only for like a second, then it went right back to trying to chomp Hazel into little bitty pieces." She pointed her thumb behind her to the girl in the chair.
Almost as if Giles hadn't previously been aware of Hazel's presence, he looked at the new girl carefully. "Most extraordinary. And you've also never seen the creature before tonight?"
Hazel shook her head emphatically and fidgeted in her chair. "Oh no. Won't mind never seeing one again, either."
"Again, I'm terribly sorry about this," he sighed. "That wasn't quite the welcoming party I was hoping for, I assure you."
Hazel managed something of a smile despite the memory. "That's okay, it was... Different. I've developed a whole new respect for dogs."
"Yes, I'd expect so. Still, you must be tired. I'll show you to your room, and we can conduct a grand tour tomorrow?" Giles waited for affirmation, and she nodded. He proceeded to pick her bags up from the floor. "You'll be sharing a room with Judith, though I believe she's on patrol at the moment. Plenty of time for proper introductions tomorrow, however, after you've had some rest."
As he started to move toward the door, Hazel got up from the chair. She was just preparing to follow him when he stopped and turned back. "Oh, Kennedy?"
"That... Substance on your shirt. That's not your blood, is it?"
Kennedy looked down at her clothes, taking note of the nearly black stain. It had covered at least a third of the shirt and was well-seeped. She frowned. "Nah, I got this on me when I stabbed the thing."
Giles perked up immediately, and turned back into the room, setting Hazel's bags down. "This is the creature's blood?" He began to get excited when Kennedy nodded confirmation. "Could you bring the shirt back with you tomorrow? Th-there are tests we can run to-to determine the—"
He stopped in mid-sentence as Kennedy stripped the shirt off without fanfare, and offered it to him. She waited nonchalantly in her sports bra without an inkling of self-consciousness. Giles accepted the shirt, albeit gingerly. "Th-Thank you," he stuttered.
"Sure." She saunted past, leaving Giles and Hazel in the room alone.
"No picnic, no trophy, ruined shirt..." she muttered to herself. "Today's sucked."
Willow moved about her room in a slow, methodical manner. Collecting various objects and placing them into a small bag without really looking at them, her eyes were glazed and unfocused. Her entire demeanor indicated a trance-like state.
After gathering a dozen or more items, she was apparently satisfied with her belongings, and closed the bag, walking toward the closed door of the room. Turning the knob, she discovered Kennedy standing on the other side, hand in place as if to open the door herself.
A few moments passed between them, and Willow's eyes regained some of their focus. She quickly stepped back from the door. "Kennedy! Hi! I'm, uh, surprised to see you!" she started in a near-babble. "Not that you shouldn't be here, I mean, it's your room too, just that I spent all day trying to find you and it's sorta funny that now I'm not, there you are! Though not really funny cuz not much with the laughing and I'm shutting up now."
Kennedy didn't say anything. With a sigh, she walked into the room, leaving Willow by the door. The redhead watched Kennedy's movements, but made no indication that she was planning to follow.
Kennedy inhaled deeply. "Okay, you know how I avoided you all day?" she asked, eliciting a nod from her girlfriend. "I'm sorry about that. It wasn't mature, I know, but I just needed some time to cool off an' stuff." She waited to see if there would be any reaction from Willow. Not sensing any, she continued. "There's a lot we need to talk about, an' I didn't wanna do it while I was all hyper. But now's better. I'm ready to talk now."
Willow failed to hide her pained expression, and it only took a few seconds for Kennedy to catch on. "...aaand you're not," she concluded.
Willow held up her hands placatingly. "No, I am! But... I can't. There's this thing, this magic thing," she attempted to explain. "I have to contact Buffy a-and my best shot of reaching her is in, oh, about ten minutes, an' I have to—"
Kennedy nodded, her face an inscrutable mask. Willow stopped talking and regarded her with sadness. She opened her mouth but closed it again a moment later. Slowly and silently, she stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Still expressionless, Kennedy simply stared around the empty room, her right hand clenched tight into a fist that was nearly shaking.
Buffy strolled along the edge of... Well, nothing, really. There should have been ground under her feet, but there wasn't, nor was there a sky overhead, or a horizon in the distance. All that could be perceived was black, empty and formless.
"This is my latest dreamscape, huh?" she asked no one, looking around. "Appreciating the lack of gut-wrenching visions, but on the creativity scale? Not even ranking. You disappoint me, Me."
Hearing a noise from behind, the Slayer whirled around, an expression of alarm on her face. As she finally located the source, the alarm resolved itself instead into a smile. "Will."
Willow was indeed standing there. As Buffy watched, the blackness surrounding Willow quickly shifted, seemingly one small block at a time, into the desert scene where she had communed with the spirit of the first Slayer, even down to the raging bonfire. The changing blocks raced toward and past Buffy, completing the environmental transformation and eliminating all traces of the inky void.
"Hi Buffy," Willow said. She gave a small wave.
"So, what part of my subconscious are you representing today?" Buffy asked, casually.
"What?" Willow appeared confused. "No, no subconscious. It's really me."
Buffy echoed the bewilderment. "The really real you?"
A nod. "The really real me that's really real." She paused for a second. "Really. Hi."
"I'm not dreaming?" Buffy asked. She knelt down to the ground and scooped up some sand, watching it trickle between her fingers, then looked back to Willow inquiringly. "You're not gonna start waving cheese slices at me or anything?"
"No, I come cheese-free," Willow confirmed with a grin. "But you are kinda dreaming. Just that I'm here too, with the dreaming. But, hey, still me."
"Oh," Buffy replied, comprehension setting in. Suddenly, she was alarmed again. "What's wrong? Is everyone okay? Is Dawn—"
Willow raised a calming hand. "We're okay, Dawn's okay."
Buffy's anxiety melted to relaxation, but only for a moment before shifting to hostility instead. "Okay, then what's going on? I seem to recall specifically saying not to contact me unless there was an emergency."
Willow looked more than a little hurt. "Yeah, I-I know you did. An' I wouldn't have if we didn't think this was important. There are girls—Slayers—disappearing an-and we don't know who or what or why yet. But if somethin's targeting Slayers..."
"I could be next," Buffy said with an industrial-strength sigh. "I've had more relaxing vacations than this," she grumbled. She thought about it for a moment. "I've had more relaxing apocalypses than this."
"So, it's not all ribbons and cotton candy?" asked Willow, sounding interested and trying not to sound hopeful.
"It has its moments I suppose, but... I dunno."
"Yeah, I guess I can—" Breaking off, Willow suddenly narrowed her eyes at Buffy, regarding the Slayer intently. "Hey, you're hurt." Her expression became accusing. "You didn't say you were hurt. How did you get hurt?"
Surprised, Buffy's gaze flicked to her shoulder. In the dream, her body was perfectly normal, no outward signs of abrasions or injury. She shot a look at Willow, and the redhead caved instantly.
"Sorry. Sorry. You know how it is," explained Willow, waving her hand around her head abstractly, "all with the Slayer connections and everything. A-An' you come through pretty strong most of the time anyway – when you're around," she couldn't help digging under her breath with a nervous glance at her best friend. "And what with this here bein' kinda in your mind, it's pretty obvi—"
The blond was unmoved, crossing her arms. "You know how that weirds me out," she stated flatly.
A flash of renewed pain crossed Willow's face, and she became instantly defensive. "I-I know. And, again, sorry. I'm still learning about it. It's not like it comes with an on/off switch, you know," she huffed.
Relenting, Buffy sighed heavily and perched on one of the nearby rocks, giving Willow a sidelong glance. "I know. I'm sorry, it's not you. I've just had ... a day. It's been a day," she concluded with another sigh, running a hand through her hair.
Willow sat down on an opposite rock, her face mirroring a similar expression. Although on the dreamscape, she didn't so much sit as hover an inch or so over the rock, the effect was much the same. "Tell me about it," she sympathized, her own voice tired and strained.
A comfortable moment passed with neither speaking, but it was a companionable silence and the tension eased somewhat in its wake.
Smirking, Buffy turned to Willow. "What was that about ribbons and cotton candy?"
"Oh, well, not here," the witch brightly replied, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. She gave a short, breathy laugh. "If we had that stuff, you think you would've left? No way, we'd've bribed the heck outta ya!" Shrugging, she added, "Or, failing that, tied you up with the ribbon and force-fed you enough cotton candy to make ya too big to leave the house."
"And on that appealing visual ..." the Slayer drew out, tensing as though she was about to stand up and leave. Then looked around her seemingly seeking a place to go. Finding nothing, she returned to Willow. The redhead was watching her intently.
"We've missed you," Willow said almost casually, but her eyes were searching Buffy's face.
Smiling, a little sadly, Buffy nodded. "I've missed you too. Everyone. You know why I had to do this, right?"
"Buffy, we had this conversation before ya left," reminded Willow with a smirk.
"Yeah, but you didn't understand then," insisted the Slayer.
"Well I do now," was the response. Buffy simply stared. "Okay, I don't," Willow admitted, then pondered for a second. "I do but I don't." The blonde opened her mouth as though to begin explaining again and was cut off by Willow raising a hand. "But it's okay. I don't have to understand. This isn't about me, it's about you. I get that. Just ..." She shrugged slightly, looking down at the hand in her lap. "We miss you."
The two friends locked eyes for a moment, feeling awkward again and unsure of what to do next.
"Dreamscape, you know," Willow explained, glancing at their surroundings. "Hugs sort of a corporeal thing, else I'd be—"
Buffy nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, me too."
The witch got to her feet, her appearance growing fuzzy around the edges. "Anyway, I guess I'd better ..."
Also rising, Buffy requested, "Say hi to everyone for me?"
"You betcha," replied Willow, starting to become translucent.
"And if Dawn gives you trouble, just patch me through to her some night." She paused before adding, "Actually, I may have you do that anyway. Could be fun."
This earned her a laugh, even as Willow slowly vanished from the scene. Buffy watched her go, then blurted out, "Will?"
"Yeah?" Willow responded, her voice appearing to come from a great distance.
"I love you."
"Love you too. Be careful."
Then Willow was gone, leaving Buffy standing alone beside the roaring fire for only a moment before it, too, disappeared together with the rest of the scenery. The Slayer experienced a few brief, disconcerting seconds of floating in the void, then her eyes snapped open.
She was lying in the guest bed of Knight's home. Buffy allowed herself a minute or two to regain her bearings, then slipped out of bed, padding softly across the room to her backpack that lay propped against the far wall. Kneeling down, she unzipped the bag, searching around in the darkness for something specific. She finally found the folder she had been seeking and sat fully on the floor.
Spreading the folder out in her lap, Buffy regarded the contents with a hint of melancholy. It contained several color printouts of photographs, some individual shots of Buffy's friends, both with and without her, still others of larger groups. Most prominent to one side of the folder was a full-page printout of Buffy with Dawn and her mother. She lingered there for a moment before focusing her attention on the other side of the folder – one picture in particular. The Slayer pulled it free of the group and held it up; an image of her, many years younger, sitting on a green lawn, a beaming, long-haired Willow over her shoulder and Xander, complete and whole with both eyes, his head in Buffy's lap as he gazed up at the two girls with almost mocking worship. Buffy remained seated on the cold floor, staring at that picture long into the night.