This is a Post-"Chosen" followup to my other work, Blood of the Night Stalker, but although you're encouraged to read that work if you haven't already done so, you don't have have to do so first in order to enjoy this work. I think I've included enough of the backstory in this work, and particularly in Chapter 1, for you to follow the storyline. I don't even consider it AU. I deliberately wrote Blood of the Night Stalker to remain in-canon, or at least to not contradict anything within series canon. All you have to do is accept the premise that sometime in late Season 7 (somewhere between "First Date" and "Lies My Parents Told Me"), Joyce's parents and sister became more involved in Buffy's and Dawn's lives. Oh, yes, and even if you've never heard of Carl Kolchak, all you need to know is that Grandpa knows a little something about slaying vampires himself!
One other caveat: although we stay in-canon for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in later books of this storyline we do go slightly AU for Angel Season 5. More on that when we get to it.
Colette McDade stepped back up to the plate. She was nervous enough as it was, having one of the lowest batting averages in the entire Glendale girls' little league, but now her whole family was watching her, including her new-found Grandpa. She bit her lip nervously as the pitcher sneered at her and the infielders taunted her. They knew where her standing was in the league.
She couldn't believe that Coach Wainwright hadn't sent in a pinch-hitter. They were trailing by one run at the bottom of the 9th with one out and a runner on third. A suicide squeeze bunt to tie the game was in order, but she bunted foul on the first pitch, and a called strike on the second left the count at 0 and 2, pretty much eliminating the squeeze bunt as an option. She had to make a swing for the outfield and knew a sacrifice fly was the best she could hope for.
She couldn't describe what happened next, except that a surge of energy had run through her body, bringing with it a sense that she couldn't be beaten, couldn't lose. She'd recently learned the word "euphoria" in her 6th Grade class. Maybe that was it, but at any rate, she smiled. She saw the pitcher wind up with the same motions she had for her last two pitches which were fastballs, but now it was as if she and the ball were in slow motion. The ball came, straight and nearly level, a little low and outside, but so slow and seemingly large that Colette could see the individual surface stitches as it rotated in midair. She swung for it with all her strength and she couldn't possibly miss such a big, slow target.
She'd never heard the crack of the bat so loudly before, and probably few people in that ballpark had either. Most of her team's fans stood and cheered in amazement as everyone saw the line drive shooting past the shocked fielders, over the left field fence and onto the far side of the parking lot outside. Colette took a leisurely jog around the bases, but the world still seemed to be in slow motion, and she nearly ran into the back of her teammate who had been on third base, and was only a step behind her as the two girls crossed home plate.
The whole team had cleared the dugout and was waiting for them. After wading through a sea of hugs and backslaps, Colette was lifted up on their shoulders and delivered in triumph to her parents, sixteen year old sister, fourteen year old brother, grandmother and grandfather. They all hugged her and were just as euphoric as she was. But Colette noticed that, through all the smiles and embraces, Grandma shot an anxious, questioning glance at Grandpa, who shrugged and frowned back momentarily with the same look of worry; it was as if they knew something that they weren't telling anyone else.
Grandma and Grandpa lagged behind the rest of the family on the walk back to the McDade family's van. There was a lot of noise around her from the rest of her family as well as her teammates and their families, and Colette thought her grandparents were too far behind for her to hear, but she could swear she heard snatches of their conversation:
"It wouldn't be because of Buffy," Grandpa said. "Remember, there's a second one out there. We figured if a new one was chosen, it would be because of the second one dying, not Buffy."
"What about Dawnie?" Grandma asked.
"Dawnie's an extremely rare and special case. It's definitely not because of her."
Grandma and Grandpa appeared to have put the worries aside by the time the family joined with those of several of Colette's teammates at the neighborhood ice cream parlor. The Sundaes, cones, sodas and other refreshments were handed out and consumed freely by the players and their families; Grandpa, whose rumpled off-white seersucker suit and straw hat belied the fact that he was filthy rich, once again insisted on picking up the tab. Colette was perceptive enough to tell that her grandparents were making a conscious effort not to spoil her moment in the sun. The stunning comeback victory that had made her the center of attention had also managed to make her family momentarily forget the underlying worries everyone had over her cousins, who had decided to stay behind in a town that had been largely evacuated because of increasing seismic tremors.
It was yet another strange, emotional roller-coaster event in a strange Spring of 2003. It all started during Spring Break when Colette and her parents, sister and brother had gone to visit her grandmother in La Jolla and then went camping with her. When her grandmother checked her answering machine upon their returning to her condo, there was a message from Colette's 16 year old cousin Dawn in Sunnydale, asking Grandma to call back.
Colette could still remember the long-ago days when she and her sister Cyndi and brother Eric were close to their cousins Buffy and Dawn. Her mother and Aunt Joyce had always been close, and her mother and grandmother still occasionally reminisced about how inseparable Buffy and Celia had been. Celia, Colette's oldest sister, had taken ill and died suddenly at age seven, before Colette was born and while Eric was a baby and Cyndi and Dawn were toddlers. The loss had brought the extended family closer, but change had inevitably come.
First, Aunt Joyce and Uncle Hank got divorced, and she moved up the coast to Sunnydale with Buffy and Dawn. Then Colette's nuclear family moved to Illinois for three years. The last time Colette could remember the extended family being close was the Thanksgiving that Aunt Joyce and Dawn flew in to Illinois, as did Grandma, although Buffy had chosen to stay behind with her friends. By the time the nuclear family moved back to California, they found Aunt Joyce and her daughters strangely distant for no apparent reason.
Aunt Joyce's sudden death two and a half years ago devastated both Colette's mother and grandmother, while making Buffy and Dawn even more distant. Colette, Cyndi and Eric confided to each other that they were secretly grateful that Buffy and Dawn had declined their parents' offer to take them in and decided to stay in Sunnydale. It probably would have meant Colette doubling up with Cyndi and Buffy and Dawn taking her room. For a year and a half after the funeral, they didn't see Buffy or Dawn, and the phone calls were few and far between. Over that period, the whole family seemed to agree that Dawn was maintaining a constant level of morose politeness toward them, while Buffy went through some extreme mood swings, from a strange, almost robot-like cheerfulness as though the loss had never occurred, to a gloomy, depressed withdrawal where she could barely hold a conversation. Finally, last summer they stopped by in Glendale on the way to see Grandma in La Jolla, and afterward, everyone including Grandma agreed that Buffy and Dawn were more or less their old selves again, although still distancing themselves from the rest of the family to some extent.
Grandma still worried openly about them, but Colette knew that a big part of that was her overbearing, overprotective, sometimes downright meddlesome nature. So when she returned Dawn's call, apparently some strange boy named Andrew had answered, and neither Dawn nor Buffy were home. Colette wasn't surprised at all when she saw that Grandma was rather upset at this, but after she said to the boy: "Carl? And who the hell is Carl?" and listened to the answer, she turned white and hung up the phone in a state of hysterics that nobody in the family had ever seen her in before.
Through the hysterics, the family was able to gather that Grandma wanted them to get in their van and return immediately to Glendale, and that she was going with them. They did so, and as they hit the road, Grandma further explained that after they let Dad and the kids off at home, she wanted Mom to continue with her on to Sunnydale; they were getting Buffy and Dawnie out of there because their lives were in grave danger.
Then after regaining her composure, Grandma delivered the two biggest bombshells of the family's existence. The first she said to Mom: "Polly, there's something I need to tell you: your father's alive!"
It was a good thing that Dad was driving and that that stretch of highway was fairly empty, because Mom almost fainted. As it was, Dad nearly lost control of the van.
Grandma had always been secretive about their grandfather's life and death. All they knew was that his name was Kirk Wilson and that he was a newspaper reporter in Las Vegas who died when Mom was six and Aunt Joyce was four. As the two sisters grew up, his occupation and the locale led them to speculate that he had run afoul of the local Mafia and its gambling operations, and had been the victim of a Mob hit. It was a speculation that Grandma did nothing to discourage and, after both sisters had married, that both Dad and Uncle Hank had agreed seemed to make sense.
"D- Daddy's alive?" Mom whispered in disbelief, still pale.
"Then he's been on the run from the Mob," Dad nodded. "Or he's been in some kind of witness protection program."
"No, not exactly," Grandma replied. "But I did take you and Joyce away from him because your lives were in danger." After a long thoughtful pause, she delivered the second bombshell. "And his name isn't Kirk Wilson. It's Carl Kolchak."
Colette didn't think Mom could get any whiter, but she did.
"You mean the red-haired man with the straw hat that Joyce and I remembered wasn't our daddy?" Mom's voice shook.
"That was him," Grandma nodded. "But his name was- is- Carl Kolchak. Kirk Wilson was just a name I made up as a cover story after we left Las Vegas. I picked the name Wilson because it's pretty common and plain, made it harder for us to be tracked down."
"By the Mob or whoever it was who was after him."
"And by your father himself," Grandma nodded again. "It's not that I didn't love him. It was the most painful decision I've ever made in my life. But I decided that it was too dangerous for you and Joyce to have any contact with him. I didn't think I could count on him to stay away from us, so that's why I changed our name." After a thoughtful pause, she added. "But I always had this feeling that, with his skills as an investigative reporter, he'd be able to find us someday. He may have even found us a long time ago but just kept his distance."
"Carl Kolchak, investigative reporter," Dad chuckled skeptically. "THE Carl Kolchak! Mom, you're telling us that your ex-husband- Polly's dad- is THE Carl Kolchak? Kolchak the Night Stalker?"
"You've heard of him, I see," Grandma nodded.
"Mom, he's a fictional TV character!"
"No, Matt," Grandma told him, "but actually, the more people who believe that, the safer we are."
"Carl Kolchak, the Night Stalker, is Polly's dad!" Dad laughed. "My father-in-law. The grandfather of my children!"
"As crazy as it sounds..."
"I suppose that means that his girlfriend in the first movie, the one the cops ran out of town in Vegas at the end, was you!"
"Yes, Matt," Grandma replied calmly. "Except it was my decision. Nobody ran me out of town. And I'm grateful that Carl changed the story for the movie, so the public didn't know we were married and that Polly and Joyce existed."
"So why are you telling us this now, Mom?" Colette could see that her mother was obviously still having trouble absorbing everything, much more than her siblings and herself.
"Because your father has found and made contact with Buffy and Dawnie," Grandma replied. "He's with them in Sunnydale right now, and their lives are in danger! We have to get them out of there and away from him, and bring them back to Glendale! I know how crazy this sounds, but..."
"Matt," Mom said, "you seem to have heard of this Carl Kolchak person. Does this sound crazy to you?"
"To be honest," Dad replied, then took a deep breath, "yeah!... But there's no harm in your taking a drive up to Sunnydale and humoring your mom."
Grandma rolled her eyes back. "Thank you, Matt," she said dryly.
"Besides," Dad added with another chuckle, "Buffy and Dawn could use a good laugh. God knows they haven't had much to laugh about the last two years!"
"So tell me about this Carl Kolchak person who's supposed to be the father I thought was dead for the last forty years!" Mom said anxiously.
"I'd better let your mom do that," Dad replied with another chuckle.
But Grandma frowned. "I don't care if you think this is a joke, or if you think I'm crazy, Matt. As long as you're okay with Polly taking me to Sunnydale." She sighed, pursed her lips and folded her arms across her chest.
"We can all go up to Sunnydale!" Dad smiled. "I want to see how this plays out."
"No," Grandma said. "We're bringing Buffy and Dawnie back with us, and there wouldn't be room for them here in the van. And I don't need you with us if you think this is a joke!"
"Suit yourself," Dad shook his head and continued to laugh. "Here I was, thinking I was one of the luckiest men in the world, married twenty-four years and never once thinking my mother-in-law was nuts. I knew it had to end sometime!"
"Mom, I've never seen you like this," Mom told Grandma. "I don't think you'd joke about something like this. So what's going on? If it's not the Mafia, then why did you make me and Joyce think Daddy was dead all these years, and why are Joyce's girls in grave danger?"
"It's a long story, Polly," Grandma replied wearily. "I'll tell you on the way up to Sunnydale after we drop Matt and the kids off."
The three adults remained quiet for the rest of the drive back to Glendale. Colette and Eric both started to ask Grandma some questions, but big sister Cyndi shut them up each time with an elbow to the ribs or a slap to the back of the head. When they got home, Mom didn't even take the time to unload her luggage from the camping trip before she and Grandma went on. Which was just as well, because they ended up not coming home for two days.
"So, Dad," Colette asked worriedly as the van drove out of sight, "do you really think Grandma's cracking up?"
"I don't know, Honey."
"Then what's the story about this Cole Karlchak who's supposed to be our Grandpa?" Cyndi asked.
"Carl Kolchak," Dad corrected her. "It may be just some delusion your Grandma's having. In fact, the more I think about it, it probably is."
"But that was Dawn's voice on Grandma's answering machine," Cyndi said. "We all heard it. But all she did was just ask Grandma to call back. Why would calling Buffy and Dawn's house make Grandma crack up and go all delusional?"
"I'm not sure," Dad shook his head. "But I thought the best thing would be to humor Grandma. Maybe when they get to Sunnydale and she sees that there's nobody there named Carl Kolchak, she'll come to her senses."
"So what's the story with this Carl Kolchak?" Colette repeated.
"Like I said, Sweetheart," Dad smiled, "he's a fictional character." He chuckled again, "Although if he weren't, it might explain some of the weird stuff going on with your cousins!"
"Like what?" Eric asked.
"Never mind. I shouldn't say stuff like that!"
And with that, Dad clammed up again, leaving Colette and her siblings with only one way to get an answer.
It took a few trial-and-error attempts at spelling "Carl Kolchak" on Google before they found a number of websites about a couple of old TV movies and a series called "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" from the early to mid 1970s, when Mom and Dad were teenagers and before they met in college. They could instantly see why Dad would have heard of Carl Kolchak while Mom hadn't: Mom wasn't into horror and monster movies. Carl Kolchak was an investigative reporter who, in the first movie, began covering a serial killer in Las Vegas who turned out to be a vampire, and ended up killing him with a stake after the police failed to kill the vampire in a shootout. He went on in the second movie and the series to investigate cases involving various vampires, monsters and other supernatural forces. Unfortunately, his editors and the police were forever suppressing the truth about his cases, and much of the world saw him as a crackpot.
"Kinda like The X-Files without the guns and FBI badges," Eric quipped as the three of them gathered around the computer in the family room.
What really struck the three siblings was that on one of the websites, they found some still pictures from the first movie, of Darren McGavin, the actor who played Carl Kolchak, with an actress named Carol Lynley who did look a lot like pictures they'd seen of Grandma when she was younger. And Kolchak's trademark was a straw hat.
"Dad's right," Cyndi nodded. "If this guy were for real and he were our grandfather, it might explain a lot about Buffy and Dawn."
"Better them than us!" Eric laughed.
"Hey, guys!" Dad yelled from the kitchen, "Better get off the Internet and leave the phone line open. Mom might try to call."
But Mom didn't call right away, and after dark, they tried calling Buffy and Dawn's number at home and got no answer, not even their answering machine. They knew their cousins had cell phones but didn't know the numbers. It wasn't until almost midnight that Mom finally called. She was obviously emotionally drained, crying and barely coherent, but from what they could gather, Grandma wasn't nuts after all, Carl Kolchak was a real person who was there in Sunnydale, and he really was the Daddy that Mom remembered from her childhood. She and Grandma were staying up there for another day or so but were staying, not at Buffy and Dawn's house because there were a lot of other people staying there, but at Carl's hotel suite just outside town.
They came home two days later, not with Buffy and Dawn but with a long-lost grandfather who really did look like the actor Darren McGavin and wore a straw homburg hat and rumpled seersucker suit.
Colette and her siblings never got the whole story, but one thing was obvious to them: Grandma and their new-found grandfather had either fallen in love all over again or had never really stopped loving each other after over forty years of separation. In hindsight, the fact that no one in the family could remember Grandma ever showing any serious interest in any other men suggested the latter. Colette and her siblings bonded quickly with Carl Kolchak, taking quite easily to calling him Grandpa. For the next several days, Colette doubled up with Cyndi while Grandma took her room, and Grandpa checked into a nearby motel, although he spent most of the time with them, getting to know the family that had been taken from him and had grown in his absence. The kids soon learned that Grandpa had made a huge amount of money from royalties for the scripts of The Night Stalker movies and series and several stories from The X-Files. He was transferring large but undisclosed sums of money to the bank accounts of Grandma, Mom, and their cousins in Sunnydale.
Nobody said anything to the kids about what had happened in Sunnydale, or the bruises Mom and both grandparents had on their arms and legs, or the bandage on Mom's forearm, but a couple of weekends later, Buffy and Dawn drove up to the house, not in Aunt Joyce's old Jeep Cherokee but in a new silver Mercedes SL coupe that they soon learned was Grandpa's and that he had left behind with them in Sunnydale. When their cousins came to the door, there was a genuine and heartfelt exchange of hugs and affection between them and Mom and Grandma that they hadn't seen since Aunt Joyce was still alive. More surprisingly, Buffy and Dawn extended that same affection toward their three cousins. But Colette couldn't help noticing, with a little bit of jealousy, that there was a particular bond that Grandpa had with the Summers girls that wasn't quite there with his McDade grandchildren.
After Buffy and Dawn refreshed themselves from the long drive and settled down in the living room with the rest of the family, it was Grandma who took charge of the gathering.
"Buffy, Dawnie, I'm sorry to have to make you two drive down here..."
"It's okay, Grandma," Dawn smiled. "Buffy doesn't like to drive, but I do. I had a blast with the Mercedes!"
"Good. I'm glad," Grandma continued. "I know the plan was for us to go back up to Sunnydale for your grandfather's car, but there wasn't room in the van for all of us, and he and I have an announcement to make that we wanted to make in front of the whole family."
She smiled sadly as she made eye contact with each of her five grandchildren. "In the forty-one years since I took your mothers away from your grandfather, there wasn't a day when I didn't agonize over whether or not I'd done the right thing. At the time, what I knew told me that, as painful as it was, it was for the best, and that their very lives and the very existence of all five of you depended on it. But I always wondered. Buffy and Dawn, now the things I've learned in the few weeks since your Grandpa entered your lives have made me wonder if the lives of you and your mother might have been made easier if he'd been a part of it all along. Or at least if the three of you had known the truth from the start. But I can't change the past, only the future."
She paused and sniffed as her eyes began to water. "The one right thing I know that I've done over the years is that in all these years of separation, I never filed for divorce. It just never felt right. And your grandfather never filed any divorce papers either. Legally, we're still Mr. and Mrs. Carl Kolchak." She smiled as she and Grandpa moved closer together and placed their arms around each other. "So your grandfather and I are going to start living together again. And I'm proud to be able, after forty-one years, to once again call myself Mrs. Joan Kolchak!"
There were joyful exclamations as all the family members stood and gathered around the couple, and each gave the two of them a tearful hug. Mom was particularly tearful, but Grandma elicited a loud sob out of everyone as she embraced Buffy and Dawn and said to them, "I only wish your mother were here to see this!"
After they composed themselves again, Grandpa spoke up. "We've decided to keep our current homes. Your grandma's pretty much settled in at her condo in La Jolla and most of her friends are there. And I'm going to keep my house up in Lake Keogh; the whole family can use it as a vacation home as needed. But we're going to start looking for a house or maybe build one, probably around Oxnard or Ventura or Ojai so that it's about midway between here and Sunnydale. So we can be close to everybody."
They all had a pleasant lunch, with Buffy and Dawn getting caught up on things with the rest of the family. It was actually a lot of small talk; much was about the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High where Dawn was a sophomore and Buffy had been hired as a peer counselor, but the two of them were rather selective in the details they discussed. Cyndi actually drew stone silence from both of her cousins and uncomfortable looks from her grandparents when she observed that Buffy seemed to have the bad luck of having her schools either blown up or burned down.
It was still early in the afternoon when Buffy and Dawn got in the Mercedes with both grandparents and drove back to Sunnydale with them. Grandpa had explained that he had made a promise to talk about his journalistic experiences with the girls who were staying with Buffy and Dawn, and that he and Grandma would be back in two or three days. They seemed to be in a hurry to get back to Sunnydale while it was still light, and Mom seemed inexplicably anxious at their departure.
Mom was indescribably relieved when Grandma and Grandpa returned three days later, but both grandparents were rather sobered in their mood. Again, there was no discussion of why. Now that Grandpa had his own wheels back, he and Grandma moved into a suite at a much more upscale hotel a little further away, and they mentioned rethinking their plan to buy or build halfway between Glendale and Sunnydale, and were starting to look at homes and locations in and around Glendale.
A couple of weeks later, the news broke that there were increasingly intense seismic tremors in Sunnydale and that most of the residents were evacuating. Mom and both grandparents were openly worried but not surprised at the news, or at Buffy and Dawn's decision to stay in Sunnydale with their friends. Not long after that, it was reported that power and phone lines had been shut down in the town, with no new word from the Summers girls. It was that dark cloud that had been hanging over the family when Colette hit her game-winning home run. But the cheerful squeals of two dozen pre-teen girls and their families as they crowded the dining area of that ice cream parlor, had made the worries disappear.
That is, for a few brief minutes. The end came with a scream of "Whoa!" followed some more shouting, unintelligible through the din of the celebration from a boy in a group of older teenagers at a booth at the far end of the parlor, who weren't even part of the celebration. Then the boy stood on his seat as a wave of silence rippled out across the room and all heads turned toward him. He pressed the headphones of his Walkman closer to his ears for a few seconds before announcing: "There's been a big earthquake in Sunnydale! The whole town's collapsed into a sinkhole!"
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