A loud bang echoed around the house as the front door was thrown open and a blur of movement entered. It stopped briefly for a "Hi, Mom," and a kiss on Dawn's cheek before disappearing up the stairs and into its bedroom.
Dawn stared after the wake created by her daughter. "She seems in a good mood." She commented thoughtfully to Faith, who was making a far more sedate entrance into the house. "Usually after she's been in detention it's either an entire night of sulking in her bedroom or she goes out patrolling straight after getting home without so much as a word."
"Yeah, I think it might have something to do with that hot black girl I saw her chatting up."
"What do you mean she was chatting up a girl," Dawn looked at her sharply. "Did you hear what they were talking about? Did the other girl seem at all interested?"
Faith stared at her like she was crazy and sat down next to her. "Hey I might have super hearing and all but even I can't hear anything over a hundred yards and through a car door. What are you getting so worked up about anyway?"
"I just don't want her getting her hopes up unnecessarily again," Dawn explained. "I don't think I can deal with another Jessica Isles incident, I still can't look Mrs. Isles in the eye."
"Neither can I. I don't understand how a woman that ugly can have given birth to a girl that hot. Personally I think she's adopted."
An irritated look crossed Dawn's face. "Faith could you at least try to be serious for once in your life, Hope almost got expelled because she let her hormones got the better of her and mistakenly thought Jessica liked her, it can't happen again or she will get expelled."
Faith bit back the angry retort that was on the tip of her tongue and counted silently down from ten, remembering what the counsellor had said about controlling her anger, and then muttered a half-hearted apology.
Dawn sighed heavily and covered Faith's hand with her own. "No I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. I've just been so stressed out with work lately and now the twins are getting older the whole prophecy thing's been weighing on my mind more and more."
"If you're too stressed I could help with that," Faith offered, brushing her lips across Dawn's cheek. "Relax you, take your mind off things."
Dawn's eyes closed as Faith laid a trail of kisses down her neck. "I thought your libido was actually supposed to slow down as you got older."
"It has slowed down. I don't want you all the time anymore, just most of it."
"It's not that I don't want to Faith," Dawn said breathlessly. "But the house is sort of occupied."
"She won't notice a thing," Faith whispered, sliding a hand in under Dawn's top and gliding it across her skin. "She'll be networking on her computer already and therefore completely dead to the outside world. She wouldn't hear a bomb going off in the next room let alone you."
"I still have to cook dinner and remember we're supposed to meet Giles at seven."
Faith paused and looked up at her. "That's tonight?"
"We could always have a quickie."
Dawn laughed softly and shook her head. "Ever the romantic." She leaned forward and kissed Faith lightly. "Raincheck?"
Faith disentangled herself and tried to contain the frustration she felt. "Sure."
"Hey I promise if you're really good or very, very, naughty, outfits might be involved."
A slow smile spread across Faith's face and the frustration seemed to melt away. "Outfits huh, guess that could be worth waiting for."
"I'm glad," Dawn said wryly. "Now come help me cook."
Before too long dinner was ready and the tantalising smell wafting through the house inevitably brought Hope crashing down the stairs to eat.
"Where's Will?" She asked as she sat down.
"He's staying at one of his friend's houses tonight." Dawn answered.
Any reply Hope may have made was muffled by the large amount of meatloaf she rapidly began shovelling in her mouth. Dawn bemusedly watched her daughter eat and was reminded her of Faith's eating habits when she was that age, until she caught a glimpse of Faith eating in a similar manner from the corner of her eye.
"Now remember Hope we're going to go see Giles at seven," Dawn pursed her lips and began eating in a more civilised manner. "Are you planning on going out patrolling tonight?"
Hope just nodded as she was unwilling to risk the inevitable wrath of her mom for speaking with food in her mouth.
"Well be careful, and make sure you're home by eleven."
Hope hurriedly swallowed the lump of food in her mouth so she could at least raise some protest to the over-moming. "Come on Mom you know Boston is a dead end town when it comes to the supernatural, the scariest thing I'll probably see is some drunk, homeless guy going on about the Mayan calendar or something."
"There are other dangerous things out there that have far more to do with the natural then the super, especially for a young girl out on her own, late at night in a big city," Dawn said firmly. "Just don't do anything silly OK."
Hope rolled her eyes. "Fine. So this meeting with Giles, would that have anything to do with all those tests he had me and Will run last week?" She asked, watching her mother intently.
Dawn hesitated before answering, unsure of how her daughter would react. After careful consideration she decided there was less harm in letting her know the truth. "Yes it is, we felt it was important to know what you and Will are capable of and your limitations in case anything happens in the future."
Hope shrugged casually. "Like the prophecy, that's cool, I mean it wouldn't exactly be the first time the Council have run tests on us."
"Right." Dawn smiled uncertainly, not quite sure how to read Hope's nonchalant acceptance.
The rest of dinner passed by with few words exchanged and they were all somewhat relieved to get away from the table and prepare to leave.
Dawn dispensed another 'Be careful' speech to Hope as she walked out the door, something which the teenager studiously ignored before slamming the door shut behind her.
"Well then," Dawn stood there, regarding the door for a moment after Hope had closed it. "I guess it's time we were going too."
Giles' apartment was exactly as you would have expected, old-fashioned and furnished mostly in wood and leather, thick curtains covered the windows and shut out the outside world. The main room was filled with light and heat coming from the crackling fire that burned merrily in the hearth.
Most of the walls were covered by floor to ceiling oaken bookshelves, their shelves full to overflowing with ancient, leather bound volumes whose titles were mostly in Latin or Greek though, wedged between two tracts on the history of vampire cults, there seemed to be a book about synchronised swimming.
The sheer volume of books made it perfectly clear that the new technology of the iPortal, and the access it granted to almost every written word in human history, had completely passed Giles by, just like every other new technology since the 1970's.
Giles himself was remarkably fit and mentally sharp for a man in his seventies, if a trifle deaf, and the little hair he now had left on the top of his head had slowly faded from an iron grey to a snowy white.
Dawn and Faith sat uncomfortably on the large, overstuffed sofa in front of the fire, somehow Giles still had the power to make them both feel like the awkward teenagers they had once been, rather than the senior and respected members of the Council they now were.
Giles stiffly shuffled in from the small kitchenette, carrying a tray upon which sat the inevitable teapot and biscuits. He set the tray down on the coffee table in front of his guests, before lowering himself gently into his favourite armchair opposite.
He went to make the tea but Dawn quickly shooed him away, preparing three cups and handing them out. Giles thankfully accepted his and let out a small sigh of pleasure as the first sip of hot liquid slid down the back of his throat.
"I take it this visit is about the twins?" He asked, getting straight down to business.
"You said on the phone that you had the results from their latest testing." Dawn said, a little nervously.
"Yes I do and they make for some rather interesting reading."
"What do you mean?"
"It seems the twins' abilities, powers, talents however you want to put it might have reached their peak," Giles explained. "They haven't really changed since the last time they were tested."
"Changed," Dawn said carefully. "What do you mean?"
Giles settled back comfortably into his chair and readied himself for a nice, long explanation. "When you compare a Slayer's strength, their reflexes, their agility against a normal person they're almost immeasurable, completely off the chart. You have to use a different scale just to measure them, even against elite athletes. In the same way when you compare Hope's strength, agility and reflexes against normal Slayers you have to go up another scale again, but if you chart the latest test results on that same scale they haven't really altered since the last time we measured them over a year ago."
"So she's not going to get any stronger?"
"It appears not." Giles answered cautiously.
"Oh thank god," Dawn leaned back into her chair. "Ever since she was three years old she's been finding new and stronger things she can break with her bare hands, hopefully that's all finished with now."
"And what about Will?" Faith asked softly.
"His 'peak' so to speak seems to be at about the same level as a normal Slayer." Giles replied.
"So he's basically a male version of a Slayer then?"
"Willow has always insisted that he isn't, that his power comes from a different source and not from within the Slayer line," Giles frowned in thought. "And he does lack the prophetic dreams that all Slayers receive, but to all other intents and purposes yes he is the male equivalent of a Slayer."
"Was there anything else we should know?"
"Well there was something the review committee did want me to raise with you..." Giles paused for a moment.
"Yes." Dawn encouraged him to continue.
"There's no delicate way to put this but some of the committee members were unimpressed with the twins fighting skills," Giles took another sip of his tea as he suddenly found his throat dry. "While their techniques were impeccable it was felt they lacked the initiative that only comes from real world experience, that they were too predictable and that in a difficult or treacherous fight their technique might break down and endanger them."
"Jefferies was on that committee wasn't he?" Dawn said coldly.
"He did manage to insinuate himself onto it, yes." Giles admitted reluctantly.
"The man's an idiot."
"He does have some...old-fashioned ideas about Slayers I agree." Giles said diplomatically.
"You mean that he believes it's alright to sacrifice us as long as it's for the greater good." Faith replied harshly.
"Nevertheless many on the Council feel that he does have a point when it comes to the twins," Giles continued doggedly. "If they are to face some great evil in the future they should have the necessary skills to defeat it."
"I'm not putting our children in unnecessary danger just to please someone like Jefferies, or the Council." Dawn said firmly.
"He is starting to gain a lot of support and some of his points are somewhat awkward to argue against. What about if they could be exposed to danger under reasonably controlled circumstances?" Giles suggested.
Dawn shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe that you're even considering this, you know the twins look up to you as their grandfather."
"And don't get me wrong I am extremely fond, but this is the way it's been done with generations of Slayers, including your sister."
"Who died twice because of it, I don't want either of my children to die Giles." Dawn and Giles glared at each other over the gently steaming teapot.
"What about the Cruciamentum Giles, are you thinking of bringing that back too and putting them both through it?" Faith asked quietly.
Giles looked startled, he had actually forgotten that Faith was even there she'd been so uncharacteristically silent through the argument, but he managed to recover his composure quickly. "Of course not, the Cruciamentum is an archaic and out-dated tradition."
"And putting them deliberately in harm's way isn't?"
"It would give them valuable experience which might save their life and the world one day." Giles argued stubbornly.
"I know I'm not Hope's Watcher, and mostly because of that ridiculous rule that I'm also her mother, but I am William's and I am a member of the Council and I'll let you know now that I will fight any move made in this direction with all my power." Dawn stated, setting the matter to rest. "I'm just thankful that Boston isn't at all like Sunnydale and is so lacking in 'controlled circumstances' danger."
Patrol was turning out to be as boring as Hope had feared, there hadn't even been a stray dog or a mugging to keep her interest, just endless hours wandering the backstreets and cemeteries of Boston. Hell she'd even welcome a rescue of a normal, non-demonic variety of cat stuck up a tree at this point.
She slowly made her way through yet another cemetery, humming the latest hit from Melissa Rogers under her breath as she casually twirled a stake in one hand.
She was about to turn around and head home when the unmistakable piercing cry of a girl in trouble grabbed her attention and sent her running in that direction.
"About damn time." Hope muttered under her breath as she athletically hurdled a low stone wall, then skidded to a halt as she spied three demons, of some species she wasn't familiar with, kneeling down beside the prostrate form of a girl lying in the grass.
"Hey! Leave her alone." Hope shouted for lack of anything more original, she hadn't bothered thinking of anything during the night's interminable patrol as she hadn't expected any action.
One of the demons remained where it was beside the girl as the other two rose to their feet and faced her. They actually looked reasonably human until you saw their faces which resembled blocks of wax that had sat beside a fire for far too long, their features had melted and sunk and long bits of flesh dangled from their cheeks and chin.
"You know you guys should really consider some kind of surgery," Hope commented lightly, wrinkling her nose in disgust. "Because right now even Madonna looks normal compared to you."
The demons either didn't bother or were incapable of answering her, instead silently withdrawing long, sharp knives from their belts, the blades glittering in the moonlight. They spread out to either side of her, their moves perfectly in unison, and then slowly closed in.
Hope glanced down at her, unfortunately, wooden stake then back at the demons sharp, metallic knives.
"Crap." She whispered to herself. "Now why couldn't I carry something like that, or at the very least something invented after the Stone Age."
She sighed heavily and then, before the demons could flank her, she moved swiftly for the one to her left, her speed clearly catching the demon by surprise as it barely managed to raise its knife when she reached it.
It thrust out at her but she easily dodged the knife and caught the outstretched arm, twisting it, the snapping sound of breaking bones echoing in the night air.
The demon made a noise which Hope assumed was one of pain and dropped the knife, bending down she scooped it off the grass and, pirouetting in place she slashed out at the creature, almost decapitating it with one blow.
The second demon hesitated when it saw its comrade fall and Hope seized the opportunity, throwing the knife and burying it almost to the hilt in the demon's chest.
She turned to deal with number three but it was long gone, she squashed her disappointment at the tame ending and quickly made her way over to where the girl still lay. "It's OK, they've gone now you're going to be all..." The adrenaline and excitement of the fight drained away at the sight which greeted her eyes. "...right." She finished dully.
The girl was most definitely dead, the large pool of blood from her slit throat and widely staring eyes made that obvious, but it was the symbol carved into the girl's forehead that captured Hope's gaze and sickened her the most.
It looked like a stylized version of the letter A, vaguely resembling the symbol for anarchy, but it appeared older somehow and was certainly evil, just looking at it for a few seconds sent a chill down Hope's spine.
She turned away and swallowed hard on her recently digested dinner as it threatened to make a reappearance. She'd never actually seen a dead body up close before, well technically she had seen plenty of vamps but they had been moving and stuff, at least up to the point where she had staked them and they'd turned into very unmoving piles of dust.
This was different though, until a few minutes ago this had been a living, breathing human being, a girl like her, around her own age whose life had been brutally cut off before its time and for what, so some freaky, melted face demon could carve some obscure symbol into her cooling flesh, it just wasn't right.
Hope drew a shaky breath and gathered herself together, turning back to face the gruesome sight. She slowly knelt down in the grass and gently closed the girl's eyes, a tear trickling down her cheek, and then she reached for her iPortal and began to make the calls to all the appropriate people.
Author's Note: And here endth the opening chapters, things should hot up a bit from here with more action and less ground laying. In case some of you are confused the story is set in the future, around the year 2023 by my reckoning, hence the President Palin and the iPortal – think a mix of iPhone, iPod, blackberry, laptop, personal organiser and any other small handheld electronic device mixed together.