Title: Grains of Dust
Spoilers: no major ones.
Disclaimer: Not mine, Joss Whedon's. Except for Lizzy, who is mine.
Author's notes: Canon up to the end of BtVS season 4, AtS season 1. Thereafter, not. I wrote this a while ago.
GRAINS OF DUST
My mum is a witch. I mean that literally, of course. She's a good witch, in both senses of the word 'good'. My dad is nobody. I don't mean that literally; what I mean is that Mum had a mistaken, drunken one-night stand one day and ended up pregnant. But I don't mind Dad, whoever he is, not being around, because I have two parents. There's Tara too. Mum and Tara have been together since college. My friends think it's kind of weird, your mum living with another woman, but I'm used to it. I like it. I like Tara. There's never any shouting in our house, everything's usually calm and peaceful and happy, and things get done quickly.
Tara's a witch too. That's how they met, her and Mum, at a Wicca group where they were the only ones who could do anything serious. Tara always says Mum's got more power, but Mum always says it's Tara. I guess they're equally powerful in different ways. Mum can lift things just by looking at them – useful at dinnertime, that is, or when a heavy object needs moving. Tara can see into people's minds, she knows if you're lying, if you're not who you say you are, that kind of thing. Together they're incredible. I can't do much, though I've tried. Mum says it's Dad's fault, whoever Dad is.
Luckily I inherited Mum's other talents. I'm good at schoolwork. I like maths, computers are a second home. I inherited her looks too, red hair and green eyes and skin that burns in the sun. And I inherited her friends as honorary aunts and uncles. There's Xander and Anya, who are married. Xander writes comedy shows for television. He's got quite rich and he and Anya live in a big house a few miles away from us. They visit pretty often, and we always laugh a lot when they do. Anya comes out with the oddest comments quite seriously, but that's because she's not quite normal. Once she was a witch too, and then she got turned into a demon goddess and lived for a thousand years, before she got turned back into a girl and fell in love with Xander. You get the impression that she's not got used to the modern world, and its little traditions and things, but it's fun when she's around and despite her and Xander arguing constantly they love each other. The other friends who visit are Cordelia and Wesley. Wesley's English and has the cutest accent and habits. Cordelia is possibly the most beautiful woman I know, and the most stylish, and her quirky habit is saying exactly what she thinks when she thinks it. Mum says she was the same at school.
They all had another friend once, a girl whose picture (taken with a much younger Mum and Xander) is on the wall in the living room. She was blonde and pretty and from the way they talk about her I always got the impression she was special to them, and extraordinary. They went through a lot together, I think, but even now it hurts Mum too much to talk about her. So we don't.
That's our little family, and we're happy together. We're not normal, but we don't care what other people think.
And the not normal extends further, linking back to the blonde girl, and what happened to her, and what happened to the missing people. The ones Mum never talks about. Because I met one of them last week, quite suddenly and out of the blue and without expecting it.
It happened in the evening, when I was out with friends in the local diner having hamburgers. Mum and Tara are great cooks but they tend to rely on vegetables and things and occasionally you get the need for a big fattening meal, with extra Coke and fries, and my friends are of a like mind. They're good friends, we're not alike but we have a laugh and we get on, and they stand by in a crisis, and that's what matters.
Anyway, we'd finished our meal and were leaving the diner to pile into the four-wheel drive we go around in, and out of the darkness I heard a voice.
"Willow?" said the voice, and I turned around. Mum's name's as unusual as she is, and I wondered if the voice knew her. "Oh," the voice said, with a note of disappointment, but also a note of 'how silly I am, it couldn't possibly be'. I saw a tall dark back turn and start to walk away.
"Wait!" I called, and the back turned back to me and looked up. I almost caught my breath – my luck was surely in. A simply gorgeous man stood looking back at me.
"I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else."
"You said 'Willow'," I said. "My mum's called Willow."
There was a silence. My friends shouted at me that they were going, and I let them.
"Willow Rosenberg?" he asked, as the four-wheel disappeared with a screeching of tyres.
"Yeah, that's right."
"You're her daughter?"
"Check," I said. "Elizabeth. Or Liz for short."
"You look like her," he told me.
I ran my hand through my hair.
"Tell me about it. Right down to the freckles. You know my mum?"
He smiled, slightly, a sort of lopsided smile that made him look even more gorgeous. I had to think about not fainting on the spot.
"I used to."
I snorted in a very unladylike manner which I regretted instantly.
"Used to? You either know someone or you don't."
"Depends on the person," he said, smiling again. "Do you live nearby?"
I opened my mouth, but then reflected. Hang on a sec, I thought to myself, why am I considering giving my address to a random – if gorgeous – stranger who happens to know (in a 'used to' way) my mum? I looked at him with narrow eyes.
"Perhaps. Do you?"
"No." He met my suspicious gaze right back. "You're wondering why you should tell me where you live. Sensible. Willow's brought you up right."
I found myself smiling now.
"Yes, she has." A development of my earlier thought struck me. "Well enough for me to wonder why I'm standing in a Sunnydale car park at night talking to a stranger. Goodnight. Nice meeting you." I nodded at him and turned to go home, feeling with one hand for reassurance the protective talisman around my neck. On the way back I thought once or twice someone was following me, but when I turned there was nobody. And anyway I often get that feeling at night. Still, I was happy to shut the door on the darkness and go up to my room for some quiet surfing.
I didn't see Mum and Tara till the next morning. When I got down they were busy flipping pancakes whilst reading the paper (difficult apparently: you have to know just when to glance up from the paper to turn the cake in the pan. The first time Mum tried it we were scraping pancake batter off the ceiling all morning.) I settled down at the table and grabbed some juice.
"Morning, Lizzy," Mum said, sliding a pancake on to the plate nearby and dropping it neatly in front of me. "Nice evening last night?"
"As usual," I said, pouring syrup on my pancake – the regular way. "At least, almost. I met a guy who said he knew you."
There was silence in the room. Mum and Tara looked at each other in that intense way they have, and then back at me.
"What sort of guy?" asked Mum.
"The sort you dream of meeting," I replied, somewhat dreamily myself. In a way I wondered if I had just imagined the odd encounter. "Tall, dark hair. Good bones. He said I looked like you. Funny thing was, he wasn't much older than me." This odd fact had come to my notice some time in the course of my sleep and I had woken up with it at the top of my mind.
Tara got off her chair and came to stand in front of me.
"Let me look?" she asked softly. "It might be important."
I nodded. She'd done this a couple of times before. It doesn't hurt and I trust Tara enough to know she wouldn't ever look at private memories. She put her hands on my temples and closed her eyes, concentrating.
It didn't take long and in a minute she opened her eyes again.
"Lots of shadow," she said to Mum. "It doesn't help that I only saw him briefly. But …"
"Oh dear," Mum murmured. "Lizzy, he didn't – you didn't tell him where we live, did you?"
"No. C'mon, Mum, I'm not stupid."
She shook her head, and came and hugged me suddenly.
"Far from it. Tara?"
"I agree. We need to reinforce the barriers. And get the others here." When Mum and Tara have work to do they somehow stop being shy and nervous and start being assertive.
"Lizzy," said Mum, "ring the Harrises and the Wyndham-Pryces and tell them to get here before it's dark." She waved her hand and the address book flew open in front of me. 'Giles,' I read, and there was a Sacramento number. "Tell him who you are. Ask him if he can get here. Say it's urgent. If he asks for proof of who you are just tell him Buffy."
"Just that. Come and find us when you're done."
They hurried off, Mum with her arms full of ingredients, and I picked up the phone.
Anya answered at the Harrises, and I gave her Mum's cryptic message. She grumbled a bit (nothing unusual there), but said they'd get to us. At Cordelia and Wesley's it was he who replied, and when I told him what Mum had said he went really quiet.
"Wesley?" I said, checking he was still with me.
"Yes. Tell Willow we're on our way. Thank you, Lizzy."
"No problem," I told him, and put my end down. One more call to make. I dialled the Sacramento number and waited. And waited. And just as I was about to give up, the tone ended and the phone was answered.
"Rupert Giles." Another Englishman.
"Hi," I said. "My name's Liz Rosenberg. I'm Willow's daughter. She told me to call you and to say you have to try and get to Sunnydale."
"Did she … did she give you a reason?"
"No. She said it's urgent. And, oh, Buffy."
"I'll be with you by evening," the disembodied voice said, and he must have put the phone down. I looked at my receiver for a bit and went to find Mum.
Her and Tara were busy going over their barriers round the house. We have one which skirts the garden and then more at each window and door. Normal people can't see them (I only know they're there because, well, I know), but Mum says they stop demons and stuff. I humour her. It's true we've never been burgled.
I watched them for a bit as they chanted and scattered powder and only called to Mum when they moved on a few metres.
"Everyone's coming, Mum."
"Good," she said, relief in her voice. "Thanks, Lizzy."
I sat down on the doorstep.
"Look, Mum, what's going on and what's it got to do with Mr Dreamboat?"
Mum and Tara turned as one and both regarded me gravely.
"Well?" I demanded.
Tara came and knelt in front of me.
"If I show you," she whispered, "it will scare you."
"Scare me," I said bravely. Inside bits of me were turning to jelly. "There's gotta to be a good reason for you repairing perfectly good barriers."
Tara swallowed, and then she placed my hands on her temples and hers on mine ….
* * *
It's night, and we're walking swiftly through Sunnydale cemetery. On my left I can see someone who has to be Mum, but Mum much younger. On my right there's a young Anya and Xander holding hands. Just in front of us, her posture determined, there's the blonde girl from the living room photo. I wonder where Tara is and then realise I am Tara, or looking through her eyes. It's weird.
"Riley!" the blonde girl's calling.
"I'm sure he's safe," Mum says gently. The blonde girl whirls around and I see there's a sort of pointed stick in her hand.
"Thanks Will," she says, "but until I've found him I'm not sure of anything. Too many people have been killed recently around here, and I'm worried."
"Just like the old days," mutters Xander.
We hurry on through the graves and suddenly, the group stops. There's a figure on the ground, and the blonde girl runs to it and throws herself down.
"Riley," she sobs, and we come close and see the pale dead face of a young man. He has these strange cuts on his neck. "When I find the vampire who did this," the girl says vehemently (vampire? I think), "he's going to wish he's never been born."
There is a low laugh from the shadows, and we all turn. I feel a shiver through my spine as a figure emerges, his hands in his pockets, all easy grace and confidence. It's the man I met outside the diner, looking exactly the same.
"You don't have to look far, Buff," he says lightly. "I see what you saw in him now. Sweet." He licks his lips, and from beside me Xander makes a movement. Mum reaches out a hand and stops him.
"No, Xander," she says. Xander halts, but in his face there's anger and hate. The blonde girl stands up, her face streaked with tears.
"Angel?" she whispers.
"If you insist, but I prefer Angelus these days," he tells her. Her face pales. I feel everyone tense. "Those nice people at Wolfram and Hart round my way did a little spell. Wes not pass on the message? Oh, I forgot. He's probably in hospital."
The atmosphere is taut now, so that I with Tara's extra senses can almost feel it springing. We all move back and leave room for the blonde girl and the man (is he a man?) called Angelus, and they circle each other warily.
"I loved him," the girl says hopelessly. Then, after a beat, "I loved you."
"Why do you think I killed him?" the other asks sarcastically. "A few years back I failed to bring things to an end, my dear, but now I have a second chance."
"Hell wasn't good enough for you," she snarls at him.
"Hell didn't hurt me," he snarls back. "It hurt your precious Angel, nearly broke his pathetic little soul. But I'm a demon. No problems for me in the underworld."
Her shoulders sag.
"What do you want?" she asks.
"A little rough-and-tumble, perhaps a massacre or two. Spot of torture. Oh, and some of that addictive Slayer blood of yours."
The rest of us gather closer together.
"We have to do something," says Xander hopelessly.
"He'd kill you in a second," points out Anya. "You're staying here." She takes hold of his arm possessively.
"But, Buffy," he protests.
"Is the Slayer," replies Anya. "She can defend herself."
Mum looks at me – or looks at Tara, I can't decide which.
"A spell?" she says, "can we do a spell? Binding, or anything?"
"I don't know any spells like that," I – or Tara, reply, and helpless we turn back to where the girl and her opponent are now intermittently exchanging blows. Suddenly there is a change, and the man's once handsome face undergoes a startling transformation. He develops yellow eyes and long fangs, and the battle begins. It is a blur of kicks and punches, of cracks and thuds. They seem to know each other's weaknesses and strengths without having to reflect, and the fight goes on and on.
And then, all of a sudden, it is over. The – thing – has the girl in his arms, and expertly he has her legs trapped under his body. She cannot move. Tears are running down her cheeks.
"Willow? Xander?" she sobs. "Do something, please!" Xander wrenches himself from Anya's grasp and runs towards them. But he is too slow, as the thing bends and bites and in a matter of seconds the girl is limp, lifeless.
Mum and Tara-me begin to chant something in a strange language, in ragged unison, but I don't think it's any use because the thing just looks up, becomes a man again, smiles, and walks lazily away.
We are all frozen and nobody moves for a good minute before running towards the body of the girl …
* * *
Tara took her hands off my temples and brushed the tears off my cheeks.
"What was it? Who were they?" I still felt frozen, horrified by the death of that young woman.
Mum came and sat on the step and put her arm around my shoulder.
"She was our friend, our best friend. Her name was Buffy, and she was more full of life and power than anyone else I have ever met. She was the Slayer, destined to kill demons and vampires, and destined to fall in love with the only vampire who was good, who had a conscience. A soul. His name was Angel. But it couldn't work out between them, and he left her and went to Los Angeles. And there, after a few years, someone took his soul away from him and turned him back into the monster he was once, long ago." Mum sniffed, and glancing sideways at her I saw a large tear roll down her face. She swallows. "And because that is the sort of thing Angelus enjoys, he came back to kill and hurt. Nineteen years, and we have heard nothing of him in all that time."
"And now he's back," I said. "What are you going to do?"
"Discuss with the others," said Mum, trying surreptitiously to wipe her eyes. I hugged her, and Tara bent over and enfolded both of us in her sweet scent, and for a while the three of us cried, they for their long-dead friend, myself for them.
We spent the day together as they cast spells and I did baking for the evening's meeting. We made more of the protective talismans, and then Mum and Tara went up into the attic to hunt out things they needed whilst I gave the living room a spring-clean. The activity helped us to forget the things lurking in the night to come.