Future Imperfect by Lilachigh

Chapter 18 A Sort of Betrayal

The story so far: Joyce and Billy have followed the Dead Slayers into the void and Buffy's idea to die so she could join them has been foiled by Spike, who is furious that she would want to leave him. Now it is up to Giles and Willow to come up with a plan - with Angel's help!

Buffy sipped coffee and stared round her family-room, wondering bitterly if she'd had some sort of time travel experience and gone back to the days when they'd been fighting the First and her home had been bursting at the seams with Potential Slayers.

The curtains were drawn, as usual, against the day. With both vamps around, Buffy had been unable to throw open the windows and let in some fresh air so the atmosphere smelt musty, as if too many people were using the same oxygen, even though two of them didn't even breathe. Willow and Giles were sharing the table, using it as a desk, computer, books, piles of papers and dirty coffee mugs strewn in abandon. Angel made up the third of the unlikely trio, although Buffy had to admit that Giles' body language when the vampire leaned over his shoulder to stare at something on the computer screen would have been hysterically funny at any other time.

The house she and Spike had lived in since they'd returned from Italy all those years ago, was small - but that had never been a concern until now. Willow and Shanny were sharing the twins' bedroom, Giles had tucked himself away in the little room over the garage and Angel - had apparently taken up residence in the basement which was mega weird and she wasn't going to make any sort of comparisons with her husband at all! So far their bedroom still housed just her and Spike, but she wondered how long that would last.

Since they'd trailed back indoors from her abortive attempt to die and join the ex-Slayers, Spike hadn't spoken to her. He and Angel had vanished into the kitchen - she'd heard the ping of the microwave and guessed they were heating blood - but although Angel had come back into the family room to join the endless discussions, Spike had not. Buffy knew he was desperately hurt that she had planned to leave him and even though it hurt her very soul to realise she was the cause, she still felt he should have seen the logic in her actions. All she'd wanted to do was find a way of saving Joyce and Billy. She'd thought her death a small price of pay. What was truly annoying her was that if the roles had been reversed, Spike would have given up his life for her, Shanny or the twins without a second thought. But for some reason, her doing so was considered a sort of betrayal.

Willow and Giles had tactfully not commented on her behaviour, although Buffy could see that her former Watcher was aching to give her his opinion - and it was obvious that it wouldn't be a favourable one. The only bright spot in the darkness was Shanny. For the first time since she was a little girl, her distant and defensive attitude had softened a little. The fact that her mother was prepared to die for the twins had made a deep impression and Buffy wondered if perhaps there was a chance, even if a slim one, that when the twins were back home, she and her daughter could start to be friends.

"Have you made any progress?" she asked Willow as her friend pushed her chair back from the computer and ran shaking fingers through the short hair that was now dyed an even brighter red than it had been naturally.

"Yes - and no." She looked up as Buffy bit back a remark. "Buffy, it isn't simple. Giles agrees, don't you?"

The elderly Englishman sitting next to her nodded. "We know you went somewhere all those years ago and talked to the First Slayer. We've tried to find that place because there's a chance that's where the Slayers took the twins, that but so far with little success."

"So - what's the good news?" Shanny was standing in the doorway, listening. "I've been trying to phone David - no, listen, Mom! I need him here. He's the twins' father in every possible way except physically! But there's no cell phone signal and the storm last night must have taken down the land lines."

Buffy bit her lip and fought back her first response. She liked David Green but the thought of him arriving, demanding explanations, his bewilderment when they had no news of the children was too exhausting to consider. It was at times like this when the void between the Slayer/Vampire/Demon world and that of ordinary people widened to a vast distance. It was one that could never be bridged by easy platitudes and simple answers.

Angel looked up, frowning. His son Connor was the twins' father and didn't even know it. He wanted to insist that he be contacted, but at the scowl on Buffy's face, he decided to bide his time. But when they got the twins back, he knew he would not rest until he united his son with his grandson. And the girl, too, of course, but it was the memory of Billy with his uncanny resemblance to Darla that burnt into his mind.

"Well, the good news is that we've realised we need more help."

Buffy groaned. "Will, who is going to be better than you? Time's rushing past. They've been gone hours already. We can't afford to send for some witch who's probably on the other side of the world."

"Yes, you're quite right." Giles smiled wearily. "But we're not going to call for another witch - what we need is another Slayer."

"Faith? Or do you mean one of the new girls? Is there anyone strong enough to help?" Buffy was puzzled. She'd rather lost track of who was doing what in the Slayer world these days. She and Spike lived quietly; she patrolled most evenings but there was little vampire or demon activity in their neighbourhood - Charks excepted, of course.

"Buffy, you sort of had the right idea earlier," Willow said. "But instead of dying and joining the Slayers, we reckon we can call one of them to come back to us."

Buffy felt a frisson of excitement creep across her skin. She heard the kitchen door open behind her and knew Spike was standing there, listening. She waited for his touch on her shoulder, his hand on hers, but nothing came and she shivered, this time with unhappiness.

"Which one?" he said quietly.

"I think I can do a summoning spell," Willow said and laughed bitterly. "Of course, it would have been so useful to have had Joyce here. She could have done it with a snap of her fingers, but as she isn't, I shall have to manage."

"Buffy and Spike have known three dead Slayers personally," Giles said. "Of course, I have known girls who I looked after before Buffy, but Willow and I are fairly certain that the link between the twins and Buffy must be stronger than mine with my ex-charges."

"There was a Chinese girl," Spike said, "and Robin's mother - "

"And Kendra," Buffy finished.

Willow nodded enthusiastically. "As Spike killed the first two, we reckoned that it might be better if we summoned Kendra back to this world and asked her why they want the twins and where they are."

"And beg her to bring them back," Shanny added and sinking into a chair, buried her face in her hands. "They must come back. Mom, Dad, please get my children back for me! They'll be so scared, so upset. Oh God, please, everyone, get the twins back."

Joyce Summers-Green woke up feeling irritated and uncomfortable. Someone was shouting her name inside her head and her bed felt hard and scratchy, as if she was lying on the ground, which was plain silly because she was in Granny's spare bedroom and twin was in the bed next to hers and - her eyes flew open as memory flooded back.

Billy was sitting cross-legged a few feet away, looking bored. "Jeez, you're awake at last! I've been shouting for ages."

Joyce rolled over and stood up. This world was all brown sand with vast rocky outcrops of red stone outlined against an orange sky. She could see for miles and miles and there was nothing – no buildings, no roads, no people. In her opinion it was a very boring world.

"Where did the women go?"

Billy shrugged. "No idea. We followed them – which I think was the dumbest thing you've done for ages - and then I woke up here in the desert and you just laid there snoring like a little pig!"

Joyce stuck her tongue out at him then said, "Are we still in that bubble thingie?" She walked forwards a few steps and nothing stopped her.

"No. It's gone. And they've gone and I'm hungry. Take us home. Mom will be sooo cross that we left."

"But we haven't seen anything yet."

Billy frowned. He wasn't exactly worried but there was a very odd feeling about this place. His witchy twin had taken them to some very odd worlds in the past but he'd never felt like this about them. Wherever they'd gone, there had been some sort of life, however weird it had been. But this place - he stretched out feelers from his mind but apart from Joyce, there was no living creature anywhere in this vast, barren place. But – he frowned – he still had the sensation that they weren't alone.

"I'm thirsty." Joyce shut her eyes and poked hard with her mind at the ground near her feet. A small crack appeared, then another and within minutes a spring of clear water began to flow.

"Do you reckon it's OK to drink?" Billy said dubiously.

Joyce shrugged. "I didn't ask for poisoned water, stupid. It's clean." They drank, then watched intrigued as the water continued to gush, spilling across the hard ground, making little streams and rivulets, pools and spreading puddles. With a single thought, they kicked off their trainers and splashed around until Billy said, "Hey, it's getting deeper. We'd better get out. Or you could just stop it."

They splashed to the shallows and onto dry land, but it was obvious that the water was spreading faster and faster, almost as fast as they could walk backwards away from it.

"So – dumbass – are you stopping it or not?"

"It's kind of pretty," Joyce said evasively and yelled as her brother pinched her arm hard.

"You've done it again! You made a magic and can't undo it. Look, forget the water, just get us home."

Joyce stuck out her bottom lip. "I don't see why you're all cranky about a little water. Reversing magic is hard and makes my head ache and anyways I want to see where those women have gone. If you're chicken, I'll send you back by yourself!"

Billy ignored the chicken comment: he knew he shouldn't, but he needed to know what his twin was really thinking so he peered carefully inside her mind, picked his way through the usual chaos and found nothing that worried him too much. There was no scared thoughts about not being able to get home, just endless curiosity and general twiny weirdness.

He turned away from the spreading lake and started to climb a slope that lead up into higher ground.

"They were stupid, those women," Joyce said, following him. "They were calling for me to go with them and now they've vanished. Wish they hadn't come to Granny's. Bet there's a big row going on at home about them. I reckon we should just stay away until it's died down and that Angel man has gone."

"You didn't like him, did you? He was OK. Bit soppy inside his head, but vampire like Grandad."

"He had stupid hair," Joyce said witheringly. "And he kept looking at you as if you were made of glass and would break if you so much as breathed heavy. I think he's one of those perverts we learnt about at school."

Billy shrugged. "He was dreadfully muddled. He kept thinking our Dad was his son, which is just silly because we know Grandad Green; he lives in Montana. We visited him once and rode ponies, remember?"

Joyce nodded. "Old people get muddled. He's probably - ooh, at least fifty! Ancient. But I still don't like him."

Billy didn't reply. He knew there was something odd about the Angel man and it irritated him that he couldn't work it out. Why should he think his son was their Dad? And who was Darla, a lady who the Angel man thought about all the time?

Panting slightly, they reached the top of the hill and stared out across miles of barren land.

"There should be houses and roads and fields with cows and horses," Joyce said at last, flinging herself to the ground. "This feels all wrong. Shall I magic some animals?"

Billy shook his head. "What would they live on? There's no grass. Remember we had to send the penguins back last year."

Joyce suddenly yawned. "I'm so tired." She curled up at his side and within seconds was fast asleep. Billy sat as still as possible, although his arm was aching with her weight against it. He felt tired, too, but he had the oddest feeling that he shouldn't sleep. There was that weird sensation in his head that they weren't alone – but they were – this new talent he'd discovered he had for sensing other minds, told him so. But – the mixed genes of vampires, Slayer and common-sense humans refused to let him relax. He reckoned it was like a sort of phone signal; because he'd just learnt how to use it, he wasn't very good yet. Perhaps it needed to grow and become stronger.

He nudged Joyce awake. "Listen – if I do a big think thing, can you sort of grab hold of it and make it - sort of more?"

The little girl rubbed her eyes. "Suppose so. But how do I get in your head to hear it?"

Billy shrugged. "Just as if we're talking without speaking but sort of more, I reckon."

Joyce sat up. "OK, but why?"

"Just do it."

They stared at each other, two minds working together. At first nothing happened, then Joyce realised what she had to do and there was the signal, beaming outwards from Billy and she flung her mind onto it, boosting it into a vibration that made the air shimmer.

And there they were! Everywhere – all round them – hundreds and hundreds of women, staring, waiting. And all Billy could think of was that this was why Joyce couldn't get them home; the women were blocking the magic, surrounding them on all sides and he could see no way of escaping.

tbc