|Mask and Mirrors by pfeifferpack|
|Chapter #13 - Chapter 13|
|A/N: A few portions of dialog are from the actual episodes aired. I have altered them somewhat to fit the story I imagined.|
Anne Pratt sat in silence as the haircolor did its magic. One might assume her mind was engaged by the makeover Willow and Dawn had just begun, but it was actually turning over the details of the conversation she’d had earlier with Mr. Giles.
It seemed incredible that this small band of amazingly resilient young people had been engaged in a battle against a being with godlike powers and an ego to match!
Anne had been regaled with stories of previous epic battles and hairsbreadth wins against all odds. Each of the group, except her dear son, had a story or two to relate. To hear them tell it, the world itself had been saved time and time again by their little group.
This time, however, they were worried. This Glory had powers that made the Slayer seem weak by comparison. Even with the assistance of her William, this insane, power-mad uberdemon had bested them again and again. Now the grief-stricken Slayer could not even take the time needed to recoup emotionally from losing her beloved mother before the fate of the world was once again in her hands.
This wonderful world Anne now belonged to had as much to fear as it did to marvel over. Still, somehow she just knew her William would always see to her safety, just as he clearly tried to help Buffy outlive the predictions for her calling.
Anne had always said that there was strength in numbers and as long as this group focused on the love they shared, there was hope. Perhaps having the benefit of being something of an outsider, she could point out trouble spots and actually contribute to the group dynamic. If nothing else, she might set them right about William so that his assistance would be sought out and appreciated rather than wasted by their prejudices and his posturing.
"Ding," Dawn chirped as she smiled ear to ear. "Time to rinse and then let Willow use her magic with a pair of scissors."
"That would be a terrible waste," Anne gently chided. "I would think it a simple matter to wield shears without resorting to such power."
Dawn giggled as she realized the misunderstanding. Ever since Mrs. Pratt had come to see the reality of magic and Willow's obvious talents in using it, any words that spoke of the mystical were taken literally by that sweet lady.
True, Willow hadn't helped the situation by using her mojo for even simple tasks. No one had said much to her about it, not even Giles. Tara was the only one to confront Willow about her possible abuse of power.
"No, no! I didn't mean actual magic; I just meant Willow has natural talent to make it look good. She cut her own hair the last time and it's adorable!"
At that point, the witch in question entered the room with a magazine opened to an advertisement for wigs designed by Raquel Welch. "This lady's older than you are and just look how hot this style is on her and how young she looks." Willow showed a picture of Ms. Welch with a shoulder-length shag that flipped slightly at the ends of the layers. The rich auburn color with blonde highlights matched the dye job they had just given Spike's mom.
Anne peered intently at the photo and tried to imagine herself in such a style. She wondered if it would be possible to look as young and stylish as the lady in the picture…and if anyone…erm…important would notice. "Perhaps we could ask Mr. Giles if he thinks the style appropriate to a woman of my years."
After a quick consultation wherein Mr. Giles indicated the style to be "quite lovely and likely most becoming on a lady of Mrs. Pratt's fine bone structure," the cutting began.
"Wow, this is so much easier than cutting my own hair," Willow exclaimed as she finished the last of the layering.
Mrs. Pratt looked a bit unnerved as she noted the rather large amount of hair under her chair. She lifted a timid hand to gently touch the exposed neck and closed her eyes, praying for
courage, before allowing the girls to lead her to a mirror and the revelation of this new, thoroughly modern Anne.
The vision gazing back from the mirror brought out a gasp followed by wide-eyed appreciation. "Oh my, I look lovely! I haven't looked this young since William was a boy. I had forgotten how very blue my eyes are! Strange the difference the color of ones hair can make." She looked at Willow and complimented, "You truly are a magician, even without the use of supernatural powers. Thank you."
Anne marveled at how much lighter her head felt with the haircut. Funny how something as light-weight as hair could make such a difference. She looked critically at the new style and felt as if she were looking at a stranger. True it was a young and attractive stranger but it would take getting used to all in all. Now she looked the part of a new woman in this strange but wonderful new time. There it was in a nutshell, a new woman with a new look and a bright new future with new friends and the best son a woman could hope to have.
But best of all, to Anne's thinking, was the warm look that came into Mr. Giles' eyes as he beheld the new her. For the first time, Anne didn't feel dowdy. Instead of her life being half over, it
might well be just beginning. It was amazing what a bit of a change could accomplish, how it could lift spirits and breathe life into a person.
Anne couldn't wait to see William's reaction to her new look. He would have no reason to complain, judging by everyone else's opinion--and even if he did, it would hold no water considering his current choices in that regard. "I wish William would return soon. It is not
like him to pout. He was never one to hold a grudge."
She noted the looks that were exchanged between Willow and Mr. Giles and amended, "Yes, he has a temper, but it was always as quick to burn out as to ignite. I felt so sure that sending him on a walk would be all that was needed to diffuse his anger."
"I'm sure Spi…William has some logical reason to be delayed." Giles felt the need to reassure this lovely lady of her son's well-being, despite the cryptic note indicating there was
likely trouble afoot. Most likely Buffy would be returning with Spike in tow at any moment.
The doorbell interrupted any question that might have arisen about just where Buffy might be. Soon the air was filled with teenage girl squeeing and excited chatter. An animated Dawn zoomed into the room and headed towards Giles like a slender heat-seeking missile with deadly purpose of mission.
"Giles! Buffy isn't here and Janice's mom gave her custody of her Visa card. Janice says her mom is filled with divorced mom guilt and the sky's the limit for a charge-o-rama. Can I go with her to the mall? Please? Please? Please?!" The decibel level of 'please' rose with each utterance, nearly causing the Watcher's ears to bleed.
"Dawn," Giles tried to reason with the excitable teen, "I would not presume to assume the role of parental figure with your sister currently engaged elsewhere. I will, however, presume to suggest you let your friend go to that appalling mall without your company this time. I feel certain that Buffy would completely forbid your going."
Giles drew Dawn to one side and whispered a reminder to the girl, "Please remember how very vulnerable you are at this time, Dawn. It is all we can do to try to keep you safe from Glory without you running about like some carefree adolescent. It is not as if you were being protected from vampires and need only take care at nightfall. You girls just lost your mother. Please do not place your sister in the position of losing you as well."
Dawn was torn between indignation, disappointment and good old-fashioned teenage angst, but she did go speak to Janice. The crestfallen friend rolled her eyes before yelling out a snarky, "Fine, I'll just go without you, since your BABYSITTERS won't let you out to play."
Dawn sniffed and wiped at her teary eyes before running up the stairs to her room and slamming the door loud enough to knock a photograph off the wall outside. Her accompanying, "I hate my life!"
was loud enough to be heard even over the stomping.
Anne turned troubled eyes on Giles and asked, "Is it really so dangerous that the child cannot be permitted an outing? She has lost her mother too, you know. Couldn't one of her sister's older friends go along to make certain she is safe?"
Giles smiled, removed his glasses and sighed as he polished the lenses to a sheen. "I wish it were that simple, Mrs. Pratt. You see, this Glory is a god. None of us, not even Buffy, is truly prepared to take her on should she choose to take the Slayer's sister as hostage…or worse." The group had decided to withhold the crucial detail of Dawn's keyness when updating Spike's mother.
"Piffle! I know my scripture." Mrs. Pratt was no evangelical, but her education had been thorough in an era where God and country reigned. "Does the Good Book not say that the gods of old, the idols, were but demons?"
"Yes, as I recall from my youth, that is what it says," Giles agreed readily. "But Glory's power is far greater than any demon on record-- or in our experience--and she is an object of worship."
Mrs. Pratt still stood firm in her belief. "Did not Lucifer demand to be worshiped as well? That did not make him a god, even with all his power. Didn't you show me in one of your own texts that the pure demons were highly powerful?"
"I did at that," Giles said as he gave in to her logic. "God or not, Glory is beyond any enemy we have dealt with thus far. It is too dangerous for Dawn to be flitting about, Mrs. Pratt."
Mrs. Pratt considered the Watcher's point and nodded in agreement. "Yes, I suspect you have the right of it, all in all. By the way, I give you leave to call me by my Christian name; I would be pleased to have all of you simply call me 'Anne'. This century is far less formal than mine and I wish to live within the times I find myself."
Xander and Willow had been talking quietly while all the hubbub roiled around them. Now that quiet prevailed once more, their conversation was audible.
"She didn't call the police on you though, did she?" Willow asked, wide-eyed.
"No, but I feel a donut delivery to the neighbors will be on the calendar soon." Xander had obviously been sharing details of the late-night vigil outside his own apartment and what had led to his spontaneous proposal to Anya. "Mrs. Tanner has her nephew and his wife visiting. She's trying to get them to move here and my playing Romeo in the balcony scene was messing up her argument that the apartment complex was a quiet, peaceful one. That niece of hers is a
librarian and you know how they are about quiet." Xander shot a look at Giles as he made his point.
"Still, did you HAVE to propose?" Willow was trying to think what spell might cause Anya to forget her new status as an engaged woman.
"No, but Will, I would have eventually," Xander admitted. "I love Anya. I can't imagine life without her. Come on, who am I going to marry? How many bug women or ancient mummies are there on the dating scene?"
"True, Anya IS a step up from Cordelia, but MARRIAGE…Xander…I don't know." Willow was sure her oldest friend was far from ready for that step.
"I think Mrs. Pratt is on the right track about me holding out for a long engagement. Hey, bestest friend and co-conspirator, why don't you 'help' Anya with all the planning? I'm thinking lots of suggestions…bride magazines with ‘what to do when’ stuff…changing plans often…you know, sensory overload." Xander figured a year might be long enough if he worked on his commitment issues and didn't just rush back into personal denial.
"Sounds doable. Okay, sign me up for Operation Bewilder Anya," Willow said, then whispered too low to be heard, "Shouldn't be too hard to do that!" She gave Xander an evil grin and added, "I could always just make her forget you even proposed…or fought, for that matter. I think there's a spell in one of my books that will do the job."
"NO! No spell, Will!" Xander's eyes widened in horror. "The last time you involved my life in a spell, every demon within a hundred miles was on my doorstep." He saw his friend's eyes narrow at the suggestion that her magic skills might be flawed, so he quickly backtracked. "No really, my magical tree-named friend, your skills with eye of newt are much better used on Glory than my little oopsie."
Buffy nearly knocked over Giles as she barreled into the house. "Giles! Got some news on Glory. Spike seems to think that that cute Dr. Ben Whatsit might know something about her. I couldn't follow the whole thing, but he seemed really sure."
Giles pondered that news for a moment, trying to comprehend the unlikely connection between a Sunnydale hospital intern and a misplaced hell goddess. "It would seem a strange coincidence for there to be any connection. Did Spike explain his reasoning?"
"Actually, he asked me to send you over to 'suss it out' as he put it," Buffy answered with a shrug. Remembering the battered vampire, she bit her lip. She couldn't get his bruised and bleeding body out of her mind. What her former enemy had endured to protect her and her sister boggled Buffy's mind. Clearly they needed to reevaluate Spike and his place in their group.
As quickly and quietly as possible, Buffy let her Watcher in on what had happened to Spike while out on his walk.. There was no sense in alarming Mrs. Pratt and besides, Buffy hadn't yet decided on the perfect lie to tell her houseguest.
Giles looked pole-axed as he took in the surprising tale of Spike's loyalty. "How bad is his condition?"
"Pretty bad," Buffy admitted with a shudder. "I made sure he got hidden from Glory's groupies and had enough blood to get him back up to speed. God, Giles, I can't believe Spike took one for the team, for me, like this!"
Anne startled Buffy by asking, "I did not mean to eavesdrop, but did you mention my wayward son?"
Buffy stared at the now youthful-looking woman like a deer caught in headlights. Between Anne's new look and Buffy's instant guilt at needing to lie, the Slayer was caught completely off guard. "Well, yeah…he's…um…," Buffy stumbled as she looked in desperation to her Watcher for help in deceiving the worried mother. All Buffy's years of practice hiding her Slayerhood and patrols from her mother were deserting her in her moment of need.
"Buffy, we have apprised Anne of the situation with Glory. I think it's safe to speak freely in front of her. " Giles only hoped he would have time to let Buffy know that they had withheld the true nature of her younger sister before it slipped out.
"Oh, good, ‘cause you know I'm not good at the whole 'lie to moms' thing," Buffy sighed in relief. At least her lie could have SOME truth in it. Things always worked better that way.
Buffy turned to Spike's mom and smiled in reassurance. "Spike got a lead on some guys who might know more about Glory. He's gonna be checkin’ it out so he asked me to let you know he'd be gone for a while and not to worry."
"Good. In my opinion, the sooner this Glory person is dealt with, the better," Anne responded. "I know William will not rest until we are all safe as houses. He would go to any lengths to protect those he loves."
"Yeah, I think he would," Buffy said in complete agreement.
Buffy looked around and did a quick head count of all Scoobies. With Glory out for blood, she wanted all her loved ones close. It didn't take long to notice the absence of Dawn.
"Where's Dawn?" she asked the group at large.
Giles gave a slightly disgusted look and answered, "In her room, I suppose." At Buffy's look, he rolled his eyes and chided her gently. "Really, Buffy, I cannot be expected to deal with that many teenage hormonal shifts."
"What's the what?" Buffy was suddenly glad she’d had to be out of the house that morning. Nothing said 'gonna go out for a while' like Dawn in full voice.
Giles clued Buffy in on the great mall adventure he had quashed and Dawn's to-be-expected reaction to his refusal to let her go with Janice.
"I'm surprised I didn't hear her whining across town," Buffy said with a slight laugh. "Oh, well, into the lion's den it is." Buffy headed upstairs to try to reason with her little sister. 'Maybe I can bribe her with a shopping trip this weekend,' she thought.
"Dawnie," Buffy called as she knocked on the closed door. "Come on, Dawn, answer the door."
No reply came from the room.
"Dawnie, not kidding here." Buffy wished for the millionth time that their mom was still there to be the parent. "Dawn, if you don't open the door right now, I'm kicking it in--and don't think I
won't. Xander's even here to put it back together if I break it, so that won't stop me."
Still no answer.
Buffy took a deep breath then decided to try the door handle before entering her sister's room the way she usually reserved for Spike's crypt. The door swung open to reveal an empty room and opened window.
"I am going to so kick my sister's behind," Buffy muttered as she raced downstairs in a panic.
"When did Janice the Instigator leave exactly?" Buffy demanded.
"Well, it was close to half an hour ago. Why?" Giles asked, beginning to feel nervous.
"Because my little sister has way too many fake memories of growing up with me for her own good! The little pest climbed out the window. My guess is she's already moved on from the Gap to Old Navy," then in a whisper, "if we're lucky."
Buffy was reaching for the door and calling for Giles to grab his car keys as she spoke. No one answered Anne as she asked, "Fake memories?"
Buffy stopped on the porch and glanced between Giles and Xander, trying to decide which was the best man for the two tasks at hand. Giles was a more seasoned fighter if they encountered Glory, so Buffy decided he should accompany her to the mall for Dawn retrieval. That left Xander to 'suss out' the Ben/Glory mystery with Spike.
"Xand," Buffy asked with batting eyelashes, "Would you mind dropping by Spike's old…um…house…in Giles' place? Just tell him that Dawn's being a pain in the butt and Giles can't make it. Spike'll explain it all to you when you get there."
"Sure thing, Buff. Xan-man to the rescue!" Xander replied affably. "Of course, the way we left things when I last saw the peroxide pest, he may not want to share."
"He'll share," Buffy said somberly. "Xander--never mind, you'll find out when you get there. I can't take the time right now with Dawn and everything," Buffy said with a pointed look at Anne Pratt. "It'll all make sense when you get there."
"Okay, that accounts for Spike and Dawn…now where's my honey-boo?" Willow had expected Tara back hours before. There was no way her sweetheart was so angry with her magic use that she would just stay out this late!
(earlier that same day)
Glory grinned evilly at the terrified girl next to her on the bench. "Wait, not totally useless. I am feeling the need for a little pick-me-up. You wanna make it all better, mouse girl? Be my little pick-me-up?"
Glory drove her fingers into Tara's skull and threw back her head in ecstasy as she fed energy from the shy Wiccan. "Yes," she exalted as the wonderful brain began to yield its wealth to the current big bad. "Such a yummy brain!"
Tara's mouth was open in a silent scream of agony as the hell god taunted her, "What this does is make you feel like you're in a noisy little dark room, all naked and ashamed."
Glory continued to place visions within her victim's mind. "There are things in the dark that need to hurt you because you are a bad little girl who's done naughty things." Glory whispered in a maniacal voice, "Little pinching things that go in your ears and crawl on the inside of your skull. You know that if the noise and the crawling would just stop that you could remember how to get out." Glory smiled wickedly and then added, "But you never, ever will."
With a sneer, Glory demanded, "Now…Who…Is…The…Key?"
Tara had never struggled so hard in her life to hold it together. The pain was unlike anything she had ever felt before and the images now dancing in her subconscious were far too close to Tara's own private childhood hell to be dismissed as just Glory's words made visual.
The young woman had always seemed timid, possibly weak, but Tara had been forged in the furnace of her family and no mere amped-up demon was going to take over her will that easily. There was no way Tara was going to give sweet Dawnie over to this bitch.
Summoning her last willful thoughts and more magic than she was usually given credit for possessing, Tara fought back and, channeling every spell she could remember, thrust Glory from her mind.
The hell god flew back far enough for her fingers to be disengaged from their mission within Tara's brain. A crowd of people nearby happened to be attracted to Glory's scream of frustrated rage, causing Glory to flee the scene before Dr. Do-Good could make an embarrassing appearance.
Tara's unconscious body slumped to the ground as one of the onlookers took out his cell phone to call 9-1-1 for the silent girl. Blood covered Tara's mangled hand and a small trickle of blood seeped from her nose, but no one in the group of Samaritans could tell the operator exactly what had caused the girl's injuries. As for Tara, she was beyond explaining.