Chp 18 Not Playing Games
Chp: 18 Not Playing Games
Buffy stared in horror through the strange, transparent, magical bubble that Joyce had conjured up to where the First Slayer and her companions were waiting outside the door - calling, beckoning. They stretched back into the darkness – faces through the centuries, girls of every nationality under the sun, but in front of them all, the wizened, painted skin of the First Slayer. She was pressing herself against the other side of the barrier, her hands pushing hard, trying to break through.
Inside the bubble that Joyce had brought indoors so abruptly from the yard, Billy was sitting rubbing his head, but otherwise seemed OK. Angel was leaning against the invisible wall, groaning.
Shanny placed both hands against the shield and said, firmly, “Joyce! You’re being very naughty. Listen to me carefully – you must stop this at once. However you made this – this thing, just – reverse it.”
“Give us the child!” The low, keening words came over and over again from the gathering Slayers.
“I can’t move it, Mom!” Joyce wailed.
Shanny hooked her fingers into claws that slid off the invisible surface. Buffy scrabbled for the huge sword that had slid across the floor after her last attempt and raised it high to attack. But suddenly Spike’s hand shot out and grasped her wrist.
“What? No! We haven’t time to wait. Those Slayers have come back for Shanny. We have to get the children safe before we tackle - ”
Spike’s fingers around her wrist bit so deep that she winced. “I don’t think it’s Shanny they want, pet. It’s Joyce!”
“What?” The great sword trembled and Buffy lowered it to the ground. “Joyce?”
“How do you know they don’t want me?” Shanny asked, sounding almost angry.
Spike reached out to wrap an arm round her thin shoulders, but she shrugged him away, not seeing the fleeting flash of pain that crossed his pale face. “I can’t be certain, but it makes sense. I think they’re attracted to the power Joyce is giving out. They’ve never tried to contact you before, have they? I know you hate to hear it, but they’ve never had a reason to bother you and that makes me insanely pleased. No, I reckon it’s your daughter they want. And while she’s inside that bubble, she’s safe. Her power is her protection.”
Shanny shook her head. “She doesn’t look very safe to me! And Billy’s hurt. I want them out, Dad. I want them both out now.” Her voice rose.
“Stop it!” Buffy hissed angrily. “Stop panicking. You’re just upsetting Joyce. The more concerned she gets, the less she can control what she’s doing. That’s obvious.” She swung round and said, “Joyce, honey, don’t lower the barrier. Just sit still for a little while and Grandad and me will sort out something real soon.”
Shanny flinched. These were her children, her precious children. How dare her mom accuse her of panicking? How dare she give Joyce orders? What did she expect Shanny to do? Calmly sit by and let those – things – outside find some way of breaking through to the twins? She crossed her arms tightly over her chest and stared at Buffy’s tense, white face. “If anything happens to the twins – I will never forgive you. Ever.”
Buffy turned away. What the heck was wrong with Shanny? Why all the dramatics? OK, they had a big problem, but it wasn’t going to be cured by hysteria.
Spike frowned. “Buffy - take a look at where that thing has lodged? It’s half in, half out of the door. That’s why we can see it now. I reckon whatever magic Joyce has used only works outside the house.”
“So why can’t she lower the shield?”
Spike ran desperate fingers through his hair. “Maybe because she’s nine years old, tired and probably more scared than she’s letting on. How the hell do I know, pet? But part of that bubble is still outside. If it vanishes, then – ”
“ – the Slayers can reach her!” Buffy’s gaze locked with his, a feeling of dread sweeping over her. All her old fears when Shanny was a little girl came sweeping back tenfold. The demons would get her child; they would find her wherever Buffy hid her. And now the same thing was happening to Joyce.
“This is all your fault, Mom!” Shanny snapped, fighting back tears. “I should never have let the twins come here. They were safe with me at home. I’m telling you, Mom, once I get them out of there, we’re leaving and never coming back!”
“Shanny – ”
“Buffy – ”
Inside the bubble, Joyce knelt down beside her twin. “Everyone’s mad at me,” she said softly out loud. She was too tired to concentrate on speaking inside his head.
Billy winced as he looked up at her and rubbed the bump on his forehead. “That was a stupid thing to do, doofus brains! What if the bubble thing had appeared in the middle of the fireplace or on top of the stove with us still inside it? And, anyway, why are they mad at you?”
Joyce nodded towards the figures she could see outside the transparent skin. The old, painted lady who’d haunted her dreams for months was standing there, wrinkled and ugly. Boy was she ugly! “I think it’s to do with that old woman out there, but everyone’s so busy either yelling at me or arguing with each other that I can’t concentrate to work out why.”
Billy peered past her. “Hey, there’s a whole lot of old women out there. They look creepy.” He listened for a few seconds then said, “They want you. ‘Give us the child,’ hey, that’s what they’re saying. Oh boy, no wonder everyone’s so buzzed. You know we’re not supposed to talk to strangers and you’ve gone and invited a whole busload home with you. You are in so much trouble! I bet you get grounded for months!”
Joyce shrugged. She glanced over to where she could see her mom and grandparents still arguing in low, terse voices on the other side of the kitchen.
“We’ve got a problem, kid. We need to get out of here.” Angel groaned, coming back to his senses. He blinked and rolled over onto his knees. One swift glance had told him everything he needed to know. “You OK, Billy?”
His hand reached out instinctively to touch the blond head close to his. He could see the dark stain of a bruise beginning to bloom on the boy’s forehead. This grandchild of his would mark as easily as Darla had done, of that Angel was quite certain. He knew that if he pressed his fingers round that slender wrist he would leave blue imprints that would stay there for weeks on end; a never-ending bracelet of possession.
Billy moved away from the questing hand and stood up. “I’m OK,” he said and smiled because he somehow knew that was what this Angel man wanted to see.
He was tempted to slide inside the man’s mind again, but hesitated. The last time he’d done that, great vistas of scenes from the horror films he wasn’t allowed to watch had flashed through his brain, showing him things he didn’t understand things that he knew he shouldn’t understand but did. What he’d seen had made him feel cold and dirty. He’d hastily pulled away: he didn’t want to go there again and he refused to listen to a little voice in the back of his mind that said “go – look – learn – it’ll be fun.”
“You need to stop playing games, Joyce,” Angel said.
Joyce pushed out her bottom lip and looked sulky. “Grandma said not to put the barrier down – and anyways, I can’t,” she told him baldly, scratching at a scab on the back of her wrist.
Angel curbed his impatience. He reckoned she was too much like Spike to take orders. He frowned. If she’d been Spike, he’d have ordered her not to destroy the bubble – then she would just have gone ahead and done so!
But if Buffy had said no – he stared out to where the girl he had once loved so much was standing, hands on hips, arguing with her daughter. He couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but he could tell from their expressions that whatever it was, scarlet ribbons, candy and puppies didn’t come high on the list.
He stared round the bubble, wincing at the sight of the swirling lines of girls stretching out into the darkness on the far side of the doorway. He could hear their chant – “Give us the child. Give us the child.” Angel peered closely at the doorway and then spun round.
“Oh, you’re awake. About time. Little knock on the head that wouldn’t have harmed Xander Harris and you go all woozy - ”
Bright blue eyes stopped being disdainful and Spike’s gaze sharpened. Angel very rarely used his real name.
“Can’t you see – the bubble is half in, half out of the door? We’re not completely inside the house. So if Joyce does manage to shut it down, what’s to stop these creatures taking her?”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “You’re five minutes behind the pace – as always. We’ve already worked that out.”
“So we have to break through on this side.”
Buffy came to stand next to Spike. “We’ve tried. Nothing cuts the barrier. Nothing non-magical, anyway. I wish Willow was here! Or even within spell range. She could at least give us a clue what to do.”
“Why do they want her so badly?” Shanny spoke abruptly, her voice tight with worry. “She’s only a little girl; she’s not a Slayer. OK, she’s a witch, but why should that worry them? She’s never hurt them. What do they want to do with her?”
“That’s a very good question. We need to ask them. Tell them that she isn’t going anywhere!” Suddenly she snapped her fingers in exasperation and turned to her husband. “How stupid can we get? We don’t need to lower the shield. I’ll just go outside and round to the back yard. I need to face them, then perhaps we can get some answers.”
“I’m coming with you!” Shanny and Spike spoke together.
Buffy smiled briefly. “I doubt nothing on earth will stop you from guarding my back, Spike. But Shanny – ” She hesitated, shaken by the cold dislike on her daughter’s face – “I know it’s hard for you, but please, just stay here and wait. I need to speak to the First Slayer and if Dad has to look out for you, too – well, it makes it easier if – ”
“ – I’m not around!” Shanny finished the sentence. “So what’s new, Mom?”
“That isn’t what I meant – !” She stopped, irritation flooding through her. If Shanny wanted to play ‘hurt child-wicked mommy’ games, then so be it. Buffy had had enough of that crap from her daughter to last her a lifetime. Had she no idea, even after all these years, of how difficult it was when your attention was divided around demons and monsters? Why did she want to make her dad’s job more difficult?
Shanny shrugged. Her mom couldn’t have made it plainer if she’d written it in blood on the kitchen wall. “You are a Nuisance. You are in the Way. Be quiet and do as we say.” But mom had forgotten one thing. The twins weren’t her children, they were Shanny’s. And she would do everything in her power to protect them, regardless of what her parents wanted her to do.
She turned back to Angel. “Mom and Dad are taking charge, as you can see,” she said bitterly. “Unless you have a better plan?”
Angel watched as Spike and Buffy vanished out of the kitchen. He wasn’t sure about their scheme. All their experience had been years ago: they were nearly twenty-five years older now. Buffy was still a Slayer, but surely a little slower, her reactions a little rusty. And as for Spike – he felt a surge of something that was almost grief. Spike was an ageing vamp, which Angel reckoned was the saddest thing he had ever seen. He’s always thought Spike had come off best with his share of the Shanshu Prophecy. Now he wasn’t that sure.
Then out of the corner of his eye, he saw Joyce and Billy whispering together and knew that yes, his first thoughts had been right. Living forever, even living in the sunshine meant nothing compared to being grandparents to this little boy. And girl, of course, although Angel had to admit he didn’t have any instinctive feeling of identity with the skinny blonde child.
Joyce sighed. She was bored and tired and knew there was going to be a great big row once her mom and grandparents had sorted out the old women in the garden.
She turned and pulled a face at the wrinkled old lady with the white lines zig-zagging across her cheeks.
“Don’t do that, stupid!”
Joyce’s temper flared. “Oh, listen to dear little Billy Summers-Green. Always so good. Mommy’s little pet! See if I care.” And turning, she stuck out her tongue at the First Slayer and crossed her eyes.
Billy scowled and pulled her away by one of her blonde braids. “I said stop it!”
“Ow! That hurts. Beast! Rotten beast!” She shot out a hand and caught him full on his nose and the next second they were a yelling, fighting, flailing bundle of arms and legs, rolling over and over.
“Joyce! Stop that! Do you hear me? Stop now! Leave Billy alone.” Shanny’s voice rang out sharply but if the twins heard, they ignored her. “Angel, break them up, before Joyce does something stupid! It isn’t a fair fight with those two. She’ll turn him into a toad or something.”
Angel strode across the bubble and grabbed Joyce’s arm. With an effort he pulled her away from her brother and held her tight, trying to avoid the flailing fists and kicking feet that were thudding into his legs. “Ouch! Stop that, you little wildcat. Billy, are you OK? Has she hurt you?”
Billy jumped to his feet, jeering at Joyce, wiping blood from his nose. His twin struggled in Angel’s non-too-gentle grasp, fists clenched, glaring at her brother standing there, the boy everyone loved more than her. It wasn’t fair. She could be good too, if she tried. No one ever gave her a chance. It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t lower the shield. It wasn’t her fault these silly old women were outside in the yard.
“Joyce! Just you wait until you get out of there! I am so tired of your behaviour! We’ll see what Daddy has to say!” Shanny’s voice trembled with anger.
Angry tears began to burn in Joyce’s eyes. She loved her father so much. She hated it when he was angry with her. She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. No one wanted her here. Not even her twin.
Suddenly Joyce realised that the unhappiness she felt tearing through her body was what she’d needed all this time. She knew what to do and how to do it. Everyone hated her. It wasn’t fair. OK, she’d go and talk to the old lady, see what she wanted. That would show them. If they thought she was bad, she’d be bad!
With a violent wriggle, she twisted away from Angel and before Shanny could call out, Joyce shut her eyes and used all the anger and hurt she was feeling to smash the barrier into nothing.
Defiantly, she walked out of the house towards the old woman.
“Twin! Wait for me!” Billy raced to her side and her hand automatically reached out for his. His fingers gripped hers and just as Buffy and Spike ran round the corner of the house into the back yard, the twins were surrounded by the hundreds of Slayers who were waiting for them.
And the yard was empty.
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