17 "Need the Child"
Chapter 17 “Need the Child”
Shanny Summers-Green backed slowly away from the thing in the doorway, terror filling her mind. The demon that had haunted her dreams recently had found her! Then, without warning, she was flung sideways across the room, her father’s hands throwing her to her mom, who whirled her round and stood in front of her as smoothly as if she had been practising the move all her life. Which, Shanny thought dizzily, she probably had.
“Don’t move, Shanny!” Buffy snapped.
“What is it, luv?” Spike was advancing slowly towards the old woman who shimmered in the darkness of the doorway.
Buffy felt her mouth dry. Seeing her daughter standing there, with that thing in front of her, every nightmare she’d ever had since Shanny’s birth had flooded through her mind. This was why they had sacrificed the love of their child – wanting to keep her safe, because she would never be safe in their world. Never.
“It’s – I think it’s the First Slayer,” she said softly. “Let me deal with her, Spike.”
“I don’t think it’s real.”
The old woman, crouched and bared her teeth as the vampire got closer.
“Spike – real or not, she’s dangerous. She’s come for me. She’s been waiting for me – ”
Buffy walked forward and Spike eased to one side, guarding her back. He cast glance at Shanny, but she hadn’t moved; she was standing, the hand pressed against her mouth, her face very pale.
Buffy stared at the painted face, dark and wrinkled, millennia old. She knew the First Slayer existed, but only in another dimension. She had no right to be in this world. “What do you want? You’re not welcome here. Your time is long gone. Go back.”
The thin lips wriggled and twisted and somewhere inside her head, Buffy heard the words, “Need the child.”
Buffy stepped back, her hand reaching out, knowing without checking that Spike had taken a sword from the wall just as the hilt smacked into her palm. “My daughter – stay back! You’ll die trying.”
The old woman didn’t move and Buffy suddenly realised she couldn’t come into the house. Whatever magic had brought her this far, it ended outside the house.
“We need the child.” Again the voice echoed and now there were other voices, hundreds and hundreds of them, in different languages. As Buffy looked, the blackness behind the First Slayer paled and stretching into the distance was a long pathway, lined with girls – mostly young, different sizes and colours and they were all chanting, pleading, begging, “We need the child.”
“Buffy – what the hell’s going on?”
She came back to the kitchen with a gasp, realising that neither Spike or Shanny could see the others. The old woman was fading now and even as Buffy looked, she vanished.
“She wanted Shanny.”
“Me? What for?”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, no one’s going to hurt you.”
“Dad – I’m quite aware of that,” Shanny said dryly, raising her eyebrows in the direction of the huge sword her mom was carrying. “I’d just like to know why that thing wanted me. Is it because I’m the Slayer’s daughter?”
“Goodness knows,” Buffy said briskly. “Anyway, she’s gone now. Don’t worry about it. But Spike, it was weird. I know you couldn’t see, but there were hundreds of others standing behind her. And I think – I think they were all Slayers.”
“Well, if it’s a convention, you can’t go! Neither of you.”
Shanny bit her lip. Don’t worry about it! That was always her mom’s answer to any demon problem. Run, hide, let me deal with it. If only they had explained more when she was small, perhaps she could have helped Joyce and Billy… Sighing, she walked to the back door but Buffy held out a hand to stop her. “Wait! I want to check – ”
“Mom! The twins are still out there in the wet and dark. Joyce must stop playing silly games and let them all come indoors. It’s way past their bedtime. This is the sort of thing she does all the time. It drives me crazy. I thought sending her to you and Dad would – ”
“ – Change her?” Buffy asked crossly. “Did you really think I could make her an ordinary little girl in some way?”
“No, of course not!” Shanny struggled to keep her temper. This was her Mom all over. Not understanding. Always thinking the worst, never the best of her. “I told you – I thought you and Dad could explain things better than me. I wanted her to learn some self-control before she got herself and Billy killed.”
As suddenly as it had come, her temper faded. “Mom, they’re nine years old! Neither of them understands about evil. They’ve been brought up in a world where moms and dads are at home every evening, where moms cook dinner and dads shoot hoops in the yard.” Tears burnt her eyes. “When I was nine, I could recognise at least thirty different demons. I was an ordinary little girl but I knew when to run and when to hide and when to scream for you or Dad to come kill things. Joyce and Billy – well, they don’t know any of the basic rules and Joyce thinks she can get them out of any trouble simply by magicing it away.”
“If you’d let us be part of their lives from the very beginning, instead of shutting us out, we could have taught them, too,” Buffy said wearily. “But hey, I didn’t know then that their father was Angel’s son! That might have made some difference to how we approached the problem!”
There was a long silence. Mother and daughter stared at each other and Spike felt pain slice through him. He’d watched that look being exchanged for so many years. He loved them both, but knew neither understood the other. Buffy loved Shannon with all her heart and soul, that he knew was true. Did Shanny love her mother? He realised he didn’t have any idea. Did she love him?
The old trickle of fear and rejection ran through him. Now she’d met Angel – would the day come when his daughter would wonder what her life would have been like with him as her father? And for all Buffy’s heartfelt words and actions – she’d made love to him only an hour ago with he same passion she’d had when she was twenty-one – the day might dawn when she wondered the same thing.
He pushed the thoughts away; bloody hell, there were more important things to worry about at the moment!
“I think we’d better postpone all the recriminations until we get the kids back under our roof and sort out the Angel being a grandfather problem,” he said.
“Oh God, Angel! I’d forgotten all about him,” Buffy gasped and Spike felt a huge weight shift slightly on his shoulders.
* * * * * *
Outside in the dark, wet yard, Joyce leant against the invisible wall of the bubble, sticking her tongue against it to make little dents. She couldn’t work out why she couldn’t magic her way out. She had a sort of feeling it was because she was really, really tired and wanted to go to bed.
She glanced across at her twin. Billy was standing talking to the Angel guy, but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. She sensed that the big, dark man fascinated Billy; she didn’t know why. He didn’t look fun and she was beginning to hate the way the Angel man looked at twin. He had such a silly expression on his face; as if he’d found something he thought he’d lost a long, long time ago. And Billy had his usual “I’m a good boy, everyone likes me, puppy-dog” expression.
‘Billy!’ She snapped at him inside her head. ‘You look like a big dork.’
‘Do not!’ The answer came smoothly inside her mind.
“Do too! I don’t like that man. I wish I’d left him indoors.’
There was no reply and Joyce turned and glared across the bubble at her twin. If he weren’t careful she’d turn him into a snake or a rat or something even weirder. She could still do little magics in here. And vaguely, she wondered why she knew that.
Angel wasn’t even aware of his granddaughter’s irritation. He was choosing his words with such care, trying to get to know this child who looked so much like Darla it hurt.
“So – school’s OK?”
Billy shrugged. He could have gone inside the man’s head to discover exactly what he wanted to hear, but that was rude. So he guessed what sort of answer was wanted. He sure didn’t want to know that Billy found school boring, but pretended to enjoy it because that made his folks happy. “Sure, it’s great. Reading, maths, science and – things.”
“Do you like sport? Baseball, hockey?”
“Dad plays basketball with me in the yard.”
Billy heard the tone and broke the rule he’d just made. He slid his thoughts carefully into the man’s mind but it was a scary place, a jumble of words and people, years and years of pictures of concealed horrors he didn’t want to investigate too closely and over and over everything, the words, “Connor. Darla. Connor. Darla. Mine.”
“My Dad’s good at sports,” he said tentatively, wondering if the Angel man knew anything about basketball.
“Good. That’s – good.” Angel tried to make other words come out of his mouth. Words that shaped into sentences that said, “Hey, Billy. Your real dad is my son. His name is Connor. You’d like him a lot. That makes me your granddad. Just like Spike.”
He wanted to cradle the boy’s head between his hands, feel the shape of that familiar skull under the blond hair. Oh God, Darla. What would you say if you saw this child?
“Are you feeling sick?”
He jumped. The girl – his grand-daughter – was standing next to them, frowning at him, her thin face reminding him of Spike in a bad temper.
“If you are, I think you should sit by yourself because if you throw up over us, we’ll stink.”
Angel fought down his irritation with this annoying child. She was so different from her brother, all edgy and cross. God, he could see Spike in her now.
“I’m fine. Just talking to Billy about school and sports and – ”
Joyce wrinkled her nose, then winced and blinked hard, her eyes watering. ‘What did you do that for?’ she yelled silently at her twin. ‘That hurt my brain!’
‘You were just about to say something rude. I could tell.’
‘He’s kind of OK.’
‘He’s a vampire, like granddad. Can’t you tell? I can!’
Billy’s eyes opened very wide. So that was what all the odd jumbled thoughts were covering up.
“ – getting to know you both. Your grandmother and grand-dad are – well, they’re old friends of mine.”
Joyce turned away. Only another vampire. Nothing interesting. And even he obviously liked Billy more than her. Everyone always liked her twin best. Her mom and dad, granny and granddad. Billy was never any trouble and she was. Not that she blamed them. She liked twin best, too.
Oh, she was so bored now! She wondered if the Angel man would object if she magiced a tiger cub into the bubble. But she guessed he would. Grown-ups, even vampire ones, probably had silly rules about things like that.
She was cold and tired and needed the bathroom – again! She was beginning to wonder just how she was going to get the three of them safely back inside the house. She knew she could bring her mom and grandparents out to be in the bubble, but she had the feeling she would get into even more trouble if she did.
Suddenly she had a thought. She looked down at her feet and yes, she was standing on bubble. So, it surrounded them and wasn’t fixed to the earth in the yard. Joyce shut her eyes tight: if the bubble was movable, then she was certain she could move it. Not as good as a tiger cub, but still -
Angel broke off from talking to Billy as the transparent wall behind him shimmered. “What - ?”
And then there was a crash and the world turned upside down. He was flung sideways, grabbing at Billy to protect him. In the seconds before he hit the edge of the table and passed out, he was aware of Buffy staring in at him as the bubble rolled over and over inside her kitchen.
* * * * * *
Buffy gasped as the twins and Angel crashed violently onto the kitchen floor. Shanny ran forward and battered at an invisible wall to reach her children, but it was like punching the wind.
“The sword, pet!” Spike shouted, staring at the still bodies of Angel and Billy.
Buffy realised she was still holding the weapon: she raised it above her head and slashed downwards, yelling as the invisible surface deflected the blade, sending it flying from her grasp.
“Joyce! Joyce! Let us in at once,” Shanny demanded.
The little girl picked herself up, rubbing her shoulder where it had banged against a chair. “I can’t, Mommy! I’ve been trying. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to – ”
“Buffy!” Spike’s voice was hard and controlled. His wife followed his pointing finger and gasped. She could see the open doorway from the kitchen into the yard through the bubble that was now blocking it. And there, growing more distinct every second, was the First Slayer and her vast army of girls who had also once been Slayers. They had returned for Shanny.
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