Newton's Third Law
Malandanza - November 16 2001
"Jonathan shuffled through the maze of shelves at the university library's Latin section, glancing periodically at the list in his hand. He had found two of the three books he wanted but he was having trouble locating the final one - and he was running late for his meeting back at the lair. There was something distinctly menacing about the Latin Studies wing of the library. The lights were just a bit too dim, the silence a bit too complete and the atmosphere far too oppressive. And certain books kept appearing in the wrong places, as if they wanted to be checked out. He tried not to think about it and glanced at his list again.
"Jonathan!" He jumped at the sound and looked up. It was Willow. "You still go here?" She was approaching rapidly.
"Yes," he said hesitantly. Technically it was true - although he hadn't been to any of his classes in a month.
"What are you doing in the Latin section?" she asked. "Usually it's just me."
"I'm taking Latin 101 this semester," he answered. "I guess I wandered into the advanced studies area by accident."
"Really," she replied skeptically. " 'Cause to the casual observer it might appear that you were looking for something specific. With that list and all." At these last words, she snatched the slip of paper out of Jonathan's hand before he realized what was happening.
Jonathan looked momentarily stricken, then said defiantly to Willow, "I don't have to answer your questions o-or put up with your abuse. This isn't High School. You may have been Snyder's favorite little Gestapo girl back then, but he's not around to protect you anymore."
Willow was shocked.
She stood there, mouth slightly agape, unable to react.
Jonathan snatched the list back from her and ran."
"Warren, your friend is here," a faint, feminine voice called down.
"Thanks, mom!" he called back as he headed to the computer console. Andrew looked up from his comic book as Warren punched in the code.
The door slid open and Jonathan entered with a paper grocery bag in one hand and some books in the other. "Have you guys ordered a pizza yet?" he asked. The door slid closed behind him.
Warren ignored the question. "You're late," he said. "Let's get started." The three boys took their accustomed seats. "Progress since last time, Andrew?"
"Um," he began uncertainly. "I beat Diablo II."
Warren stared at him in mute amazement. Jonathan chuckled condescendingly and shook his head sadly.
"What?" Andrew asked, baffled and hurt.
"Have you done anything to further our goals?" Warren demanded.
"Like what?" Warren mimicked. He shared a glance of contempt with Jonathan. "You are the Weakest Link!" he yelled at Andrew.
"And I found an invulnerability spell," Jonathan interjected.
"I didn't know I was supposed to be doing anything!" Andrew protested.
But Warren ignored him, and swiveled his chair back to face Jonathan. "Invulnerability? Really? To everything?"
"Pretty much - as near as I can tell - it's hard to decipher these old texts," Jonathan replied. "Latin." He shrugged.
"I can write a program that will translate it for you," Warren offered.
"That'd be good," Jonathan replied, "but even then, Latin doesn't translate perfectly - the sentence structure is jumbled. And some of the stuff is metaphorical. But it should still save time." He paused and leaned forward in his chair, paused dramatically, then began again in a conspiratorial whisper, "I want to try the spell out tonight, so that the next time I face Buffy, she won't be able to kill me. I need your guys' help. I have most of what I need here," he said, motioning to the grocery sack he was still carrying, "but I have to pick up one more ingredient - there's an herb I need to gather myself from a graveyard at midnight. Then we have to finish the ritual before sunrise or the work will be lost and we'll have to start over tomorrow night."
"That's so cool!" Andrew said. "Can you make me invulnerable, too?"
"Probably, but it's complicated," Jonathan replied. He leaned back in his chair, a confident grin plastered on his face. He turned to Warren and asked smugly, "How's the battle armor coming?"
"Right now I just have the arm and it weighs 37 kilograms," Warren confessed. "So it's a little unwieldy."
"Maybe you could build in an anti-gravity device," Andrew suggested. Warren stared in disbelief once more. "So it won't weigh so much," Andrew explained.
"Sure," Warren responded. "And I'll power it with a cold fusion reactor and built-in perpetual motion machine." He thumped Andrew on the head, then turned back to Jonathan. "Sounds like we have a plan for tonight. What do you need us to do?"
"I need you to mix some stuff for me," Jonathan replied. "The amounts have to be exact. It's a kind of body paint - or will be after I get back with the last ingredient. And Andrew, I'll need you to paint the magic symbols on my body." He handed some photocopied hieroglyphics to Andrew as Andrew started to protest. "If we want to beat Buffy, you have to do it. Warren can't - he's artistically challenged. He can't draw a straight line with a ruler." Warren shrugged but did not disagree. "Practice them until the ritual. They have to be perfect."
"I'll need to get my calligraphy set."
"Plenty of time."
"Let's order that pizza," Warren said. "What toppings?" he asked as he typed the number into his cellphone.
"I like alfalfa sprouts and barbecued chicken," Jonathan said
"Pineapple and black olives," Andrew said.
Warren sighed. "I'd like an extra large pepperoni pizza…" he said into the phone. The pizza of compromise.
Jonathan returned shortly after one. He mixed the herbs with the murky brown fluid Warren had prepared in accordance his instructions, then sat down and chanted a few lines in Latin while waving his magic bone over the mixture. It briefly smoked and bubbled, producing a vile odor that quickly penetrated every corner of the basement. As the bubbling ceased, the liquid changed into a black, oily substance. Jonathan handed it to Andrew. "You need to paint all twenty-nine symbols on my body," he said. "Let's get started."
Andrew looked dubiously at the liquid. "I hope this stuff doesn't ruin my brushes," he muttered.
Jonathan traced a magic circle on the floor of the lair, then Andrew began meticulously copying the symbols. There was only enough room on Jonathan's arms and hands for ten symbols, so he had to strip off his shirt so Andrew would have more area with which to work. Warren snickered and made veiled homophobic comments as Andrew continued. Finally, nearly three hours after they had begun, Andrew began the final symbol.
"So, are these things permanent?" Warren asked. "Because you look like a tattooed freak."
"I'm pretty sure it'll wash off," Jonathan replied.
"My God!" Warren exclaimed. "It is permanent!"
"Why don't you be quiet," Jonathan suggested.
"Quit moving!" Andrew said. "I almost messed that one up." Jonathan froze. A few minutes more and Andrew was finished.
"What's next?" Andrew asked. Warren also looked expectantly at Jonathan.
"I have to say a chant three time," Jonathan replied. "On the third time, I have to plunge ceremonial knife into my abdomen, just below the ribcage." Warren and Andrew exchanged uncertain glances as Jonathan reached into his sack and took out a knife.
"That looks like a steak knife," Warren observed.
"It is, but I consecrated it last night."
"A-are you sure this is going to work?" Andrew asked.
Jonathan hesitated. "Yeah, why wouldn't it?"
"It's just that if it doesn't…" He trailed off and pantomimed stabbing himself with a knife.
"It'll work," Jonathan muttered. He stepped into the mystic circle and sat down cross-legged with his magic bone in one hand and the knife in the other.
"Should we dim the lights or something?" Andrew asked.
"Shut up," Jonathan replied, "you're breaking my concentration." He closed his eyes. Jonathan began to chant - on the third repetition, he hesitated, briefly, then stabbed himself with his knife. Immediately, a stream of bright, red blood sprayed from his abdomen and he shrieked in pain. Warren rushed forward while Andrew fainted - Jonathan pulled the knife out. The blood flow stopped. Jonathan touched his belly where the knife had entered - beneath the light layer of blood, his skin was whole.
"Th-that was painful," Jonathan said quietly. "And more than a little frightening."
"And unbelievably cool," Warren added appreciatively.
Jonathan smiled. "Yeah, it was."
"So, are you invulnerable now?"
"I should be."
"We should test it."
They revived Andrew and Andrew and Warren began to search the lair for sharp instruments with which to test Jonathan's invulnerability. Andrew had his Swiss Army Knife. Jonathan objected to his use of any of the blades but it had a "sewing kit" in a compartment. Really, it wasn't anything more than a needle and some thread, but Andrew insisted in calling it a sewing kit. Jonathan consented to having his invulnerability tested with the needle. Andrew stabbed the needle into the fleshy part of Jonathan's palm, then pulled it back out - a small drop of blood beaded on the surface from the puncture, but beneath it, the skin was untouched. Andrew further tested the invulnerability with a quick succession of stabs into Jonathan's left arm, each healing instantly, before Jonathan was able to wrest the needle from Andrew's hand. By this time, Warren had found a small razor, used, he said later, for trimming wires. While Jonathan was distracted by Andrew, Warren drew the razor across Jonathan's right forearm, cutting into the flesh, but leaving no trace of a wound.
"Okay - enough!" Jonathan shouted. "I may be invulnerable, but it still hurts!"
"We need a field test," Warren said.
Warren and Andrew watched from the safety of the van while Jonathan slowly entered the alley. It was still a dark, but the first, faint signs of dawn were noticeable in the east. Warren hit the talk button. "Don't be such a wimp," he said, "you're invincible and we're here to back you up," then switched the microphone back off.
"Shut up!" came the agitated response.
"For a super villain, he sure is cowardly," Warren said conversationally to Andrew.
"Yeah," Andrew agreed. "Hey! Something just moved!" He pointed to the monitor.
"Body temperature matches the ambient temperature," Warren said. He pushed the talk button again, "You have company. Maybe a vamp."
"V-vampire?" came the hesitant response. Jonathan turned just in time to see the approaching creature. It grabbed him by the throat and tossed him into the wall.
Warren and Andrew heard the creature call out tauntingly, "I thought I was going to have to go to bed without my dinner. And here you are - it's like room service."
"Heroic boasting," Warren said. "Traditional before a battle."
"Should we help him?"
"No, he's fine." And, indeed, Jonathan had gotten back to his feet.
If the vampire was surprised or dismayed by the quick recovery of his prey, he showed no sign of it. "You shouldn't have gotten back up," the vampire said. It closed and struck Jonathan several times, with blinding speed, knocking Jonathan back into a pile of garbage. Jonathan struggled back to his feet, unhurt, but dazed. "You are resilient, little man," the vampire observed. "But that just makes the fight more entertaining - for me." A bone-splintering kick caught Jonathan in his chest as he ineffectually attempted to ward off the attacks and he crashed back into the stone wall again. He got back to his feet.
" 'Only a flesh wound'," Andrew quoted.
Jonathan stumbled backwards, then fell again, emitting a shriek of pain. When he stood back up he was holding a piece of wood with a rusty nail protruding from it.
Warren hit the talk button, "A stake - way to improvise!" he said encouragingly.
"St-stake?" Jonathan mumbled.
The vampire hesitated. Jonathan said "Oh yeah, stake." He waved the wood menacingly at the vampire and advanced slowly and uncertainly. But it was enough for the vampire - it cast a glance at the lightening sky, then fled - jumping up to a fire escape, running up the stairs and disappearing into a broken window of the derelict building.
"Pretty sad display," Warren said confidentially to Andrew.
"Yeah, he fights like a girl, Andrew said, "and where was the word play?"
Jonathan staggered back to the van, dropping the board along the way. Warren slid the van door open and Jonathan stepped in. "I stepped on a rusty nail," he complained. "I think I need a tetanus shot. I'll probably have to see a campus doctor - my pediatrician said I couldn't go to him anymore. I think I need a weapon or some fighting skills - I'll check into spells."
"What now?" Andrew asked Warren.
"Doughnuts?" Warren suggested. "Then we'll head back to the base and we'll throw sharp objects at Jonathan for awhile." But Jonathan vetoed that idea.
Back at the lair, Jonathan began cleaning up his magic supplies. The blade of his knife had turned black. "That's weird," he said bringing it to the attention of his friends. Jonathan ran his thumb along the edge of the blade, then pulled it back quickly. His thumb was bleeding.
"Wow," Warren commented. "Looks like the whole invulnerability thing wore off."
"I-it couldn't have…" Jonathan began.
"My needle turned black, too" Andrew said. Warren quickly verified that his razor had also changed color. Andrew stabbed Jonathan with the needle and it left a wound.
"Hang on!" Warren shouted, interrupting an impending fight between his two cohorts. "I just had an idea." He went over to his work area and returned with a stiff piece of wire that he cut to a sharp point. "This is a test," he said to Jonathan as he stabbed it into Jonathan's hand. The wound it made closed up instantly. Warren set the wire down started the timer on his watch. "Let me know when it turns black," he said.
A minute passed.
"What are you doing?" asked Jonathan.
"Testing a theory."
Another minute passed.
"What theory?" Andrew asked.
Warren turned to the two of them. In an exasperated tone he explained, "Jonathan isn't immune to these black weapons. It's like his Kryptonite. I'm checking to see how long it takes."
"So your own blood," Andrew said to Jonathan, "is your weakness. How cool is that?"
"Yeah, real cool," Jonathan agreed sullenly. "Okay - stop - it just turned black."
Warren stopped his watch, then picked up the wire and stabbed Jonathan again - this time, the wound did not close up. He looked at his watch again. "Three minutes, fifty-three seconds," Warren said. "That's how long you have to defeat your opponent after they've drawn your blood. Then you die."
"We should destroy these weapons," Jonathan said, "so they can't be used against me."
"I wouldn't call a needle and a piece of wire weapons," Warren said dismissively.
"What about your razor?" Jonathan demanded. "Also, you haven't researched demon lore the way I have. They have ironic senses of humor. It would be just like a demon to drive a needle into my brain through my ear. Anything that's drawn my blood should be destroyed. Starting with the razor."
"That's not a stupid plan," Warren said. He put his razor into a vise, then took out a blowtorch and lit it. In a few minutes, the razor was glowing white from the heat, then began to melt. Jonathan yelped. A line of blood appeared on his arm where the razor had cut him previously that evening.
"This is why I use technology," Warren stated. "It's dependable - no strange side-effects." He switched off his torch. "You're going to have to be very careful," he told Jonathan.
"This sucks," Jonathan said as he tried to staunch the bleeding.
Buffy opened the front door.
"Willow," she said evenly. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi Buffy," she began with trepidation. Willow had been estranged from her friends since her abuses of magic had forced them to ostracize her. "I-I wouldn't be here, 'cause I know you don't want me around - and understandably so! I mean, I wouldn't want me around either..." The slayer's body language indicated a growing impatience that was not lost on Willow. "But I have information - important information. Trouble brewing. People dabbling in the black arts for no good purpose..."
"Get to the point," Buffy snapped.
"Oh, ok, sorry Buffy," she took a deep breath. "It's Jonathan."
"Jonathan? As in Jonathan Levinson? From high school?"
Willow nodded vigorously. "I ran into him yesterday, at the library. In the Latin section, with the magic books. He had a list - and h-he called me Principal Snyder's Gestapo agent," Willow complained. "I didn't work for Snyder."
"You did teach that computer class," Buffy replied, "so technically you worked for him. Under duress. But calling you a Nazi was a little harsh. You were more of a collaborator."
"Buffy!" Willow exclaimed in a hurt voice.
"What were you doing in the library, anyway?"
Buffy glared at her, but Willow avoided her gaze. "I can't be around you right now, Will. Go home."
"B-but Jonathan..." Tears began to well up in her eyes.
"This isn't about Jonathan. It's about you. Now," she repeated softly, "go home." She closed the door.
Jonathan had just arrived. Warren hesitated before punching in the security code to open the door and glanced back at Andrew, lost in a comic book. "I'm worried about Jonathan," he stated.
Andrew looked up. "Um, yeah..." he began uncertainly. "He's not usually this late."
"He's always this late," Warren corrected.
"We'll talk later," Warren said peremptorily. He typed in the code and the door slid open.
"What took you so long?" Jonathan asked as he strode confidently into the lair. He didn't wait for an answer. "I have a new spell," he announced. "It's the one that'll let me beat the slayer."
Warren was nonplused, but Andrew put away his comic book.
"I kinda feel sorry for Willow," Xander said. Buffy and Dawn had joined him and Anya for dinner, pizza, at their apartment. None of them had associated with Willow since the disastrous amnesia spell, two weeks past.
"We all feel sorry for her," Buffy said. "She's our friend and she's in pain, but we can't keep covering for her. She has to understand that what she did is wrong. She can't play with people's lives - and she can't just wish everything better again. It only makes things worse."
"Magic has consequences," Anya agreed. "The trick is to get the things you want and make someone else pay the price."
"I miss Tara," Dawn said quietly.
"I do, too," Anya said. "She was quiet and unobtrusive. And I was thinking I should hire her to help out at the magic shop," Anya said brightly. "She has no visible means of support, so she'd probably work for sub-minimum wage. Cash."
"She means well," Xander said apologetically.
Buffy nodded. "That would be nice, Anya. You have a good heart." Anya basked momentarily in the unexpected praise. "Greedy, but good. But I think the magic shop is the last place Tara would want to be - with the chance of running into Willow."
"I banned Willow from the shop," Anya said. There was a moment of silence.
"It was too much like letting a drunk loose in a brewery," Xander explained.
"No, you did the right thing," Buffy said. "Let her go cold turkey."
"Plus, she stole things," Anya said.
"Honey, we don't know that," Xander said.
"I saw her steal when Giles went away to England the first time," Anya insisted. "I even told her not to, but she did anyway. Things have been disappearing for months and Willow was always there. And she has a history of stealing boyfriends. She's not trustworthy," Anya finished darkly.
"And on that note," Buffy began, "did I tell you I got a job?"
Anya and Xander exchanged surprised glances and Dawn perked up.
"Who would hire you?" Anya blurted out.
Xander started to apologize, but Buffy silenced him. "I know," she said, smiling, "she means well. It's not so much having got a job as being paid for the one I'm already doing."
"You decided to charge for slaying?" Anya asked.
"Sort of. I talked to the Council, explained that 'the reports of my demise' had been slightly exaggerated - and that I was watcherless. They offered to send me a new one, but I talked them into making me my own watcher. I'll have to perform duties like keeping a diary, making inspirational speeches to myself when I need encouragement - stuff like that." Buffy looked up from the table at the window and the dimming light. "Sundown. My cue to patrol," she grabbed a final piece of pizza to take with her and headed for the door. "Sorry to eat and run. And thanks for watching Dawn."
Dawn settled into a sulk. "I don't need a baby-sitter," she muttered sullenly.
Buffy stopped and turned back to her sister. "Yes, you do - you've proven that time and time again. And we're not going to have this same old argument," Buffy said firmly. She turned her attention back to Xander and Anya. "I'll be back at sunrise with doughnuts."
"Xander likes bearclaws," Anya said.
"Then bearclaws it is."
"Hey, Buff, do watchers make good money?" Xander asked.
"Oh yeah. But I'm stuck with the slayer retirement package - which kinda sucks."
"This seems like a bad idea," Warren said. "Maybe I missed something in the explanation. Go over it again."
Jonathan sat with an open book in his lap in the center of a pentagram, surrounded entirely by black candles. Andrew and Warren were outside the pentagram, Andrew had just begun lighting the candles. "What's to understand?" Jonathan asked. "I summon a warrior spirit into my body, it possesses me temporarily, just long enough to transfer its knowledge into my mind. Then you guys do the exorcism, breaking the pentagram as you say the final words to release the spirit."
"I'm no expert on magic," Warren said, "but I did see the exorcist..."
"That movie sucked," Andrew said. "It was, like, three hours long and it took two hours before anything happened."
"But the Exorcist III was pretty good," Jonathan added.
"Exorcist II was better," Andrew said.
"Exorcist II was awful!" Warren shouted.
"James Earl Jones in a locust priest costume," Andrew stated.
"Okay, that was cool." Jonathan agreed.
"Look, all I'm saying is that letting yourself get possessed by a demon -"
"Warrior Spirit," Andrew corrected.
"He never listens," Jonathan said to Andrew.
"-and then exorcising it - it can't be good. I mean, where does it go?"
"Back to the ether?" Jonathan suggested. "The home for wayward Warrior Spirits? Who cares?"
"Plus, your pentagram is lopsided. That angle can't be more than 34 degrees," Warren said, indicating one of the points of the star.
"Look, Warren," Jonathan said. "You said yourself that you're not the magic expert..."
"Yeah, we are!" Andrew said defiantly. "Just stick to your sexbots and robot arms!"
"Fine, let's just do it."
The ritual went perfectly. As Jonathan finished the proper incantation, the candles began burning like torches, flaring up and melting down at alarming rates. Jonathan's eyes turned black and he stood up and attempted ineffectually to break the walls of his mystic prison. Warren and Andrew quickly began chanting the exorcism in unison and broke the line of the pentagram as they finished. The candles flared up again to an unbelievable brightness; then went out, leaving the boys blinking as their eyesight slowly returned. The candles had melted away to nothing, only a few of the wicks remained alight, guttering in small pools of congealing wax. Jonathan stepped out of the pentagram. "Try to hit me," he told Andrew.
Andrew stood up, looked uncertainly at Warren, who nodded. Andrew attempted to punch Jonathan in the belly. Instantly, Jonathan parried the attack, slapping Andrew's hand away. Andrew tried again, but Jonathan effortlessly blocked his every attempt. Warren stepped around to Jonathan's blind side and attacked simultaneously, but Jonathan easily evaded both of his friends. Jonathan folded his arms across his chest, stepped back and said dramatically, " 'I know Kung-fu!'"
Andrew and Warren looked meaningfully at each other. "Field test," they said.
They had only been driving through the dark streets of Sunnydale for a few minutes when Jonathan panicked. He suddenly remembered the rusty nail he had stepped on the previous night and became obsessed with recovering it. Warren drove back to the alley where Jonathan had fought the vampire and he and Andrew, armed with crosses and stakes, got out of the van to help Jonathan find the nail, but to no avail - the board was gone.
"It was probably just hauled off to the dump," Warren suggested. "It'll eventually rust away to nothing and you'll be off the hook."
"Right," Jonathan said worriedly, "A whole alley full of garbage and they picked up a single board - that just happened to be one thing that can kill me. Somewhere out here there could be a demon waiting to drive a rusty nail through my skull - just for the sheer irony of it all -" He stopped mid-rant with a stricken look on his face. "I just remembered - my tetanus shot!" Warren and Andrew exchanged confused looks. "The needle!" Jonathan exclaimed. "It also drew my blood and could be used against me!"
"You're getting ridiculously paranoid," Warren said. Jonathan didn't have the time to object - he was knocked off his feet and back into the wall.
A shadowy creature, vaguely humanoid, immediately advanced on Jonathan - in absolute silence. Jonathan was back on his feet by the time it closed the distance. It launched into a flurry of acrobatic attacks that Jonathan parried with blinding speed. Warren advanced with his stake to assist, but the creature momentarily diverted its attention from Jonathan and sent Warren to the ground with a kick to the abdomen. He slowly regained his feet and backed away.
"Attack it, Jonathan!" Andrew yelled encouragingly. So far Jonathan had only been defending himself. Jonathan did as he was bidden, but his opposite blocked his attacks as easily as he had blocked the attacks directed at him. Jonathan was so focused on offense, that the creature slipped past his defenses and knocked him back again. In the deep shadows of the alley, the creature was almost invisible.
"Back to the van," Warren called. Andrew followed immediately, but the creature blocked Jonathan's progress.
Warren switched on the cameras and zoomed in on the battle.
"They're too closely matched," Andrew said nervously, "What do you think it is?"
"Haven't you figured it out yet?" Warren asked absently as he tried to get a close-up of the creature. "It's the thing we summoned, Jonathan's 'Warrior Spirit'. So of course they're evenly matched - it knows everything that Jonathan knows - except that Jonathan will eventually get tired." He played with the contrast. "I can't get a good look at it," he complained. "It's like it's covered in shadows." He moved to the front seat of the van and started the ignition. "The cameras are recording; try to keep them aimed at the fight. I'm going to try to shed some light on the battle - I want a good shot of the creature."
Jonathan panicked when he heard the van start. His adversary used his momentary lapse of attention to land several well-placed blows, knocking Jonathan down. He struggled to his feet as the creature rained blows down upon him. Then the alley was filled with a blinding light - and the creature's blows lost all their force. Jonathan shaded his eyes, ran to the van and clambered in.
"How'd you know the lights would weaken it?" he asked.
"We didn't," Warren replied. A sudden, insistent pounding began on the side of the van. Warren stepped on the gas and sped away. "I'd suggest sleeping with a night-light," he told Jonathan.
It was an hour before Jonathan had calmed down enough to attempt a break-in at his doctor's office. Warren and Andrew watched and listened in the van, ready for a quick get-away, while Jonathan walked cautiously around the building, looking for an opening. "Intruder at three O'clock!" Andrew's voice sounded in his ear. He spun around to face it as Warren's voice said, "Looks like another vamp. Buffy's been slacking."
It was a young woman, not much older than Jonathan and not much taller, with red hair and freckles. "I love college towns," she said as she approached slowly. "So many people with no survival skills." Her face transformed, replacing her moderately attractive features with odd ridges and her even teeth with fangs. "Who won't be missed."
"She's just trying to rattle you - don't let her psyche you out," Warren said soothingly. "Say something clever. Draw on your role-playing experience."
"Y-you don't scare me," he said falteringly.
"Pathetic," came the response in his ear.
The vampire smiled condescendingly. "See what I mean?" she said conversationally. "No survival skills..." The vampire grabbed him - or tried to - his magically enhanced reflexes took over. He parried her blows and used her momentum to knock her into the wall behind him. She was back on her feet instantly, enraged, and lunged at him again - and, again, she ended up on the ground, never having touched her would-be victim. "I'm going to kill you slowly," she growled as she got back on her feet. She began to circle Jonathan warily, looking for an opportunity to strike. She lashed out with her fists, but Jonathan parried her attacks effortlessly. She backed away.
And Jonathan advanced. He made the conscious decision to go on the offensive. Before she fully realized what was happening, Jonathan was hitting her - pounding her with blow after blow. A final kick knocked her out of Jonathan's range. "Are you sure I'm the one without survival skills?" he asked breathlessly.
"Well done!" Warren said encouragingly.
While the vampire struggled to her feet, Jonathan advanced with what he hoped was a menacing swagger - she ran. He pursued her right to the edge of the building, only to see her vanish in a cloud of dust. And Buffy was standing there.
"Nice moves," she said. "I didn't know you were kung-fu guy." Her voice was casual, but she was watching him carefully, studying him.
"Not good," Warren said. "Try to distract her. We're not ready to fight her yet."
"M-my parents made me take classes when I was younger," he said quickly. "They thought it would improve my self-esteem."
"Did it work?" she asked.
"No, the bigger kids in the class just beat me up while the instructor watched and gave them tips. But this summer, I went back to self-defense class for a refresher course and to picked up a few new skills."
"You're a fast learner," Buffy said evenly.
"She's not buying it," Warren said. "You need to get out of there."
"What're you doing out so late?" she asked.
"I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition," he retorted hotly.
"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition," came the simultaneous responses from Warren and Andrew in his earphone.
"And I could ask you the same thing," he continued.
"This isn't about me," she said defensively as she put away her stake. "Are you going to answer my questions?" There was a distinct menace in her voice.
"No," he said defiantly. He turned and walked away.
Buffy caught up to him and grabbed him by the shoulder. Jonathan knocked her hand away and spun around, knocking the Slayer off her feet with a sweep of his leg.
She lay there, stunned.
Jonathan ran to the van - Warren had already started the motor and was pulling away when he jumped in.
Back at the base, Warren, Jonathan and Andrew settled into their chairs. They reviewed the digital recordings that Warren had made of the fight with the demon, with the vampire and with Buffy. "Okay," Warren said, "Let's assess the damage."
"What damage?" Jonathan asked. "I stood up to the Slayer."
"And she didn't stand up to you," Andrew added.
"And did you see that vampire run from me?"
"Yes, but Buffy saw the van and saw you get in," Warren said. "We may have to repaint it. Plus, she knows you have super powers."
"But she doesn't know that I'm invulnerable."
"It was a disaster," Warren said. "Tonight did not further any of our goals and it gave away the element of surprise. Plus there's a demon stalking you. That you summoned." He rewound the recording to the point just before he had turned on the lights of the van. "Watch," he said. The lights flashed on the demon faded. He paused the action. "Look closely; what's missing?"
"The demon?" Andrew answered.
Warren zoomed in. "Jonathan's shadow."
"That's eerie," Andrew said.
Jonathan checked his shadow - it was missing. "It's just a side effect," he said uncertainly. "It'll probably go away."
"Jonathan," Warren said sternly, "you are jeopardizing the group with your reckless abuse of magic."
"You're screwin' up, man!" Andrew added.
Jonathan stood up and walked to the whiteboard where the group goals were listed. "I was going to wait to tell you this," he said casually as he picked up a dry-erase marker and popped the cap off, "but I found a spell that I believe will accomplish one of our primary objectives." He paused for effect, then circled: "Hypnotize Buffy." He looked back at the other two and arched an eyebrow.
"That's so cool!" said Andrew.
"This is your last chance, Dawn," Buffy said sternly. Dawn was sitting at the dinner table working on her math as Buffy put on her coat and headed for the door. "You are not to leave the house while I am on patrol. And no one is allowed in until I get back - which won't be 'til sunrise."
"You can totally trust me, Buffy," Dawn said reassuringly. "If any wicked witches come to the door offering me poisoned apples, I'll just say no."
Buffy stopped at the door and looked back at her sister. "I'm serious Dawn. Mess up again and I'll ship you off to a convent. In Ecuador. Now, promise me that you won't get into trouble."
"Okay, already," she replied quickly, "I promise. I'll just finish my homework and go to bed early." She yawned unconvincingly. "I'm tired."
"Good," Buffy said and, with a final glance back, filled with misgivings, she left the house. "I should probably swing by around midnight," she muttered to herself, "to make sure there are no wild parties or teen-age hijinks going on."
"Are you sure the spell worked?" Warren asked. Warren, Jonathan and Andrew had just completed Jonathan's latest spell, which he claimed would give him a hypnotic gaze, and were sitting to their accustomed chairs to discuss the implications. "I mean, your eyes don't look hypnotic..."
"Yeah, they're not glowing or anything," Andrew added.
"Only one way to be sure," Jonathan said as he exchanged a significant glance with Warren. "A test."
"Make him sing the lumberjack song," Warren suggested.
"What are you guys talking about..." began Andrew.
But Jonathan interrupted him. He locked gazes with Andrew and said, "Andrew, these are not the 'droids you are looking for."
Instantly, Andrew launched himself out of his chair. "They are the 'droids I'm looking for!" he yelled. He attempted to strangle Jonathan, but Jonathan's magically enhanced reflexes took over. He batted Andrew's arms away, then knocked Andrew to the ground. "You don't know what you're talking about!" Andrew shrieked as he rose to his feet again. Warren and Jonathan both were on their feet now and facing off against their friend.
"Relax," Warren said evenly as he interposed himself between the two combatants. "There aren't any 'droids," he said to Andrew.
"Tell that to him!" Andrew shouted. "He's the one with the 'droids!" He lunged for Jonathan again, but Warren caught him and held him. "Let me go!" Andrew growled.
"I don't think the spell worked, Jonathan," Warren said casually. "Maybe you should leave 'til it wears off."
"O-okay, calm down," he replied. "I'll see if I can figure out what went wrong. Or maybe Andrew has a natural immunity." He quickly headed for the door and left the lair.
Andrew settled down almost immediately. "I was going to help him with his shadow demon," he said bitterly, "but now he can just handle it himself."
"How could you help with that?"
"Duh? What's wrong with you? I have the power to summon and bind demons to my will," Andrew said.
"I thought you just trained them."
"What's number #48 on the Evil Overlord List?" Andrew demanded.
"Never turn into a snake?"
"No! 'I will treat any beast which I control through magic or technology with respect and kindness. Thus if the control is ever broken, it will not immediately come after me for revenge,'" Andrew recited. "But I have to get them from somewhere. And at first, they're unruly; so I have to compel them to behave magically. Eventually, I can train them without magic. I could probably bind Jonathan's 'Warrior Spirit' - it's what I do - but now he can just suffer. What's his problem, anyway?"
"A good question," Warren said thoughtfully. "I think I know, but I want a little more data before coming to my final conclusion. I think we should follow him, watch him. I put a transmitter in his clothes. Unless he enters a tunnel or is hit by an EMP, we should be able to track him and listen in on his conversations. Did you finish repainting the van?"
"Yes. Green, just like you said."
Jonathan found himself back at the doctor's office, wondering how to break in. He wandered around the perimeter, looking for a possible entrance.
As he stepped into the alley, the shadow creature was waiting for him. It lashed out, stronger than before - Jonathan stepped back, reeling from the impact even as he fended off the blows. He retreated slowly, giving ground as he inched toward the better-lit sections of the street. It followed inexorably, eerily silent, but as the light grew brighter, the blows lost their force - and then it stopped, unwilling to follow Jonathan any further. Jonathan stopped as well, reluctant to advance beyond the radius of the streetlight. The creature stepped back into the deeper shadows and was gone.
"Why don't you tell me what's going on, Ninja Boy?"
Jonathan jumped at the voice and spun around. It was Buffy. "You shouldn't sneak up on people like that!" he exclaimed.
"What are you up to?" she asked as she warily circled Jonathan. "And what was that thing you were fighting?" She reminded Jonathan of a panther, muscles tensed and ready to spring at any instant.
"I-I not completely sure," he replied uncertainly. "Some kind of shadow demon. It seems to weaken in the light - I was trying to lure it into the light so I could fight it when you scared it off."
"I see. You're a demon hunter," she replied skeptically. "Funny that I never ran across you until now, I thought I knew all the demon hunters."
"I try to keep a low profile. I-I find it keeps the demons guessing. Plus they can't target my friends and family."
"So now you're a super-hero," Buffy continued ironically, "and mild-mannered Jonathan Levinson is your secret identity." She took a step closer to Jonathan. "Want to guess how much of this I believe?"
"You should believe it all. We're on the same side," he said nervously as he met her steely gaze and braced himself for an onslaught. "We shouldn't be fighting." Her resolution vanished - a series of conflicting expressions swept across her face. "We ought to be allies," he continued soothingly.
"Allies?" she echoed uncertainly.
"The two of us together would be unstoppable."
"I want to know more about how you went from President-for-Life of the Sunnydale Nerd Squad to the Ultimate Fighting Champion. That and why you don't have a shadow..."
"That's not important, what's important is that we work together, not against each other."
She hesitated briefly before saying thoughtfully, "That's not a stupid idea. I could use a sidekick who can actually help fight. You can be my fluffy battle kitten. Want to help me finish my patrol?"
Jonathan breathed a sigh of relief. "Um, sure," he replied nervously.
Neither of them noticed the green van.
"So he did it!" Andrew exclaimed. "He hypnotized her!"
"Apparently," Warren replied.
"So, why isn't he taking her back to the lair to be our sex-kitten?"
"A valid question."
Buffy and Jonathan traveled through Sunnydale searching for vampires. Shortly after ten, they discovered a group at a cemetery. The vampires didn't have much staying power and fled after Buffy staked the second one. Jonathan and Buffy pursued them as they sought refuge in Sunnydale's infamous storm sewers.
Jonathan stepped down from the ladder into the darkness. There wasn't much water - just small puddles left over from the last rainstorm. "It's dark," he said. "Really dark."
"It's okay," Buffy replied confidently. "I see like a cat." She started out after the retreating vampires and Jonathan trailed after her.
But the vampires had gotten too far ahead of them and, in spite of her claims, Buffy periodically stumbled over objects lying in their path. Finally, she admitted that they were lost and she and Jonathan climbed back to the surface at the next available ladder.
Back in the van, Warren threw down his earphones. "We lost the signal," he complained. "They're gone. Let's head back."
"Why was Jonathan helping Buffy fight the vampires?" Andrew asked.
"What's the one mistake that most villains make?"
"They make their ventilation ducts big enough for their enemies to crawl through?"
"No," he held up his hand to stifle Andrew's protests. "Well, yes, but also: women. Always trouble. Jonathan is obsessed with Buffy. He doesn't want to kill her, but he does want to confront her. And now he's working with her." Warren paused thoughtfully. "It's like the three of us are a Triumvirate," he said. "I'm Octavian, Jonathan is Marc Anthony and Buffy is Cleopatra. She'll break up the Empire if we let her."
"Who am I?"
"You?" Warren asked. "You're, um, Lepidus."
Back on the street, Buffy and Jonathan headed to Willy's - a demonic bar, according to the Slayer.
"Whenever I need information, I head here and beat Willy until he squeals," she said as the neared the dilapidated entrance. "Actually, I threaten him and he caves in before any real violence. I can't believe you didn't know about Willy's. How long have you been fighting demons?"
"Not long - I got my powers suddenly." She slowed her pace and looked at him suspiciously. "Is that unusual?" he asked defensively. "Were you born with a stake in your hand?"
"No," she sighed, "I guess not. Let's go in - you've got a fake ID, right?" A look of panic crossed Jonathan's face, but Buffy just smiled. "Relax," she whispered conspiratorially, "I know the owner - I can get you in." She kicked the door open and stepped inside...
"Wow," Jonathan said nervously. "I had no idea there were so many demons in Sunnydale."
"Neither did I," Buffy muttered. The place was packed. Demons of every variety lined the bar and filled the tables. Several were looking pointedly at the Slayer and her companion. "I'm thinking low profile," she whispered to Jonathan, already regretting her overly dramatic entrance. "There's a table over there."
"Maybe we should come back later," he whispered back.
"I need to know why they're all here," she replied quietly. "Also, if we turn around and run for it, the demons will chase us for sure. If they sense fear they'll come after us - like a pack of rabid baboons." She began to weave her way through the crowd and Jonathan, fearful of being separated, followed in her wake.
"I think we should have sat on the other side," Jonathan said as he sat down opposite Buffy. "That looks like the human section." There were glasses from the previous patrons still setting on the table.
"That would be the vampire section," she calmly informed him.
"Oh." Jonathan picked up one of the empty cups and sniffed it. He jerked his head back abruptly. "What were they drinking?"
"Those are the kinds of questions that should be left unanswered. And unasked."
"This seems like a very unhealthy environment. I'm thinking we should get out of here. Now."
Their waitress interrupted them. "Sorry about the wait," she said cheerily. "And I'll get this mess cleaned up right away - in the meantime, can I take your order?"
Jonathan and Buffy were both shocked into silence. They recognized her.
Buffy recovered her composure first. "Harmony?" she said, "What are you doing here?"
"Buffy!" Harmony exclaimed unhappily. "Please don't kill me! I just work here!" Patrons began to look at them and the din of the bar began to settle down.
"I'm not going to kill you," Buffy hissed.
"Oh, that's good," Harmony said breathlessly. "And I can totally get out of town if you want me to - I just came back because I was homesick." She giggled nervously. "Imagine being homesick of Sunnydale! But LA was just so... big and empty. I feel like I belong here, you know? Like it's home."
"Just tell me, what's going on," Buffy demanded. "Why is it so busy?"
"Happy Hour," Harmony said. "On Tuesdays, Willy hires an empath demon to project happiness from sunset until midnight. Willy lets me work for tips. And I get good tips. Because everybody's happy!"
"Sort of a supernatural high?" Buffy asked. "How come we didn't feel it when we walked in?"
"It takes time. The longer you're here, the happier you are. And also the closer you are - he's the blue demon at the bar." She pointed to the demon; he was surrounded by a crowd but was tall enough that he towered over most of his happiness groupies. "Thursdays are also pretty busy - it's Torch Night."
"What's Torch Night?" Jonathan asked.
"Bring a torch and your drinks are half off while it's burning," Harmony replied.
"That's an odd marketing gimmick," Buffy mused.
"It's a nostalgia thing," she explained. "Reminds us of the days when angry groups of peasants roamed the street with torches and clubs." She sighed wistfully, "There are no good mobs these days."
"Harmony," Buffy said slowly, "you can't be nostalgic - you weren't alive back when there were angry mobs." But Harmony just shrugged.
"You said the blue demon is the empath?" Jonathan asked nervously. "You mean the one that's coming towards us?"
Harmony turned to look at him. "That's him," she burbled happily as she waved at the approaching demon. "Now," she said as she turned her attention back to Jonathan and Buffy, "what can I get you?"
Jonathan felt the power of the demon as it approached. He began to feel a little happier while Harmony positively beamed when it spoke to her.
"Harmony," it said in a deep baritone. "The boss wants your friends gone. Immediately. They are driving away paying customers," he said as he motioned toward the vampire section - it was already half-deserted and others were slipping away, "and this cuts into my commission. This makes me unhappy - and if I'm unhappy, everyone is unhappy..."
"We were just leaving," Jonathan said anxiously.
"I was not addressing you," it growled as it clapped a clawed hand on Jonathan's shoulder and pointed a talon at Jonathan's chest. "Do not speak when in the presence of your betters, human."
Jonathan stood up and made eye contact. "We do not want trouble," he intoned, "leave us in peace."
The demon roared in rage. In one fluid motion, it lifted Jonathan by his shirt and tossed him effortlessly into the wall. Instantly the bar was in an uproar - the tables emptied as every demon in the bar simultaneously attacked its neighbor. The blue demon launched itself at Jonathan, roaring furiously, but Buffy halted it mid-flight with a well-placed kick. It crashed to the ground a few feet short of Jonathan.
Buffy rushed to Jonathan's side. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"I'm invulnerable," he replied as he got back on his feet.
But the conversation was interrupted by the empath demon - this time Jonathan was able to react. He easily evaded the demon's clumsy attacks and struck back with dazzling speed and dexterity. But his blows did little more than annoy and disorient the demon - Jonathan lacked the strength to do more. The demon was so intent on killing Jonathan that he ignored the slayer completely. She took the opportunity to arm herself with a chair and slammed it against the side of the demon's head with enough force to knock it back into the wall and into unconsciousness.
As quickly as the battle had begun, it subsided. All the fighting came to an abrupt end and all eyes focused on Buffy and Jonathan.
Buffy and Jonathan exchanged meaningful glances - then headed to the door at a pace just under a panicked gallop. A black demon with curling horns stepped into their path and reached for Jonathan, but he spun away and knocked the demon off balance - it stumbled towards Buffy, who reflexively jabbed it in the abdomen with sufficient force to knock it to its knees. As it fell, it vomited up the evening's drinks on the slayer, then collapsed, continuing to retch. A few seconds of palpable silence followed the confrontation before the tension was shattered by a maniacal giggle from a darkened corner. Quickly, the entire bar filled with laughter as Buffy stood aghast, the right side of her body soaked with steaming demon vomit. Jonathan grabbed her left arm and propelled her to the door as quickly as he could.
Outside, Jonathan and Buffy slowed down their pace. "Do you think we should go back for Harmony?" Jonathan asked as he glanced back once more before they rounded the corner from the bar.
"We have to get to my house now!" Buffy exclaimed. "I need a shower."
"I thought she was dead. Didn't she die at graduation?" he asked as he followed the power-walking slayer. "Do you think she'll be okay?"
"You don't understand," Buffy continued, "this stuff is burning me," Buffy told him as she broke into a jog. "Don't worry, Harmony'll be fine. She's Harmony! Nothing bad ever really happens to her."
Back at Buffy's house, Jonathan walked anxiously around the living room. Buffy was upstairs, taking a shower and had invited him to wait. He wandered about, uncertainly. Finally, he heard the shower shut off.
It suddenly occurred to Jonathan that Buffy's house was rather dark. A single lamp illuminated the living room. What if the demon attacked him here? He looked for a light switch - then froze.
The back door had just opened. His pulse quickened as he slid to the side of the kitchen doorway - he heard soft footsteps approaching. Intentionally quiet. Not the demon - the demon was silent - something else. It was getting closer - almost at the doorway.
Jonathan spun around and grabbed the creature - it clawed and bit as it struggled to get free. Then it let out a piercing shriek: "Buffy! Help me!"
Jonathan was still trying to control Dawn when Buffy came rushing down the stairs in a robe. She stopped as she saw what was happening. "Jonathan," she said slowly, "what are you doing to my sister?"
Jonathan immediately released Dawn and she ran to Buffy's side. "I thought I heard something breaking in," he began. "I didn't know..."
"He attacked me!" Dawn sobbed, tears streaking down her face.
"I didn't attack anyone!" Jonathan protested.
But Buffy wasn't listening. "Dawn," she said angrily. "Why are you fully dressed and not in bed?"
The tears dried up instantly.
"I can't believe you went out after you promised me you wouldn't!"
"I-I..." Dawn began.
"I don't want to hear it."
"No! No more lies! Go up to your room and we'll talk about this tomorrow when I'm not so mad." Dawn started to explain once more. "Now, Dawn!" Dawn burst into tears again and rushed up the stairs.
Buffy turned back to face her guest. "Jonathan," she said. "Sorry about that. Dawn - well, she's a handful. As you found out. I don't know what I'm going to do with her." She raised her arm to brush back her damp hair. The sleeve of her robe slipped done to reveal her injured arm, covered in blisters.
"That looks bad," Jonathan remarked. "You should see a doctor."
Buffy smiled as she pulled the sleeve back down. "By tomorrow, it'll look like a sunburn. And not a particularly bad one. Slayer healing - one of my better powers," she said. "Not as good as invulnerability, of course. Are you really invulnerable - to everything?"
"So far," Jonathan said uncomfortably. "I-I better get going. It's late."
"Want to patrol with me again sometime? Not tomorrow - I want to spend some quality time with my prodigal sister - but maybe Thursday?"
"Sure, that'd be good."
"Meet me here at sundown?"
Buffy walked him to the door.
"Um, goodnight," Jonathan said awkwardly. "It was, uh, fun and everything."
"Yeah," Buffy replied. "It was kinda fun. Well, goodnight." Jonathan let himself out and Buffy tromped back upstairs.
Jonathan hadn't gotten more than 20 yards from Buffy's house when Harmony accosted him.
"You guys got me fired!" she complained angrily. "I'm going to kill you!' Her face altered as she approached.
"You're a vampire!" Jonathan exclaimed.
"And you're my dinner, Jonathan." She attacked; he dodged and struck back. Harmony ended up on the ground, crying. "That hurt!" Her face has faded back to normal.
"D-don't cry, Harmony," Jonathan said.
"Being a vampire sucks." She began sobbing uncontrollably.
"Hey, it's not so bad. You get super strength and live forever..."
"And live in crypts or abandoned buildings," she continued in broken sobs, "Like a homeless person. And I'm always hungry. The other vampires hate me. And now I have no money and no job and no place to live except back in the sewers and it's been days since I had a hot shower - and it's all your fault! - I wasn't doing anything bad - I was trying become a functioning member of society - but you and Buffy had to come in and ruin everything."
"It'll be okay..." Jonathan said lamely.
"Can I stay with you tonight?" She asked. The tears were gone, she was back on her feet.
"No! You're a vampire!"
"I promise I won't feed on you," she said "I just want a hot shower and place to rest - I'm so tired. Please? I'll leave town tomorrow night. You can even tell your friends that I'm your girlfriend," she said suggestively. "I don't mind. Please?"
He sighed. "Okay - but only one night. You can't kill me anyway - I have super powers."
Jonathan and Harmony stopped at a convenience store on the way back to Jonathan's dorm for some junk food. Harmony paused at the sunglasses display. "You should get a pair," she told Jonathan. "It'll make you look less geeky." She put on a pair. "How do I look? I can't tell."
"Fine. Let's just go," Jonathan said. He had his hands full of chips and various confections.
Harmony put a pair of sunglasses on him. "Not too bad," she said. "Now try these."
Jonathan waited impatiently as Harmony tried several different styles on him, finally settling on a wrap-around pair. He looked at himself in the mirror - he had to admit, he liked the way they looked.
He took the food and sunglasses to the cashier - she was a small, dark-haired girl.
"I'm hungry, dude," Harmony whined as she waited impatiently for him to finish.
"Then get something to eat," he replied flippantly. A flurry of events happened next - only his extraordinary reflexes enabled him to react in time: as the cashier handed Jonathan his change Harmony vamped out and lunged for her. Jonathan caught her wrists just inches short of her prey. The startled girl leapt back backwards, overturning a display of Rice Krispies Treats and scattering them everywhere.
"Not her," Jonathan said to Harmony as he locked his gaze to hers. He released her, pocketed his change and put on his sunglasses.
"You're no fun," Harmony pouted. Jonathan turned to leave the store; Harmony followed, calling after him, "And take the price tag off, you loser!"
“Buffy! You were supposed to wake me up! I’m late!” Dawn hurried down the stairs and rushed into the kitchen
Buff was drinking coffee, still just wearing her robe. “No school today,” she said. “I called you in sick. I want to talk to you. Sit down. I’ll make you some cereal.” Buffy got up.
Dawn paused. “What’s up?” she asked nervously. ”You’re not still mad about last night?”
“Nope. It doesn’t do me any good to get angry.” Dawn opened her mouth to object but Buffy cut her off. “I know, you’re sorry. It won’t happen again. You keep saying that, but you go right out and mess up again.” She took a box of cereal down from the shelf and poured Dawn a large bowl full. “Partly, it’s your friends. They help get you into trouble. You think you have to fit in.” She opened the refrigerator and took out the milk. “I know, I was your age once and in LA… well, Mom may have been clueless back then, but I’m not.” She poured milk into the cereal.
Dawn was sullen. “You can’t keep me from seeing my friends.”
“Eat up,” Buffy said. “Then change into something more formal. We’re going to have lunch at a fancy restaurant.” Buffy kissed her sister lightly on the forehead then headed back upstairs to get ready.
“This is an obscure form of punishment,” Dawn said to herself. She helped herself to a mouthful of cereal.
Buffy changed three times before she was satisfied with her outfit. And she made Dawn change four times. Finally, they were ready to go. Buffy smiled as Dawn carefully walked down the stairs, tottering on the unfamiliar high heels. “You look like a young lady,” Buffy told her sister.
“And you look like a grown-up,” Dawn replied with a grin.
“I do, don’t I?”
“So, what’s the occasion?”
“Just celebrating my financial independence - our financial independence – now that the Council is paying me. Let’s go – we don’t want to be late.”
They arrived at the restaurant in a few minutes and Buffy and Dawn entered the building. Inside, an elegant woman approached Buffy. “Mrs. Summers?” she asked.
“No. Miss Summers. Buffy. Mrs. Summers was my mother,” Buffy replied. “This is my sister, Dawn. I spoke to you about her on the phone this morning.”
“Well,” she replied as she looked Dawn over, “she is a pretty thing.” The woman held out her hand to Dawn. “I’m Sister Allison,” she said.
Dawn blanched. She stared at Buffy, aghast, as she mechanically shook the sister’s hand.
“I was expecting someone more nun-like,” Buffy said. “I mean, not in your civilian clothes.”
Sister Allison smiled benignly. “I’m not certain my wimple would be accepted as proper dress code at this restaurant,” she replied. She examined Buffy closely for the first time; her smile faded.
“Your table is ready,” the maitre d’ interrupted.
The sister followed the waiter closely as he lead them back though the restaurant, but Dawn dragged her sister behind and whispered urgently, “I’m sorry, Buffy, really! Please don’t send me to Ecuador!”
“Dawn,” Buffy sighed, “don’t cause a scene.”
It as 4:00 when Buffy and Dawn entered the Magic Box, still dressed up. Dawn was sulking and sat down heavily in a chair, but Buffy was in good spirits. “Hey, Anya! How’s business?” she asked.
“Good, thanks for asking,” Anya replied. Tara entered the room carrying jars from the basement. “I hired Tara,” Anya said. “She’s very efficient.” Tara smiled when she saw Dawn. “You can take your break now,” Anya said. There were no customers in the shop.
“Hey, Dawnie,” Tara said as she came up to Dawn. “Why are you all dressed up?”
“Ask Buffy,” Dawn said angrily. She folded her arms across her chest and glared balefully at her sister.
“We had lunch with Sister Allison. One of the admission officers at Miss Porter’s Academy,” she explained.
“You’re sending Dawn to a private school?” Anya asked. “Can you afford it?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Watcher’s get paid a lot. And it’s not like I need to save money. And I’m pretty sure I can get the Council to pay for part of it – I’ll tell them that having to worry about my sister getting into trouble at a public school is distracting me from my slayer duties – which is technically true. And know what the cool thing is? It’s really hard to get into Miss Porter’s – they have entrance requirements and tests and things. Maybe even background checks. But Dawn’s already enrolled – she starts tomorrow.”
“Wow, Dawn!” Tara enthused, “you must really have impressed them.” But Dawn wasn’t talking.
“We were just finished ordering lunch and I was explaining why I wanted Dawn enrolled when Sister Allison stopped me and asked me if I remembered her,” Buffy said. “I didn’t think I’d ever seen her before, but she remembered me. Turns out, I’d saved her from some vamps a couple of years ago.” Buffy smiled and looked dotingly at Dawn. “She said she’d cut the red-tape for Dawn and waive the entrance requirements. After lunch, we went down to the school to look around and pick up her books and uniforms. It’s a pretty campus.”
“It’s an all-girls school,” Dawn muttered darkly.
“Girls aren’t so bad, sweetie,” Tara said soothingly as she stroked Dawn’s hair.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Anya told Buffy firmly. “When she graduates her earning potential will be 57% higher than that of children who go to public school,” Anya added. “And she’ll be 31% more likely to finish college and thus better able to support you in your old age. If you have one.”
“You’re gonna look so adorable in your uniform,” Buffy said to Dawn. “How about you model them for our friends?”
“I hate you.”
“Hey, Could’ve been worse,” Buffy said philosophically as she sat down next to her sister. “It could’ve been Ecuador.”
Jonathan didn’t head over to Warren’s house until sunset, so he could make sure Harmony was with him. He left her outside and headed to the basement. Warren and Andrew were waiting inside, faces set in grim expressions, arms crossed. But Andrew broke his resolve. “Cool shades, man!”
“Harmony picked them out for me,” he replied casually. “She’s outside waiting for an invite. Vampire.”
“Why’d you bring a vampire here?” Warren demanded.
“Relax, she can’t come in.” Jonathan sat down in his “power” chair and Andrew followed suit. Warren hesitated, then joined them. “The way I have it figured, Buffy is no longer an issue. I can make her do anything.”
“Except there’s a chance you get beaten to death,” Warren pointed out.
“Nope,” Jonathan said smugly. “I figured out what was wrong. Why it didn’t work on Andrew.” He paused, then leaned forward. “It only works on girls.”
They boys were stunned.
“That’s even cooler than being able to hypnotize everyone,” Andrew said in awe.
“Have you tested this theory?” Warren asked.
“Oh yes. Three of my professors are women. They’re giving me A’s. The other two are men and want me expelled. But one has a hot TA and I’m going to get her to change my grades. I’ll drop the other class.” Jonathan said. “Plus, I had lunch with three very attractive girls. And they paid for it.” He smiled. “Trust me, I can handle Buffy. The way I see it, the only obstacles left to our conquest of Sunnydale are the demons. So far we haven’t thought about what to do about them – we’ve been too focused on the slayer.” Jonathan leaned back. “Which is why I brought Harmony here. She’s a vampire and has her finger on the erratic pulse of the underworld – she worked as a waitress at a demon bar Buffy took me to.”
“Yeah, that’s great, but…“ Warren began. A knocking interrupted.
“Warren,” his mother called. “Your friend is here.”
Warren jumped up and dashed to the computer console. He flipped on the external camera – there, in the stairwell to his basement was his mother and Harmony.
Andrew looked over his shoulder. “Looks like your mom invited Harmony in,” he said.
Warren angrily pounded in the security code then spun back to face Jonathan. “Nice job.”
“Hey, your mom’s the one who invited her,” Jonathan said defensively.
In the meantime, the door swung open and Harmony, wearing her own sunglasses, walked in. “Wow!” she said. “This is scary! And not in a sexy way. Hey Warren.”
“Harmony,” he said in a subdued voice.
“Gosh, There’s just so much here to hate, where do I even begin?” she continued. “You’ve got your little toy men,” she said, motioning to the action figures, “your video games and your computers. This must be, like, nerd paradise.”
Warren pulled Andrew and Jonathan off to the side “Control her,” Warren hissed.
“I can’t,” Jonathan admitted. “Her sunglasses block me. I need eye contact.”
Warren was stunned. “A few seconds ago you were bragging about how you could control the slayer and now you can’t control Harmony?”
“Buffy doesn’t wear sunglasses.”
“He’s got a point,” Andrew whispered.
“Oops,” Harmony called out. “I broke one of your little men, Warren.”
“So we have a wild vampire running amok in our lair with an open invitation to kill me and my mom in our sleep,” Warren complained. “Do I have the facts correct?”
“She could be a valuable ally,” Jonathan suggested. Warren wasn’t smiling. “What do you want me to do?”
Warren stalked over to Harmony and snatched the sunglasses from her face. “Freak!” she said. He walked back over to Jonathan and handed him the sunglasses angrily.
“Now do something!”
Harmony watched as Jonathan approached her, removing his own sunglasses. “Do what?” she asked.
“Never wear sunglasses again, Harmony,” Jonathan said as he caught her gaze.
“Um, okay, dude.”
“Don’t feed on Warren or his mother.”
“Or me,” Andrew added.
“Or Andrew. Or me. In fact, don’t feed on anyone in this house.”
“You guys are so weird.”
“How long will this last?” Warren asked.
“How long will what last?” Harmony asked.
“I don’t know,” Jonathan said. “I hadn’t thought of it wearing off.”
“Andrew’s wore off,” Warren commented. “He’s not talking about the ‘droids anymore.”
“Why do you have to keep bringing up the ‘droids?” Andrew asked Warren angrily. “Those were the ‘droids I was…” he stopped himself.
Warren had Jonathan sit Harmony at the table and the three of them sat across from her. They interrogated her – Jonathan asking the questions that Warren and, occasionally, Andrew wanted answered about the demon nightlife in Sunnydale. After half an hour, they were finished.
“Get rid of her,” Warren said. “We need to plan.”
“Go sit in the corner, Harmony,” Jonathan said. “And don’t touch anything.”
“Okay,” she said, frowning slightly. She slipped away quietly.
“See,” Jonathan said to Warren. “Lots of information.”
“And if we were planning on writing a demon soap opera, some of it might actually be relevant,” he retorted. “But there’s still so much we don’t know. The maps of the sewers don’t show any natural caverns, yet, according to Harmony, the area is riddled with them.”
“We should send down an ‘away team’ to investigate,” Andrew said.
“Good idea,” Warren said. “Jonathan, you and Harmony go exploring tonight. She knows her way around.” He got up and went to his computer area. He opened a small box and took out a small device. He returned to the table. “Take this with you,” he said to Jonathan.
“That looks like a TOS tricorder!” Andrew said.
“I know,” Warren said proudly as he flipped it open. “Right now it will store pertinent information like heading and the size and shape of an area. Wander around in the tunnels and when you get back, we’ll have the best maps of the underworld in existence – digitally recorded with all objects larger than a grape stored in the database. It uses sonar, so even in the dark we’ll get accurate renderings of the area. And I’ll show you how to use it to retrace your steps if you get lost.”
“As much as I like the idea of stumbling around in the sewers with only a vampire for company,” Jonathan replied, “that warrior spirit is still after me. The dark is a bad place to be.”
Warren and Andrew looked at each other. “Andrew can bind it,” Warren said.
“I have the ritual worked out,” Andrew added.
“We can start now – shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes – then you can head out.”
After Xander got off work and Anya closed up her shop, Tara, Xander and Anya joined Buffy and Dawn at Buffy’s house for dinner – Chinese take-out. Dawn and Buffy had both changed back into normal clothes and Dawn was still angrily quiet.
“So Dawn,” Xander began casually. “I hear you’re going to be at Miss Porter’s. I envy you. I always wanted to go there myself.”
“It all-girls,” she said petulantly. “You’d’ve had to go in drag.”
“A sacrifice I was willing to make,” he leered. Dawn smiled in spite of herself.
“Xander’s good with children,” Anya said quietly to Buffy and Tara. “He’d make a good pediatrician.” In the background, Dawn began to chat in an increasingly animated manner with Xander. “Or child molester.”
“I’m not sure those are the only two options,” Buffy said.
“I was thinking father,” Tara added.
“We’re thinking of becoming foster parents,” Anya said. “Just to try out the parenting thing before we have any children of our own. Plus, this way, if we don’t like them, we can send them back.”
“So, Tara,” Buffy said, abruptly switching subjects. “How’s the job working out.”
“Good,” she said. “Anya is a firm but fair boss.”
“Thank you, Tara,” Anya said.
“When there’s stuff to do, I help out. And when there isn’t, Anya lets me do Tarot card readings.”
“It adds a certain ambiance to shop to have a resident psychic,” Anya said breezily. “Very popular with the amateurs. But,” she said to Tara, “you should only tell them the happy predictions – you’ll get better tips, and they’ll be more likely to come back and buy something.”
“I-I can’t lie about what I see, Anya.”
“Not lie. Just leave some things out or put a positive spin on it,” Anya replied. “That’s not really lying, it’s equivocation – all the best demons do it.”
“Hey, Buff,” Xander interrupted. “How come you decided to send Dawn to Miss Porter’s anyway?”
Dawn answered for her. “Her new boyfriend caught me coming home late last night.”
“Not ‘coming home late.’ Sneaking back in after having sneaked out to do God knows what with your delinquent friends,” Buffy corrected. “And Jonathan is not my boyfriend.”
“Jonathan? From high school?” Xander asked.
“Yes, we’d been patrolling together,” Buffy replied.
“Why were you patrolling with him?” Xander continued.
Buffy frowned. “Not sure. Seemed like a good idea at the time. He has super powers – fights like Jackie Chan and is invulnerable. But he doesn’t have a shadow, which is a little strange.”
“If he got his powers through a spell, the missing shadow isn’t too unusual,” Anya said. “Demons often try to throw in an unexpected drawback when mortals make a contract with them. The shadow thing would have gotten him burned at the stake 400 years ago – playing up to the superstition that things without souls have no shadows – but nowadays people aren’t even going to notice. He’s probably using an old spell.”
“Wow,” Buffy said. “You should teach a course – Demonology 101 with Professor Anya.”
“Still, it’s a little weird to think of Jonathan as a super hero,” Xander mused.
“Yes,” Buffy agreed thoughtfully.
The actual ritual only took a few minutes. The preparation, however, was more involved – requiring an intricately drawn magic circle for Jonathan to sit inside. Warren set up bright lights around the room in case things went badly. Finally, Andrew began to play his panpipes, summoning the shadow demon. The demon attacked him, but in the brilliant light, its blows had no substance, passing through him as if it were a ghost. As Andrew finished the spell, an inaudible shriek penetrated their minds – one final soundless howl of fury from the defeated demon – then there was a flash of light and the room went black. All the lights had burned out simultaneously. Slowly, the computers began to reboot. A call drifted down from upstairs, “Warren, what did you do to the lights?”
“Nothing, mom,” Warren called back. Then turned to Andrew and Jonathan. “No more magic in the lair,” he said angrily as he hurried over to check his electronic equipment. He broke out some flashlights and tossed one to Andrew. Andrew fumbled with the flashlight, dropped in, then retrieved it and turned it on.
“Did it work?” asked Jonathan. He was still sitting in the center of the magic circle.
Andrew turned the beam toward Jonathan, peered closely, then said, “Of course,” with a strange smile.
“Where did it go?”
“We did a binding – it’s bound. As long as you are alive, it can’t hurt you. And if you die,” he continued, “it won’t matter.”
“But where is it bound? And what do you mean we? Why did I have to even be here? I didn’t do anything but watch.”
“I bound it to you,” Andrew said calmly.
Jonathan was too angry to speak – he sputtered incoherently as he tried to convey the level of his unhappiness with Andrew’s reply. Warren chuckled.
“Most of the rituals require components that are impossible to find,” Andrew said placidly. “Hey, if you don’t like it, I can always reverse the spell.”
“You should’ve told me!” he exclaimed angrily.
“You didn’t ask, ‘droid boy.”
“Is there anything else I should know about?”
“You should have your shadow back.”
And he did. Although it made occasional erratic movements of its own accord which Jonathan found a little unnerving.
And so, Jonathan found himself, a “tricorder” in one hand and a flashlight in the other, wandering through the storm sewers with Harmony, listening to her inane prattle.
They traveled through the tunnels and caves without incident for nearly three hours. Then they found themselves in a small cave, littered with bones and rotting garbage. Large roaches scuttled among the debris.
“This is a bad place to be,” Jonathan said, as he began backing away back down the tunnel.
“Bad for you,” a voice said from behind.
Jonathan spun around. A hulking vampire in a weather-beaten coat stood there, a young boy, evidently unconscious, slung over his shoulder, fireman style. Harmony yelped. The vampire noticed her. His voice assumed a syrupy quality as he said to her, “Harmony, if I had known you were bringing over dinner I wouldn’t have gone out. So thoughtful.”
“You know him?” Jonathan asked.
“He’s a big creepy guy who used to hit on me at Willy’s,” she whispered. “Kill him.”
“What? I’m not going to kill him!”
“No,” he replied dropping his captive and pulling an ancient sword from beneath his coat. “But I shall kill you, boy.” He struck out at Jonathan. Jonathan quickly backed away into the cave, trying to ignore the sound of bugs crunching beneath his feet.
“Help me, Harmony!” he said.
“My job was to guide you,” she replied. “That’s all I’m doing.”
The vampire advanced into the room and attacked again. Jonathan’s reflexes took over and he disarmed the creature, sending the sword into the litter. The vampire was startled. Jonathan struck him solidly, then knocked him to his knees. Jonathan scrambled for the sword then turned to face the vampire. The vampire hesitated, then advanced slowly. The sword whipped forward, almost of its own accord, and severed the creature’s hand. Before it had a chance to react, Jonathan’s backhand severed its head.
“Hey,” he exclaimed. “I’m a sword master!” The sword had a good feel to it. He swung it around a few times. “I think I’m going to keep this,” he said to himself. “Harmony, I killed the vampire,” he called. “Check the boy. Is he still alive?”
“Not any more,” she replied, standing up from the body and wiping the blood from her mouth. She licked her fingers daintily. “Come on, dude, let’s head back.” Horrified, Jonathan hesitated before following her back through the tunnels.
Harmony tore open a metal grating and climbed out of the sewers. Jonathan clambered out after her and looked around.
“This isn’t Warren’s street!” he said in an angry whisper. “Where have you taken me?” His hand tightly gripped the handle of his sword.
“Take it easy, Zen-master,” Harmony replied nonchalantly. “We did a great job tonight. We finished our mission in record time. We deserve a reward.”
He looked around again. “The mall,” he said disgustedly. “Trust you to know a secret entrance here.”
“Let’s go shopping,” she whispered with a mischievous lilt and a sparkle in her eye.
“We should head back. Now.”
“If you’re going to hang around me,” she said with a disapproving glance at his apparel, "you’re going to have to get a better wardrobe.” She propelled him along to the nearest clothing store.
“Warren’s going to be angry,” he protested.
“I’ve got a secret to tell you,” she said leaning close and lowering her voice. “Warren’s afraid of me. He asked me out to Senior Prom and I turned him down. It was sad. You could see that he’d had to work up his courage and he stammered so much I couldn’t tell what he wanted at first. Of course, once I realized, I laughed at him, told my friends and we laughed some more. Warren wanting to date me! And not just a date, the Prom! I mean, what was he thinking? Now, c’mon!”
“But what about security guards and alarms?” he objected. Nevertheless, he allowed himself to be dragged along after her.
Whatever her faults were, and they were many, Jonathan had to admit that Harmony’s fashion sense was impeccable. He examined himself carefully in the mirror. Black was definitely his color. And silk his fabric. The steel-toed boots would take some getting used to; the soles were thick and the heels were elevated, adding a couple of inches to his height. He had wanted a hat; one of the old-time fedoras out of a black and white gangster movie, but Harmony had vetoed that idea. Instead he had a very expensive pair of sunglasses she had stolen from the mall to replace the cheap sunglasses he had purchased at the convenience store. He also wore a full-length soft leather duster – Harmony had been insistent on this last addition to his apparel. Jonathan smiled to himself; he looked good, in an evil sort of way. He glanced at his new watch – not quite noon. He still had several hours to kill before his slay date with Buffy. He looked under his bed – Harmony was fast asleep. Jonathan was still sleeping with numerous lights on since he didn’t entirely trust Andrew’s binding spell and didn’t want to be killed in his sleep by his own shadow. Harmony had complained about the light and, after a brief argument about why a vampire would be going to bed when it was still dark out, Jonathan had told her to sleep under the bed if it bothered her. He wanted to avoid Warren and Andrew today – too many questions about tonight’s activities. He shook Harmony awake. “Give this to Warren when the sun goes down,” he said, handing her the “tricorder.” “Uh…okay…” She murmured, “umm…Jonathan?” “Yes,” he replied “Now, go back to sleep.” “Okay.” She closed her eyes again.
When Dawn got out of school, Buffy was waiting. Dawn walked past her sister without a word, straight to the SUV, climbed into the back seat, sat down heavily and slammed the door shut. Buffy remained a few moments, talking animatedly with some of the waiting parents before joining Dawn back in the vehicle.
“It took you long enough,” Dawn complained sullenly.
“We were talking about carpooling,” Buffy said. “How was your first day?” She started up the vehicle and began inching her way through the crowded school parking lot.
“It sucked. My books weigh more than I do. I got an hour of Saturday detention because YOU didn’t bother ironing my skirt and another hour because the nuns think ‘sucks’ is profanity. Something about the ‘implied direct object’.”
“Well, that sucks,” Buffy said brightly.
“I still hate you.”
“Wanna get some ice cream?” Buffy asked. “I feel like ice cream.”
She drove in silence for a few minutes.
“I told my classmates that you’re a janitor.”
Another minute passed.
“If I want ice cream,” Dawn ventured, “it doesn’t mean I’m not mad at you.” Buffy smiled.
Jonathan knocked on Buffy’s door. It was still relatively early, 6:00 P.M., but he had gotten bored. Buffy’s sister answered the door – she stood there, glaring at him. “Is Buffy here?” he asked. She left the door open and walked back into the house.
“Buffy!” she yelled. “Your boyfriend’s here!”
Buffy walked into the room. “Jonathan!” she exclaimed. “Come in.” She frowned. Suddenly she realized why he was there. “Patrolling – tonight. I forgot.”
“If you have plans…” he began.
“No. No plans,” she replied. “Planless. Come in. I have to call Tara – see if she can baby-sit. And change – into something less soccer-mom-ish. Can you give me a few minutes?”
“Not a problem,” he said, stepping into the house and closing the door.
“Great.” Buffy headed up the stairs.
Which left Jonathan and Dawn alone in Buffy’s living room.
“You’re short,” she said, dropping onto the couch. “And you look ridiculous.”
Jonathan sat down near her in a chair. “So you’re Dawn, right?” Dawn said nothing. She glared at him, then turned on the television.
“How old are you?”
She turned up the sound up full blast. Immediately, Buffy’s called out “Dawn! Turn it down!”
Dawn switched the TV off. She looked over at Jonathan. “Why are you wearing sunglasses? It’s darker outside than inside.” Jonathan removed his sunglasses self-consciously. “And what’s with the jacket?”
“The jacket lets me hide weapons. Like this one,” he replied, fumbling with his sword, then replacing it awkwardly.
“You’re a freak.”
Jonathan sat back into his chair and sighed.
“And you’re short. Did I mention that? A short freak.”
Jonathan looked closely at Dawn. “I know why you’re acting like this,” he said casually.
“What do you mean?” A few seconds passed. “What did Buffy say about me?”
“Whatever.” Another pause. “You don’t know anything about me.”
He sat forward and looked directly at her. “I know you like me,” he said, “and I didn’t need Buffy to help me figure that out.” Dawn was shocked – she tried to protest, but only incoherent, partially formed sounds came out. “Hey,” Jonathan continued, “it’s not your fault. You think I’m an attractive, older guy – it’s only natural. You write about me in your diary and hope that someone will find out. And you’re jealous of Buffy, because of the time she spends with me.”
Dawn was on her feet now. “That is so not true!” she exclaimed. Yet she was clearly flustered.
“It’s okay,” Jonathan said soothingly as he broke eye contact. “I won’t tell your sister – besides, I think it’s kind of cute. You’re what? Thirteen? I must be your first crush.”
“I’m fifteen!” she shouted, outraged. “And – and –“ she stopped as tears began to spring up in her eyes. “And I hate you!” she finished, then ran up the stairs to her room, passing Buffy along the way.
“What was that about?” Buffy asked.
“Teen-agers,” Jonathan said with a shrug. “Who knows?” He looked Buffy in the eye. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just a phase.”
“Right,” she replied agreeably. “She probably still just mad about Miss Porter’s.”
While they waited for Tara, Buffy tried to question Jonathan about his powers again, but each time he silenced her with a word or two.
Tara finally arrived. Buffy introduced her to Jonathan, then explained that Dawn was upstairs in her room – upset about something. “We’ll be back before sunrise,” Buffy said. Then she called out to her sister, “Dawn! Tara’s here!”
Almost instantly, Dawn reappeared. “You’re leaving?” she asked meekly.
“Yup – patrol. Stay out of trouble.”
“Okay,” Dawn replied. “Bye Buffy. And Jonathan. Don’t get killed or anything.”
“Bye Dawn,” Buffy said, frowning at her sister’s sudden mood change.
“Good night, Dawn,” Jonathan said with a smirk and a wink as he opened the door for Buffy. Dawn flushed, then turned and ran back to her room.
“I don’t know.” Harmony answered handing Warren his piece of equipment. “I just know I was supposed to give you this.” Harmony had stopped by shortly after sundown and had joined Andrew and Warren in the basement.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Warren asked in tone of astonishment and outrage. “You’re living with him and you’re delivering his messages –“
“Does that make her Jonathan’s concubine or lackey?” Andrew asked.
“Shut up,” Warren replied. He turned back to the vampire. “Harmony. Think. I know it’s not what you do best, but try to work with me. What exactly did Jonathan say to you before he left?’
“You oughta be nicer to me Warren,” Harmony said menacingly as she slowly prowled toward him. Suddenly she pounced and caught him by the throat, lifting him to his tip-toes. “Or I might just kill you. And your little boyfriend,” she continued, with a glance in Andrew’s direction.
“Supersoaker,” Warren rasped to Andrew.
“I haven’t eaten in hours,” Harmony continued. “Maybe I’ll just sample you now – I can always come back for seconds – after all, your mother invited me.” Harmony vamped out and pulled Warren closer.
“Hurry!” Warren croaked.
Her face faded back to normal. “Why don’t I want to eat you?” she asked as she set Warren back on the ground and released her grip. Warren staggered backwards.
“Stop right there, or I’ll shoot!” Andrew yelled.
Harmony looked at him, perplexed. “What’s that?”
“It’s called a Supersoaker,” Warren replied with a semblance of calm belied by his rapid retreat. “The CPS 2700. It holds 165 ounces of water and is capable of sending streams of it as far as 60 feet. Holy water, in this case.”
“One false move and you’re dust!” Andrew said.
“Aim for the face,” Warren suggested.
A look of horror crossed Harmony’s face as she began to realize the implications.
“You’re not in high school anymore. It doesn’t matter who you know or how much money your father makes. Knowledge is Power, Harmony,” Warren continued. As he talked, he backed away until he was behind Andrew. “We have the knowledge; therefore, we wield the power. Work with us and you can share the power; cross us again and you die. And this time you don’t get to come back.”
“God! You guys are such geeks!”
“I told Warren that a gun that shot stakes would be cooler,” Andrew said.
“You’d just shoot yourself – or worse, me,” Warren said wearily, as if he had had this same conversation with Andrew many times before. “With this weapon, it doesn’t matter if you hit an innocent bystander. Now, tell me Harmony,” Warren continued ominously, “what did Jonathan say to you today?”
“The Bronze is the big vampire hangout?” Jonathan asked. “How come I didn’t know?”
“Good question,” Buffy replied. “With the number of vamps I’ve staked here, you’d think someone would’ve gotten a clue by now and shut the place down.” As she talked she casually took in their surrounding, mentally separating the potential vampires from the humans.
“How long does it usually take you to find one?”
“Not long,” Buffy said absently. Her attention was focused on a young, blond girl and two older boys – young men, really – headed for the back exit. “They really should board up the back door,” she continued as she headed after the group.
“That’d probably violate fire laws,” Jonathan said glibly. Then he noticed Buffy had moved along without him and hurried to catch up.
The girl stopped short of the door and asked questions – Buffy motioned for Jonathan to be quiet. With the din of the Bronze, Jonathan could hear nothing. Finally, some sort of agreement had been reached and the girl left with the two men.
Buffy waited a moment, then slipped silently into the back alley after them. Jonathan paused, then followed suit.
The group had traveled out of the alley, into a side street. One of the men opened a manhole cover and hopped down. The girl hesitated again and tried to leave, but the second man caught her, clamped his hand firmly over her mouth, and handed her down to his friend.
“What are you doing?” Jonathan whispered frantically. “Shouldn’t we be helping?”
“I heard her say that she was looking for her friend,” Buffy whispered back. “The vamps said they knew where she is. Maybe they were lying, but if they weren’t, we need to save both.” The second vampire was underground now and had pulled the lid shut. “Let’s go.”
They had no difficulty following the vampires this time – as soon as the vampires were safely underground, they permitted their struggling captive to scream while they boisterously chattered to one another. They quickly passed from the tunnels into a maze of rough, natural caverns.
Meanwhile, Andrew, Warren and Harmony drove through the streets of Sunnydale looking for a sign of the Jonathan or Buffy.
The vampires had not lied – her friend, a pale, dark-haired girl dressed in the latest gothic fashion, was inside a large cave. A party atmosphere prevailed among the attendant vampires – six, in all, counting the two most recent arrivals. The first girl was alive, but in poor condition – she had numerous cuts and bites where she had been bled. The blond began screaming hysterically, but was quickly silenced by the vampires with fierce blows. She attempted to run for the exit, but the vampires only pretended to allow her the possibility of escape, then dragged her back to the center of the room.
Jonathan took out his sword as Buffy offered him a stake.
“Where’d you get that?” she whispered.
“I thought I might need it,” he replied. He accepted the stake and hefted it in his left hand.
“Here’s the plan – you stay here…”
“I like this plan already,” he replied nervously
“Kill any that try to escape. Don’t move – I want to be closer so they can’t kill the girls out of spite.”
Jonathan nervously gripped the pommel of the ancient sword in his right hand and the stake in his left as he watched Buffy slip through the wavering shadows at the edge of the cave. The vampires were so intent on tormenting their prey, that they did not notice the lithe slayer silently circumnavigating their lair. Nor did they notice Jonathan lurking uneasily in the passage – guarding their only potential escape route.
A heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder, spinning him about, breaking his reverie. He stood face to face with a vampire – momentarily – the sword flicked out, almost of its own accord, a left a crimson line in the vampire’s neck. The blade had sunk in several inches and only the vampire’s unnaturally quick reflexes had saved it from complete decapitation. It stepped back, struggling to speak, one hand clamped across its neck trying to stem the flow of blood, the other vainly attempt to ward off his assailant. Jonathan advanced. He feinted with the sword, then plunged the stake into his foe. There was a burst of dust followed by utter silence – the slaying had attracted the attention of the other vampires…
Jonathan turned slowly, as if in a dream, as he tried to remember how he had gotten into this predicament – and things had been going so well lately.
All of the vampires were focused on him – the girls were forgotten. Jonathan stepped forward as the adrenaline washed through his system. Almost as one, six vampires surged toward him – suddenly reduced to five as Buffy’s reappearance corresponded to the disappearance of one of their number. Jonathan’s enhanced reflexes took over as the vampires grew near. His sword flashed out, neatly decapitating the quickest vampire; his stake impaled the second, but a third crashed into him, knocking him to the side, away from the exit. He was dimly aware of the Slayer, grabbing a female vampire’s long, blond hair and pulling her back into her waiting stake. The last vampires began to flee, but Jonathan’s sword flashed out, slicing through the ankle of the vampire that had knocked him down. He leaped to his feet to finish the crippled creature, but Buffy had already staked him.
The final vampire had a considerable lead. “Let it go,” Buffy cautioned. “We need to check the girls.”
The blond girl pored forth praise for Buffy and Jonathan – unable to contain her chatter. Her friend was in a state of shock. The blood loss and horror left her momentarily bereft of speech – she clung to Jonathan as he untied her and helped her to her feet and continued to hold on to him as they navigated their way back through the tunnels – lit only by a penlight on Jonathan’s key chain. Buffy led the way, though she had to pause periodically to try to maintain her sense of direction. On one such stop, she hushed the others and whispered, “We’re being followed. The vamp that got away may have brought help. I can hear them.” The blond girl began to whimper at the news. “Don’t worry,” Buffy said reassuringly, “We’ll get you out of here.”
They continued on at an increased pace, and the footsteps behind them became more pronounced. Finally, the rough walls of the caverns gave way to the finished stonework of Sunnydale’s extensive storm sewers. A few more turnings down the passage led them to a room whose only other exit was a ladder.
“Up,” Buffy commanded, “I’ll hold them off.”
“Where does it lead?” Jonathan asked.
“Doesn’t matter, anyplace is better than here,” the slayer growled. “Go!”
Jonathan pulled the quiet girl up the ladder with him, half carrying her as she sobbed silently and clung to him. Her friend, quiet now herself, followed quickly behind. Below them, in the darkness, Jonathan heard the sounds of fighting.
Jonathan pushed the trap door above him open and light flooded in, temporarily blinding him. He leapt out and pulled the girls up after him. As his eyes slowly adjusted to the brilliant light, he looked around him. Torches burned brightly in every corner of the all too familiar room. Every demonic and semi-demonic visage in Willy’s bar had turned to examine the intruders. Jonathan slowly got to his feet – the girls both clung to him in fear. Buffy emerged an instant later and dropped the trap door back into place before she, too, became aware of her surroundings.
“Torch night,” she muttered quietly. “Walk slowly to the door,” she instructed Jonathan.
They were halfway there when the vampires began pouring out of the sewers. Instantly, Buffy armed herself with torches, snatching them from unsuspecting patrons. The vampires stopped and began to warily spread out, encircling the Slayer and her companions.
“I don’t want no trouble!” Willy yelled. “Take it outside!”
Buffy and Jonathan did as instructed – they walked backwards to the door, keeping their weapons in front and shielding the girls. The vampires followed for awhile, but stopped as they neared the door: none wished to be the first to leave the relative sanctuary of the bar.
Outside, when they heard the sounds of the bar return to normal, Buffy and Jonathan relaxed. The crisis was over. They first exchanged relieved glances, then sly smiles. “How about we walk you home?” Buffy suggested to the girls. They gladly accepted the offer.
“Got them!” Andrew said. “The signal’s coming in – north 343 meters, then east 127 meters.”
Warren stepped on the accelerator and turned the van in the right direction. “Finally,” he said. “They must have been underground all this time.”
“The signal’s changing – looks like they’re moving west.”
Harmony sat idly in the passenger seat – she had been evicted from the back of the van for touching too many buttons. “We’re not going to fight Buffy, are we?” she asked anxiously.
Warren slowed down as he neared the coordinates.
“It’s just that Buffy wants to kill me,” Harmony continued. “I was, like, her nemesis for awhile.”
That got Warren’s attention. “YOU were Buffy’s nemesis? No – we’re her nemesises. Or is it nemesi?” he mused. “Nemeses?”
“Visual contact,” Andrew said. “Focusing audio receiver now – got it.”
Warren stopped the van. “Take over the driving Harmony. Slowly – we don’t want to be seen,” he said as he abandoned the wheel and climbed into the back with Andrew, picking up a second headset.
The girls had both adamantly refused to be taken to the hospital. In fact, the gothic girl had insisted on being dropped off at her friend’s house – explaining that her father would kill her if he say how she was dressed and that she was wearing make-up. Buffy did get them to promise to see a doctor if their injuries proved worse than they appeared.
And so, after final heartfelt thanks, the girls walked away, whispering to each other. Buffy and Jonathan watched the girls enter the house before leaving.
They walked away without speaking for a time, each quietly introspective. Jonathan finally broke the silence by saying, “That was amazing!”
Buffy looked at him quizzically, but said nothing.
“Saving those girls!” he continued excitedly. “I never felt such a rush of energy before! Now I see why you do this.”
“That is the cool part of this job,” Buffy assented. “It’s not so much fun when they end up dead, tortured or mutilated because you weren’t there in time,” she continued somberly. “Hey, are you hungry?”
“Not really,” he replied. “Besides, it’s after midnight – nothing’s open.”
Back in the van, Warren threw his earphones off disgustedly. Andrew also removed his, although less emphatically. “Stop the van,” Warren said. “I’ll drive.”
Harmony shrugged, then stopped. She climbed back into the passenger seat as Warren took his place at the wheel.
“So why is Jonathan hanging out with Buffy?” Harmony asked. “Or maybe I should ask why is Buffy hanging out with Jonathan. I mean, she’s a freak, but she’s cool. And she’s definitely out of his league.”
“He hypnotized her,” Warren replied absently. He was driving back to the lair, but his mind was clearly elsewhere.
“Now that makes sense. Of course it had to be magic! How else could Jonathan get a date?”
“If he’s really using his powers,” Andrew began tentatively, “why is he the sidekick? And shouldn’t Buffy be, um, more, uh, all over him or something?”
“You heard him. He thinks he’s a super hero,” Warren said flatly. “He could be a problem. He knows our strengths and weaknesses and he knows where the lair is. He could use that knowledge to help Buffy defeat us.”
“What are we going to do?” Andrew asked anxiously.
“I have to work out the details, but we need to move the lair,” Warren replied. Andrew started to protest but Warren ignored him. “I’m thinking we go to the caves – we’ve got the best maps there are – I’ll correlate them with the city maps and spelunking guides from the Breaker’s Wood caves. We should be able to find some out-of-the-way alcove to set up shop. Portable generator for the equipment. It could work.”
“What about the monsters?” Andrew asked.
“Can you summon up a couple of guards for when we’re not there?”
“If the meantime, if you run into Jonathan, just pretend everything’s okay.”
“Hey!” Harmony yelped. “If Jonathan can hypnotize Buffy, does that mean he could’ve hypnotized me?”
Warren and Andrew exchanged amused glances.
After an uneventful sweep of the closer graveyards, Buffy and Jonathan headed to their respective homes. As he walked back to campus, he realized that he had worked up an appetite after all.
He paused to pick up some junk food at his usual convenience store. The dark-haired girl was at the register again. He headed to the refrigerator case – the meatball sandwiches were fairly good. He grabbed a liter of coke and a small bag of chips while he was there and headed to the microwave. In the reflection of its glass door, he saw the cashier watching him intently. He turned.
She hadn’t been watching him after all – she was watching two large vampires that had been moving up stealthily behind him. Their faces transformed as he spun to face them; he was suddenly acutely aware that he was armed only with the meatball sub still in his right hand.
“You dared invade our sanctuary – with the Slayer!” the closest one declared angrily.
“You die tonight for your audacity!” the second growled.
Jonathan fumbled for his stake as the vampires lunged at him. He slipped easily away from the first and dodged beneath the outstretched hands of the second. He was behind them now – as they turned, he staked the closest one. The remaining vampire lashed out with his hand, slashing Jonathan across the face and knocking his sunglasses off. Jonathan staggered from the blow, crashing into the counter. He spun back to face his assailant, but the vampire had already struck – grabbing Jonathan by the throat and lifting him off his feet. Jonathan stabbed with the stake, hitting a little too low. The vampire tightened his grip on Jonathan – he gasped for breath as he saw the world begin to swim before his eyes. Desperately, he pushed the stake upward – and, suddenly, he fell to the ground, amid a cloud of slowly settling dust. He gulped in great quantities of air.
“Are you okay?”
He looked up. It was the cashier, bent over next to him, concern clearly visible in her eyes. He quickly averted his own, and scanned the floor for his missing sunglasses. “I’m fine,” he said quietly. He got to his feet and picked up the undamaged shades, lying next to the badly mashed sandwich, a casualty of the combat. He picked up the sub and looked at it dolefully.
“You don’t have to pay for that,” the cashier said. “Get another one.”
“Somehow, I’m not that hungry anymore,” he replied and threw the mangled sandwich into the trash, picked up his coke and chips, and headed to the counter.
“That was very cool,” she said. He looked up at her blankly. “The fighting, I mean. Does that happen a lot?”
“More often, lately,” he mumbled as he reached for his wallet.
“What were those things?”
“Vampires,” he said. “Sunnydale is infested with them. Also demons. I know it’s hard to believe…”
“Actually, it explains a lot of my late night customers,” she said with a shy grin. “I’d been thinking that the people in this neighborhood were seriously inbred. So, are you some kind of vampire hunter?”
“Yes,” he said. He felt as if he should add something but wasn’t sure what.
“What about that girl you were with the other day?”
“Harmony? She’s a vampire,” he replied. “She, uh, isn’t dangerous though. Not really, anyway. She’s my informant – helps me with information about the really dangerous vampires and demons.” There was a pause. He picked up his food and turned to leave, but she stopped him with a sudden outburst.
“You’re the coolest person I’ve ever met,” she gushed. Jonathan didn’t know what to say. “That was just amazing. Really. I’m Teresa, by the way.”
“I love the jacket.”
Jonathan opened his door and stepped inside. He hesitated – something wasn’t quite right. He awkwardly groped for the light switch with his left hand.
“Accendo!” a voice called out from the darkness. The lights flickered on of their own accord. “Claudete!” the voice continued and the door snapped shut behind him, locking itself.
“W-Willow?” Jonathan said uncertainly as he peered into the sudden glare. He instinctively hid his covered right arm, slipping it into the voluminous pocket of his jacket.
“Sit down, Jonathan,” she said in an imperious tone. She had moved his desk into the center of the room and was sitting expectantly behind it. A chair was empty on Jonathan’s side. He hesitated, then shuffled forward and meekly took his seat.
“This is a very bad time…” he began timorously.
“I’ve been watching you, Jonathan,” Willow continued, ignoring his objection. “I know you’re up to something – I’m sure what exactly – but something, anyway, not of the good. You have been tampering with the forces of darkness, raising infernal forces to do your bidding, delving into secrets not meant for mortal man,” she said. “Or mortal woman,” she amended hastily. She placed Jonathan’s magic bone on the desk in front of her.
Jonathan reached for it with his left hand, lunging clumsily forward, but Willow withdrew it immediately.
“I need that—“ he protested.
“No, Jonathan,” Willow said sadly. “What you need is help. I know what it’s like, being slowly drawn into the black arts. You think you need to cast spells, but with every spell you cast, you crave the next spell even more. It’s seductive. But don’t worry: I can help you.”
“But you don’t understand—“
“I do understand. I’ve been where you are. You have to face your addiction and go cold turkey. You have to get things under control before you can start using magic responsibly again.”
“Just one more spell,” he begged, almost in tears.
“It’s always ‘just one more’ but that always leads to another,” she said, almost sympathetically.
“It’s just that I ran into some trouble tonight,” he said bitterly, biting back the tears as he brought his right hand into view and slowly removed the bloody rag covering it. A raw stump was underneath, raggedly torn off at the wrist.
“Oh,” said Willow softly. “Yuck.”
The Raiding Party
Warren switched the video off and turned to Andrew. “Jonathan is a non-issue.” The new set-up in the basement of the house was almost identical to the previous set-up – with the exception of a tunnel entrance guarded by the two unholy mastiffs.
“You don’t have a secret camera in my room, do you Warren?” Andrew asked nervously. He had been surprised to discover that Warren had Jonathan under surveillance.
“Of course not,” Warren said reassuringly. “I bugged Jonathan’s room when he went rogue.” He paused. “This is perfect. Willow was Buffy’s strongest asset and Buffy kicked her out because of her abuse of magic.” Andrew nodded sagely. The Magic Box had been bugged since they first tested Buffy and they knew all the gang’s secrets. “Jonathan was endangering our project through his reckless abuse of magic. They’ll keep each other busy. And if we’re lucky, they might even turn each other into toads or something.”
Harmony chose that moment to intrude. She settled into Jonathan’s chair. “How’s the world conquest coming?” she asked sweetly.
“Fine,” Warren stated. “Now, go away.”
“Why?” she leered, “What are you two boys doing down here that you don’t want me to see?”
“Save your veiled homophobic references for Andrew,” Warren suggested. “I am secure in my manhood.” Andrew opened his mouth to object, but was cut short when Harmony began to caress his arms.
“But, Warren,” she said plaintively. “I don’t think of Andy like that. He’s so… rugged and manly.” She ran a hand through his hair – or tried to. It got stuck in the tangles so she just ruffled his hair instead.
Warren was visibly annoyed while Andrew slunk back into his chair. “What do you want, Harmony?” Warren demanded.
Suddenly, she was serious. “I’m a member of this team,” she said a bit petulantly, “and you guys keep treating me like a minion. I want to be a part of the plans. I want Jonathan’s spot.”
Both of the boys were surprised. “We need to discuss this,” Warren said. He and Andrew moved away from Harmony, towards the dogs – which began barking and snapping as Warren approached. Keeping one eye on the dogs, Warren whispered, “Well? What do you think?”
“I don’t trust her.”
“Neither do I. That’s not the point. We can always dust her if she proves difficult.”
“She’s dangerous,” Andrew persisted.
“Sort of. She’s a vamp. Wear a crucifix – you’ll be safe.”
“But what do we gain by letting her join?”
“Loyalty. Harmony isn’t a leader – she’s a follower. She wants someone to tell her what to do, but she wants to believe that she is in charge. Think of her in high school – she followed Cordelia around like a puppy. Let her believe that she’s our equal and she will be our willing puppet.”
They returned to their seats. “Do you have any special skills?” Warren asked.
“I’m an expert shot with a crossbow,” Harmony replied. “I practice every day. Or every other day. At least once a week, anyway.”
“Okay,” Warren said, “you’re in.”
“I won’t let you down,” she promised solemnly.
“Yeah, whatever. Now – Buffy. What do we do about her?”
“Dawn is her Achilles heel,” Andrew said. ‘What if we kidnap her and use her to make Buffy do what we say?”
“Tried that,” Harmony said. “Kidnapping her just makes Buffy really, really mad. Staking you kind of mad.”
“Plus, Dawn is their mascot,” Warren added. “If she’s in danger, they’ll all pull together – maybe even bringing Willow back in – and that might lead to Jonathan telling everything. No, we need a direct assault on Buffy. Hit her and hit her hard. The question is where and when. If we attack her at her house, she has the homecourt advantage and might fight harder to defend her sister. Plus Harmony can’t help.”
“I have an invitation to enter,” Harmony said.
“Hmm. Still – problematic at best.”
“What about the Magic Box?” Andrew asked. “She spends a lot of time there.”
“But her allies are there. Also a problem. We want her alone.”
“How about when she’s on patrol?” Harmony asked.
“She’s expecting trouble then, but it may be our best bet. The only other time she leaves the house is to take her sister to school – which gives us a daytime problem. We might be able to set up a traffic accident or something along those lines, but I think the Slayer needs to die violently and unambiguously so the underworld understands that we are the new masters of Sunnydale.”
“Dies? Are we really going to kill her?” Andrew asked.
“No, Andrew,” Warren replied angrily. “We’re going to take her out for a nice dinner and ask her politely to let us take over Sunnydale.”
“I was just asking,” he said in a wounded tone.*
The problem wasn’t finding a spell that could regenerate Jonathan’s hand – there were plenty of those. The problem was finding one that could be applied retroactively.
“Don’t worry,” Willow said soothingly. They had been working all night and well into the next day. “We’ll find something at the library. UC Sunnydale has the best public collection of occult books in the nation. I used to wonder why that was until I checked up on some of the Latin professors. Half of them were secretly working for the government – Initiative men.”
“Initiative?” Jonathan asked.
“A super secret government monster hunting agency. I mean a super secret government agency that was in charge of hunting monsters, not one that hunted super secret government monsters. Although, actually, the Initiative did both, ‘cause, technically, Adam was a government monster. Anyway, they brought all kinds of occult books to the campus library before Buffy shut them down,” she said. “You should see what’s in the special collections room!” she continued excitedly. “It used to be they wouldn’t let you in there without written permission from the head of the Latin department and he worked for the government so you really couldn’t get permission at all, but now all you need is your student ID card. I’ll check – you stay here and rest.” She left without waiting for his response.
Jonathan sank down on his bed and dropped into a dreamless slumber."
Dawn did her homework.
Buffy had decided that Sunday would be family day from now on. By noon, Dawn had had enough sisterly togetherness to last her a lifetime. By two o’clock she had figured out how to get away from Buffy – homework. Her teachers at Miss Porter’s had assigned her enormous amounts, which she had fully intended not to do, hoping that they would expel her. But now, it proved a positive pleasure. Buffy still hovered about for the first hour, attempting to help Dawn, but Dawn had decided to work on her Basic Catholic Beliefs homework first, knowing that Buffy knew as little about the subject as she did and pestered her big sister with questions about parables and biblical allusions. Buffy tried gamely to help her, flipping through the school bible and reading the relevant passages, while Dawn feigned complete ignorance and pretended not to understand Buffy’s harried explanations, interrupting with irrelevant questions and asking for clarifications whenever Buffy hesitated in the least. It took an hour, but Buffy finally left Dawn to her own devices, although Buffy checked back in, guiltily, once or twice an hour to see what progress Dawn was making.
The progress was slow and uncertain. Dawn divided her time between her homework and doodles – often subconsciously scribbling Jonathan’s name in the margins of her books.*
“Tomorrow night is Buffy’s last night among the living,” Warren said dramatically. “I’ve ordered everything we need – next day delivery. Let’s go over our parts one more time. Harmony.”
“I shoot Buffy with the crossbow,” she recited dutifully, “using a special arrow, that you’ll make for me, loaded with tranquilizers.”
Warren nodded. “I ordered a dosage large enough to knock out a bull-moose. That ought to be enough to kill the slayer outright – but just in case…” He looked at Andrew.
“As soon as the quarrel hits, I set the hounds on her.”
“Right. She should be dazed and disoriented by the drugs. The dogs should have no problem. If something goes wrong, like if Harmony misses or the dogs can’t handle her, I’ll be in the van ready for either a quick get-away or as back-up with the freeze ray and battle armor.”
“I still think you should have ordered some sunglasses, like Jonathan has,” Andrew said. “He looks cool.”
“It’ll be night time,” Warren replied quickly. “Being able to see is more important than looking cool.”
Willow returned before sundown with a spell she swore would work – it was an involved ritual, taking nearly three hours to complete and it was dark when they finished. The end of the ritual was anticlimactic – nothing happened.
“Great spell,” Jonathan muttered sarcastically. “Truly, you are a mighty witch.”
“I-it should’ve worked. Although the powdered hairy bitter cress did smell a bit off. I’ve had to go through some rather dubious suppliers and I think they’re cutting the bitter cress with toothwort. Although it still should work,” Willow said thoughtfully, “there just might be side effects.”
“Great. More side effects.”
“I’ll do some more research at home. Eventually, we’ll find the right spell.”
“Don’t bother. Just give me back my magic bone and I’ll do it myself.”
Willow smiled sadly. “Jonathan, I can’t give it back to you until you’ve conquered your magical addiction – and even then, I probably shouldn’t give it back.”
“I’m not addicted.”
“The first step is admitting it…” Willow cautioned. “Anyway, you never told me how you lost your hand. I’m guessing it wasn’t a freak culinary accident.”
“A demon bit it off,” Jonathan said angrily. He was at Willow’s mercy – without the magic bone, his spells were drastically limited. “An empath demon – it paralyzed me with fear, then attacked. I was lucky all it got was my hand – it almost killed me.”
“Did it hurt?”
“Of course it hurt! What do you think? It still hurts and I think it’s getting infected. It’s starting to throb and that stupid spell of yours only made the pain worse. Just give me back my bone and get out!”
“You’re upset,” Willow replied calmly. “A-and I can understand how frustrating it must be to lose your, um, hand… but I’m only trying to help you. And yelling at me isn’t going to make the spell work any better. Just relax – take a deep breath. I’ll go home and… and ‘consult my books’,” she said with a smile. “And don’t worry: I’ll find a spell. So, buck up, little camper,” she said with forced cheerfulness. “Everything’ll be okay.”
And with that, Willow left. Jonathan found it impossible to rest – exhausted though he was. The pain in his hand grew steadily, until it was a blinding agony. Mercifully, he drifted into unconsciousness.*
Buffy was up early the next morning, ironing Dawn’s uniform and making a real breakfast – eggs, waffles, bacon and orange juice. Dawn played absently with her food, then went to the refrigerator and finished the last of the cold pizza from Saturday.
Buffy sighed resignedly, then took her sister to school.*
Jonathan flexed his new hand experimentally.
He would need gloves.
The skin was pale – almost to the point of translucency.
And then there was the extra finger.
Yes, he thought to himself, I will definitely need gloves.
By noon, Fed Ex had delivered all the equipment to Warren’s house. Harmony practiced using her new, high tech crossbow in the basement, firing at a makeshift target, vaguely resembling Buffy, over and over.
Warren had to admit that he was impressed. She was never exactly on target, but always within a few inches – an acceptable margin of error considering the size of a human target. What was more amazing than Harmony’s accuracy was that she was able to maintain an endless stream of prattle while nonchalantly sending one crossbow bolt after another into the target.
Andrew arrived in time for lunch. Harmony had ‘gone shopping’ the previous night, after the boys had returned home, and had a surprise for them – new clothes. Andrew and Warren both eventually gave in to Harmony’s cajoling and modeled the outfits – and both decided the look was perfect – right down to the leather dusters.
Dawn slipped away from the crowd and sat down to eat her lunch alone, as she usually did. She was very much surprised when two older girls, one blond, one brunette, sat down beside her.
“You’re new here, right?” the blond asked.
“I-is this your spot?” she began diffidently, then switched to a confrontational tone. “’Cause I’m not moving…”
“You don’t have to move,” the blond said reassuringly. “We just wanted to talk to you.”
“About what?” Dawn asked suspiciously.
“You don’t like it here, do you?” the dark-haired girl asked. “It’s okay, we don’t either – our parents sent us here. But you get used to it.”
“I tried getting out my freshman year,” the blond confessed. “Skipping school, not doing homework, swearing and smoking – but it doesn’t do any good. Bad grades mean they sign you up for zero hour, so you’re here at 6:30 – not good – and seventh hour if you don’t improve.”
“Plus peer tutoring,” the second girl added rolling her eyes, “teacher conferences, talks with the dean and trips to the councilor.”
“If that doesn’t work, there’s the school psychologist, Doctor Hilson, and summer school if you actually manage to fail. But the one thing they won’t do is expel you.”
“Once they have you, you’re here ‘til you graduate – no matter how long that takes. It’s like a cult.”
“Only the uniforms aren’t as cool. I’m Becky, by the way,” the blond said. “And this is Steph.”
“There are some good things, though,” Becky continued. “You never have to worry about what you’re gonna wear. And guys love girls in uniform – they think we’re oh-so-innocent.” She smiled. “Plus we get all those religious holidays off. Even the ones not even the nuns have heard of.”
“So what are you two, like the welcoming committee?” Dawn asked, now at ease with the older girls.
“No,” Stephanie said with a glance to her friend. “We wanted to ask you something?”
“What?” The defensiveness was back.
“Who’s that girl that picks you up?”
“Buffy?” Dawn was on the verge of outrage. “You want to ask me about my sister?”
“She’s your sister?” Becky asked. “You guys don’t look alike at all.”
“So, she’s some kind of monster hunter? I mean, she saved us from vampires, right? They were vampires?” Stephanie said dropping her voice to a whisper. “We almost died. It wasn’t just her – that guy was with her. With the sword. And the coat.”
Dawn calmed down a little. “Jonathan?”
“You know him?” Becky asked. Dawn nodded sullenly. “Is he going out with your sister?”
“With Buffy?” Dawn huffed incredulously. “He’s got way better taste than that.”
“He was amazing,” Stephanie said enthusiastically.
“Very cool,” Becky agreed.
“Do you think we could meet him?”
Jonathan left his room before Willow returned. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but he wanted to avoid her. He went shopping for gloves, buying a pair a size too big to make room for his extra finger. Next, he checked first Warren’s house, then Andrew’s – neither boy was home. He didn’t want to return to his dorm – Buffy might be waiting for him – so he saw a movie, then spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering aimlessly and brooding over his increasingly complicated life.
By nightfall he was thoroughly bored and set out to patrol. The early evening turned out to be rather dull – the creatures of the night were sleeping in. He decided to take a break and visit Teresa, the young cashier who was more and more frequently occupying his thoughts.
Buffy left Dawn with Tara and set out on patrol. Dawn had been in a better mood – although she still refused to eat anything but pizza – and only one with barbecued chicken and alfalfa sprouts as toppings. But Buffy was willing to cater to her sister’s peculiarities for the sake of peace.
Jonathan hadn’t been home when she had swung by – now she was looking for him. She headed to the neighborhood she had found him twice before.
Jonathan stepped back into the shadows. Luckily, he had seen Buffy before she saw him – but she was certainly on the prowl. Reflexively, his hand went to his sword as he watched the slayer walk up the street with a causal saunter that belied her restless watchfulness. It was a deliberate deception – she was fully aware of everything around her – Jonathan knew. He had seen her in action. The Slayer stopped and turned – Jonathan followed her gaze – to the top of an adjacent building. The scene unfolded as if in slow motion.
A shadowed figure raised itself, silhouetted against the marginally lighter night sky. Buffy staggered, as if struck, then began running towards the building, although the figure had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Suddenly, and eerie, yet all-too-familiar piping split the silence and the door of a dark green van slid open. Two black hounds burst from it and raced towards the slayer. Buffy stopped and turned unsteadily to face them, as the first effects of the drug sped through her system. She fended off the initial rush of the dogs, but was hard-pressed to keep them at bay.
And Jonathan found himself running to Buffy’s aid.
Back in the van, Warren swore under his breath when he saw Jonathan. Quickly, he switched on his battle armor and stepped forward – or tried to. He toppled over, landing half in and half out of the van, as the smell of an electrical fire filled the air and the hydraulics sprayed liquid.
The battle armor was little more than a support system, a mere exoskeleton that bore the full weight of the battery pack and heavy arm. Eventually, it might be finished, but in its earliest incarnation it was ungainly and visibly incomplete.
“Andrew,” Warren yelped. “Get the fire extinguisher!”
Andrew had stopped playing. “They’re killing the dogs,” he said quietly. Then, in a panic, “We’ve got to get out of here! What are you doing?”
By the time Jonathan had reached Buffy, one of the dogs had taken hold of her leg. He slashed it with his sword, but it would not release her – until he decapitated it. Meanwhile the second dog, bleeding from early stake punctures, had circled warily behind Jonathan and now latched on to his arm, tearing the sword lose as a torrent of blood burst from the wound. Buffy staggered back to her feet, retrieving the sword as she did and stabbed the dog repeatedly. It released its hold and snapped at her, but Jonathan caught it by the throat with his left hand. Buffy chopped off one of its fore feet and stabbed it in the chest – but when Jonathan released it, it did not die. The dog fled, howling mournfully and running with the odd, loping gait peculiar to three-legged dogs.
Jonathan tried to turn towards Buffy, but instead stepped forward a few feet with a puzzled and pained expression. Protruding from his back were two arrows – a third sunk into his shoulder as he turned. The shadowy figure was back and running across the rooftops. Jonathan pulled the arrow from his shoulder, but sunk to his knees from the pain.
“Jonathan?” Buffy said blearily. “Are you all right?” Then she collapsed.
“Help me get back in the van!” Warren demanded. The fire had burned out of its own accord.
Andrew did try, but the armor was too heavy. He began hyperventilating.
The boys froze as a sudden thump sounded from the roof of the van. Then Harmony slid down beside them. “Don’t worry,” she said cheerfully. “I put three arrows into Jonathan and Buffy is out cold.” She effortlessly lifted Warren back into the van, climbed in and shut the door behind her. “I really amaze myself sometimes,” she continued as she climbed into the driver’s seat. “This is such a cool crossbow – especially the night sight.” She pulled away, but the van lurched unsteadily. “Oopsies! Curb! Of course I have good eyesight anyway, being a vampire and all, so I don’t really need a night sight, but it’s still cool. It makes everything look green,” she continued as she accelerated away from the battle scene – the sound of sirens was already filling the air.
Warren was still lying prostrate in the back of the van, a prisoner in his own armor. “Bring me my toolbox,” he demanded.
Andrew lugged the box over to Warren. “You should make a sonic screwdriver for yourself,” he suggested. Warren opened his mouth to respond, but was cut short when Harmony slammed on the brakes.
She opened the passenger door and the surviving dog jumped in, whimpering and whining.
“Oh! Poor Spikey!” she said as she hugged the animal. “Just look what they did to you!”
“They bonded,” Andrew said confidentially.
“Apparently. Can we get out of here?”
“Relax, Mr. Roboto,” Harmony said as she started back down the road. “Everything’s under control. Buffy’s dead, Jonathan’s dead…”
“Jonathan’s invulnerable,” Warren interrupted. “He’s not dead.”
“And we don’t know if Buffy is dead or not,” Andrew added. “Unless you actually see the body, you have to assume the superhero is alive. And even if you’ve seen the body, there’s still a chance that it’s a fake or that they’ll come back. Like Superman or the Swamp Thing.”
“She’s the slayer – we have to assume the worst,” Warren said. “And Jonathan knows who we are and what we’re planning. If she lives, he’ll tell her for sure – to try to save himself. Plus he may bring Willow back into the group. This is a disaster.”
“Hey, I did my part!” Harmony said. A police car sped past her and she waved to the officer.
“Me too!” Andrew said defensively.
“It was Jonathan who ruined things,” Warren said hastily. He had managed to free his upper torso from the armor and was working on his legs. “If it hadn’t been for him, everything would have gone smoothly. We underestimated him. We need to do damage control.” The dog snapped at him.
The confrontation had taken place in front of the convenience store and the dark-haired cashier had called the police almost as soon as the fighting had begun. The first police officer was on the scene almost immediately – a woman. Then came the paramedics, who rushed Buffy to the hospital. Other officers arrived shortly thereafter, but Jonathan’s story matched that of the cashier’s – although her version was filled with effusive praise for Jonathan. The new arrivals deferred to the judgment of the first officer in most things, as it was “her case”, and Jonathan had her under his hypnotic sway – nevertheless, they took his name and address and confiscated his sword.
As the last officer left, Jonathan sat down on the curb, almost in a state of shock. His thoughts were racing too quickly for him to form any coherent plan of action.
The young cashier hovered nearby, seemingly unable to approach any closer, but unwilling to depart. She finally stammered, “Y-you were amazing. You did everything you could to save her. It’s not your fault if she, uh…” She trailed off as Jonathan buried his face in his hands. “I, um, have to get back to work – are you gonna be okay?”
He looked up as if he had only just become aware of her presence. “Me?” he asked. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine. Not a scratch on me,” he continued bitterly.
“Okay, that’s good, then? Right?” There was no answer, so she slunk away.
Back in the lair, Warren was pacing as he brainstormed. Harmony watched him incredulously as he suggested one idea after another – ostensibly to her and Andrew, but really to himself. Andrew waited. He knew Warren and knew that Warren would figure out a perfect plan to save them.
“The problem is that we can’t stand against Buffy, Willow, Jonathan and the rest of them if they present a united front. We need them divided. And after tonight, there’s no doubt they’ll be working together. Jonathan – he’s the key. If he goes to Buffy, he brings Willow with him – remove him, and it’s still just us against Buffy.”
“Kill Jonathan?” Andrew asked, suddenly concerned.
“No,” Warren replied shortly. “Better than that – get him back on our side.”
“How?” Harmony demanded.
“Two words,” Warren said. “Magic Bone.”
And the plan quickly unfolding, details spilling out of Warren’s brain faster than he could relay them to Harmony and Andrew. The magic bone was the source of Jonathan’s power – by threatening to destroy it, they could force Jonathan join them – if he refused to cooperate, they could carry out the threat and render him normal again.
But from the secret cameras, they knew that the magic bone was in Willow’s possession. An immediate raid on Willow’s house was called for.
“And if that fails,” Warren said dramatically. “There’s always this…” He produced a small metal box and carefully opening it. Inside was a rusty nail – with a shiny black tip. Andrew looked puzzled while Harmony was nonplused. He hastened to explain. “Remember when Jonathan was testing his invulnerability?”
“Yeah,” Andrew said slowly. “His own blood is his Kryptonite.”
“Right. And remember how he couldn’t find the nail in the alley?” The light slowly dawned on Andrew’s face. “This is the nail. It’s the one thing that can kill him.”
Jonathan found himself at Buffy’s front door.
Tara had invited him in as soon as he had told her that Buffy was probably in the hospital, and possibly the morgue, and she had called Xander and Anya almost immediately.
“I have to check on Dawn,” she said suddenly and bounded up the stairs, leaving Jonathan alone in Buffy’s living room.
But Dawn was not in her room.
Andrew and Warren watched Harmony from the van as she approached the Rosenberg household.
“What if Willow answers the door?” Andrew suddenly asked, turning anxiously to face Warren.
“Willow isn’t going to want to start a fight in her own doorway – too many questions. That’ll give Harm a chance to get her outside – obviously Willow isn’t going to invite her in – but if Harmony mentions Jonathan and Buffy’s hospitalization in the same breath, Willow should be ready to listen. Curiosity is her fatal flaw.” Andrew nodded thoughtfully. “But no worries,” Warren continued, “it’s her mother.” He gestured at the monitor showing Sheila Rosenberg answering the door. He adjusted the volume.
“I’m a friend of Willow’s,” Harmony said. “I haven’t seen her since we graduated – I’ve been away at college, you know. In France. I’m back for a week and thought I’d stop by and say ‘hi!’ Is she here? I hope I haven’t missed her…”
“She’s up in her room,” Sheila Rosenberg replied. “Please, come in. I’ll tell her that you’re here. Harmony, was it?”
Harmony stepped into the house and Sheila closed the door.
“Switching to the Harmony-cam,” Andrew said as he pressed a series of buttons. The scene of the front door was replaced with a view of the interior of the Rosenberg house.
Harmony was still chatting with Willow’s mother. “If it’s all right with you, I’d like to surprise her,” Harmony said. “I want to see the look on her face when she sees me here – back in Sunnydale!”
“Why is it moving like that?” Andrew asked as the scene lurched from view to another.
“The hidden camera is in one of Harmony’s earrings. I told her we should use studs, but she insisted on pendants. Every time she moves her head, the camera starts rocking.”
“It’s making me seasick.”
Meanwhile, Sheila had agreed to allow Harmony to surprise Willow. “The second door on your left,” she called as Harmony started down the hallway to Willow’s room. She stopped and opened a door – to a linen closest.
Warren pushed the intercom button. “Your other left,” he said, then switched off the microphone. “Not the sharpest nail in the coffin,” he said absently. The he pressed the button again, “Remember, you’re there to negotiate with Willow – we’ll back you up if she attacks, but the optimal outcome is to get the bone without a fight. Subtlety.”
Harmony opened Willow’s door. The young witch was lying on her bed, various ancient texts scattered about her. She was so deep in her research that she did not even look up. Harmony pounced.
And the screen was suddenly dark and confused. Incoherent noises came through the microphone.
“W-what’s going on?” Andrew asked.
Warren sighed. “Why do I bother making plans if no one’s gonna follow them?” He flipped the switch. “Harmony,” he said evenly, “Willow can’t tell us where the magic bone is if she’s dead.”
The room flashed back into view – with an extreme close-up of Willow’s face, Harmony’s hand firmly clamped over her mouth. As more of the scene swung into view, they made out Willow pinned to the bed, her arms held immobile, blood dripping from her neck.
“Don’t worry: she left the bone on her desk,” Harmony said. A puzzled expression mingled with the fear on Willow’s face. “I guess you’re not so smart after all,” she said to Willow. “Plus, I’m hungry.” Then the screen went dark again as Harmony buried her fangs into Willow’s neck once more. This time, the drinking sounds were unmistakable.
“Are you going to stop her?” Andrew asked.
Warren shrugged. “Why?” he asked. “Dead Willow is less likely to interfere with our plans than a living Willow. Harmony’s showing some initiative. We get the bone and Willow ceases to be a threat.”
“Yeah, but…” Andrew began, then trailed off. “It’s just that… I thought Willow was supposed to be this big, bad witch, you know?”
" ‘No matter how subtle the wizard’,” Warren quoted, “ ‘a dagger between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.’ Or her style, in this case. This is a valuable lesson for us – always wear a crucifix."
“Don’t worry about me, man,” Andrew said. “I’ve got three.” He paused. “Do you think that’s enough?”
And then they could see the room again. Willow lay motionless, sprawled across her bed. The scene lurched about and they saw Harmony’s hand reach over and grab the magic bone.
Xander and Anya arrived at the Summers’ house fifteen minutes after Tara had called. Jonathan quickly informed the gathered Scoobies of the Troika’s plan to take over Sunnydale, his own involvement and a few details of the basement laboratory. Xander quickly blamed him for the accident and, try as he might to clear himself, he could not escape the cloud of suspicion that settled over him.
“The first thing we have to do,” Xander said to Anya and Tara, “is make sure Buffy is alive. I’ll go to the hospital and call you with the news. Anya, you stay here with Tara and look for clues to where Dawn might have gone.” He turned to Jonathan. “Why are you still here?”
“I want to help.”
“You’ve ‘helped’ enough. Get out.”
Jonathan started to protest, but words failed him. He slunk out the door.
Xander followed him out, then drove away toward the hospital.
“We should check the answering machine for any messages Dawn’s friends might’ve left. Then we’ll check her room,” Anya said to Tara. She paused thoughtfully. “Her diary will probably have something in it.”
“We can’t look at her diary!” Tara protested. “I-I mean, it’s probably deeply personal – she would be offended.”
“Fine, we’ll just let her get herself killed – or worse – because we didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“B-but is it really necessary? She’s basically a good kid – how much trouble could she get into?”
Anya nodded. “She’s probably just having sex. They start early these days – well, they’ve always started early. Back when I grew up,” Anya reminisced, “If a girl wasn’t married at fourteen there was something wrong with her. And she generally died in childbirth before she got out of her twenties. Nowadays, they skip the marriage part, but there’s still plenty of sex. Or maybe it’s drugs.”
Tara relented. “We’ll check it if we have to – but let’s look at the diary last, okay?”
“A good night’s work,” Warren said as the three conspirators gathered in the basement of the new lair. Warren opened a small refrigerator and tossed a bottle of Jolt cola to Harmony, who caught it, and to Andrew, who fumbled it and dropped it – the bottle didn’t break, but he was still upset.
“It’s going to be foamy now – you did that on purpose.”
Warren just ignored him and continued melodramatically, “Yes, we turned a disaster into a victory – Buffy is in the hospital, Jonathan will soon be under our control and Willow is dead.”
“Yeah,” Harmony agreed as she opened the soda and took a sip. “Except for the Willow being dead part.” She looked at the soda with distaste. “Why can’t you guys drink normal stuff like normal people?”
“What did you say?” Warren demanded.
“This stuff tastes funny and I bet it’s not diet.”
“Before that. About Willow.”
“Oh. She’s alive.”
“We saw you kill her!”
“Nope. I just drank a lot of her blood. She was still alive when I left – just unconscious.”
“Why didn’t you finish her?”
Harmony shrugged. She noticed Warren’s irritation for the first time. “I don’t know,” she began defensively, “It’s not like I ever really liked her or anything, but I can’t kill someone I know. It’d be weird.”
“What kind of vampire doesn’t kill people? Stupid!”
“Don’t call me that!”
“Why not? You moron! You don’t leave an enemy alive!”
“Shut up, Warren,” Harmony growled as she took a step in his direction.
He had his crucifix out instantly and held it in front of her – checking her progress. Harmony’s face vamped as she recoiled. “What are you going to do, Harmony? Bite me? You can’t – you’re just a vampire.” He advanced, holding the crucifix in front of him as a shield and forcing her back. “You can’t do anything.”
“Like you’re perfect,” she countered as she retreated. “You and your stupid inventions that never work right. Like your armor – ‘help!’” she mimicked, “’I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!’” Warren advanced again, but Harmony had backed into the computers next to the wall and could not retreat any further. “Stop it!” she yelped as the crucifix got too close. “It hurts!”
Warren stepped back and lowered the crucifix. “You’re worse than useless – you’re a liability. Why am I surrounded by idiots?”
“Hey!” Andrew interjected.
“I told you,” Harmony snapped, “stop saying that! I’m not stupid!” She grabbed one of Warren’s monitors and smashed it against the wall. “You want to see what I can do, Warren? I’ll tear your little mad scientist lab into pieces.”
Once the initial shock had dissipated, Warren turned and grabbed the supersoaker. “This ends now,” he said calmly.
Harmony’s face returned to her normal, human form. As Warren pointed the weapon at her, the dog jumped to its feet, snarling and snapping at Warren. Warren froze. “Andrew,” he said quietly, “get the flute.”
“He doesn’t like the gun,” Andrew offered.
“Yeah,” Harmony wheedled as she inched out of Warren’s line of fire, “just put the gun down, Warry, please? I’m sorry about the computer.”
“Monitor,” Warren corrected, as he slowly lowered the weapon and placed it back on the shelf. “If you’d’ve destroyed the computer, you’d already be dust, hell beast or not.” As he carefully set the gun back on the shelf, the dog calmed down, its snarls subsiding into low, sustained growls.
“We shouldn’t be fighting,” Andrew suggested cautiously.
“You’re right,” Warren said evenly, the anger of the past few moments apparently forgotten. “We should be planning.” He sat down in his power-chair with a thoughtful expression.
“Your inventions aren’t all bad,” Harmony volunteered cautiously. “You did a real good job with the crossbow.”
Dawn missed the pool ball she was aiming at completely and the cue ball slid into one of the corner pockets. She looked up at the older girls – they were smiling. “This is why I’m failing geometry,” she said apologetically. The Bronze was busy, but not unusually so.
Stephanie placed the cue ball back on the table and took her turn. She hit what she was aiming at, but still managed to miss the shot. “It takes practice,” she said reassuringly as she passed her stick to her friend. Then she asked “Are you sure Jonathan’s going to be here?”
“Oh. Yeah. Pretty sure. Just give him some time. He and Buffy always come here eventually – the Bronze is a notorious vampire hang-out.” Her friends exchanged uncertain glances. “He’ll be here,” Dawn said soothingly.
Dawn jumped and spun around. “Jonathan!” she squeaked. ‘Um, hi,” she continued as she settled into what she hoped was a more mature tone of voice. “We were just playing pool – these are my friends, Steph and Becky,”
“Rebecca,” Becky corrected.
Jonathan paid no attention to the other girls. “You need to come home,” he said to Dawn.
“Buffy sent you? She doesn’t tell me what to do…”
“Not Buffy. She’s in the hospital. Hurt bad. Your friends are worried. Come on – I’ll walk you home.”
Dawn looked helplessly at her friends, but could think of no excuses. She humbly followed Jonathan as he turned to leave. Stephanie stopped him.
“Jonathan,” she said, catching him by the sleeve. “Can we… I mean, will you take us home, too?”
“Um…sure,” he said hesitantly, “I guess.”
“We live on the way,” Becky chimed in.
The girls were surprised that he didn’t have a car, but Dawn hastily explained that cars made fighting evil difficult – by the time you stopped and got out, whatever you were looking for was gone. It satisfied her friends and they pestered Jonathan with questions the rest of the way home.
Dawn carefully opened the front door – Jonathan was watching her from the street so there was no opportunity for her to sneak away again. She slipped inside and headed for the stairs.
“Dawn!” It was Tara. Before Dawn had time to turn around, she was caught in an embrace. “Oh, Sweetie! We were so worried about you! Where have you been?” As Tara released Dawn, Dawn say that Anya was there as well, hovering just behind Tara.
“I was with some friends,” Dawn began. “Jonathan said Buffy-”
“Jonathan?” Tara interrupted. “What were you doing with him?”
“Probably having sex,” Anya said.
“What? No! Playing pool!”
“You need to stay away from Jonathan,” Tara said seriously.
“I-it’s not like we hang out or anything…”
“We’ve read your diary,” Anya informed her. “We also found his watch in your room and a picture of him and his friends. So we know you’re obsessed with him.”
“You read my Diary!”
“What choice did we have?” Tara asked quietly. “You disappeared. We didn’t know where you were or what you were doing.”
“I can’t believe you read my diary! This is like living in Russia!”
“Dawn, listen…” Tara began.
“No! I’m leaving! I hate you!” But Tara caught hold of her arm as she headed to the door.
“Dawn, I’m not going to let you leave again.” Dawn jerked her arm free of Tara’s grasp and glared at her sullenly.
“Buffy should really put her up for adoption,” Anya said to Tara.
“Anya…” Tara began angrily. She stopped herself, took a deep breath and continued in a reasonable tone. “You’re not being that helpful right now.” She turned back to Dawn. “Dawn: I love you, but you’re grounded until Buffy returns from the hospital. Go to your room and get into bed. We’ll talk about this in the morning when I’m not so angry at you.”
“Fine,” Dawn replied in a clipped tone. “I’ll just stay here, then.” She stormed up the stairs and paused in her doorway to shout, “In PRISON!” then dashed inside and slammed her door emphatically.
“Maybe we should nail her window shut,” Anya said.
“I magicked it,” Tara replied. “Not only will it not stay open, but it’ll send me a warning if she tries to open it.”
Xander returned to the house a little after sunrise. He had called in twice during the night with reports of Buffy’s improving condition. Finally, he had been allowed to see her – she was not just stable; she was lucid.
Tara was making pancakes, Anya and Xander sat next to each other, drinking coffee while Dawn sat as far from them as she could get without leaving the room.
“Buffy is kinda scary when she’s like this,” Xander mused. “I mean, I’ve seen it before, after she drowned – she popped back up with a plan to kill the Master. Same thing after Angel fed on her – at the hospital when she should’ve been weak and helpless, she was making plans and giving orders.”
“Maybe we’re seeing the slayer side of her,” Anya offered. “The Buffy side is weak and the slayer takes over. No human emotions to confuse the issue.”
“Or the maybe it’s the human side,” Tara said. “The slayer is beaten and Buffy can make decisions without anger clouding her judgment.” Tara set a plate of pancakes in front of Dawn. Dawn poured syrup on them, then stood up, picked up the plate, walked to the trash can and threw the entire plate away. She then opened the refrigerator, took out a piece of cold pizza, returned to her seat and began to eat it with an air of defiance. Anya and Xander were silent while Tara had the look of someone counting quietly to herself.
Finally, Tara sighed and set a glass of orange juice in front of Dawn. “At least drink this,” she said. She turned back to Xander and Anya. “What were you saying about Buffy, Xander?”
“She’s intense when she’s like this. Serious. Scary serious. And she gave me a list of things she wanted me to do.”
“Yuck!” Dawn interrupted. “This tastes terrible! Did you get the calcium flavored juice again?”
“That would be the powdered aye-aye claw,” Anya said “It tastes rather vile.”
Dawn had taken another bite of pizza, but she froze mid mouthful.
“It’s part of a hypnotism antidote,” Anya continued. “You should forget all about your crush on Jonathan any minute now.”
Conflicting expressions sped across Dawn’s face. Finally, she said, “What do I have in my mouth?”
“Alfalfa sprouts and barbecued chicken pizza,” Tara replied. “It’s your favorite, honey.”
Dawn jumped up and rushed to the trash – she spat out the food and made exaggerated retching sounds. “I hate him!” she announced, then burst out of the room and ran up the stairs, slamming her door with a resounding bang.
“So how much of her behavior these past days has been Jonathan-induced and how much was Dawn being Dawn?” Xander asked.
“I’d say about 60/40,” Anya offered.
“You’re giving Jonathan way too much credit,” Tara replied irritably as she switched off the stove and set a large plate of pancakes on the table.
“I know what I’m having for breakfast,” Xander said enthusiastically, “but what are you girls eating?”
“You can’t eat all that,” Anya said. “You’ll get all lumpy and squishy.”
“There’ll just be more of me to love.”
Tara joined them at the table. “So, what did Buffy tell you?” she asked Xander.
“First, Jonathan helped save her, but he’s involved. We aren’t to confront him, ‘cause he’s too dangerous. Second,” he continued as he helped himself to the lion’s share of the pancakes, “Willow knows something. She tried to tell Buffy a week ago, but Buffy didn’t pay attention. Third, whoever attacker was, he wasn’t alone. There was a dark green van, two demonic dogs, someone on the rooftop with a crossbow and at least one guy playing a flute by the van. Finally, the dogs had collars and tags – she wants us to check the dead dog and find its owner’s address. Maybe have Willow look up some info on them on the ‘net.” He turned to Tara, “Got any OJ without the aye-aye?”
Warren had been busy in his lab all morning. Now he advanced, beaming, a new contraption strapped to his forearm.
“You miniaturized the robot arm,” Andrew said.
“It’s not a robot arm. It’s battle armor,” Warren responded. “And no, I didn’t. This is something new.” He held his hand near Andrew’s face, then suddenly clinched his fist – three long, razor sharp blades shot out.
Andrew jumped and yelped, but he quickly settled down. “Cool claw! Like Wolverine! What’s it for?”
Harmony had taken an interest in the proceedings and had turned away from her TV program.
“Look at the third claw,” Warren said. “Black tip – made from the Jonathan-killing nail. This claw will draw his blood.”
“I thought we weren’t going to kill him.”
“And we’re not. This is just to get his attention,” Warren continued. “Here’s the plan: tonight Harmony visits Johnny with the claw, gives him a good slash somewhere non-fatal, then tells him we have his magic bone. Carrot and stick approach. Or stick and carrot. I’m guessing he’ll be very cooperative.” He unclinched his fist and the claws slid noiselessly back into their sheaths. “Any questions?” he asked as he unfastened the weapon and tossed it to Harmony.
“How come Harmony gets to wear it?” Andrew asked plaintively.
“Because she’s a vampire and Jonathan won’t be able to beat her up and take the claw away.”
“It’s not fair,” Andrew whined, “she gets all the cool stuff. You like her more than me.”
Warren stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then returned to the lab to work on his armor.
Harmony flexed and unflexed experimentally as she watched the blades spring forth. “Want to try it, Andy?” she asked.
Buffy was back in the early afternoon, against her doctors’ wishes, yet, apparently, back to full strength. She gathered her friends in the kitchen to plan.
Tara said, “Xander and I visited animal control to see the dead the dog.”
“They had the body in the freezer,” Xander said. “Saving it to test it for rabies.”
“We pretended we had lost a dog and they let us see it,” Tara continued. “It’s name was Deimos,” she said, almost sadly. “We got an address.”
“Good. Did Willow find out anything about the owner?”
“Buffy,” Xander said cautiously, “Willow’s in the hospital.”
“Extreme loss of blood,” Anya added. “She’s stable, but still hospitalized. She was attacked last night by a vampire.”
“By a blonde girl calling herself ‘Harmony’ – any guesses who that might be?” Xander asked.
“A clever alias for our favorite dead Cordette,” Buffy said angrily.
“So what now, Buff?” Xander asked.
“First, I’m paying Jonathan a visit. Then we’ll check out the demon dogs’ house. And if I happen across Harmony,” Buffy said impassively, “I’ll make time to slay her.” She paused, then asked, “And what’s up with Dawn?”
Jonathan heard a timid knocking. Swiftly donning his gloves, coat and sunglasses, he answered the door.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, then shrieked, stepping back into his room. His forearm had three gashes in it, sliced right through the coat – and one had failed to heal.
Andrew stepped into the room, claw outstretched, as shut the door behind him. “We have your magic bone,” he began, “And we know what your weakness are – join with us or suffer the consequences!”
Jonathan kicked him in the stomach, knocking him to his knees, then wrestled Andrew for the claw.
“Do you boys need some privacy?”
It was Buffy. Standing in the doorway. She stepped in and closed and locked the door behind her while Andrew and Jonathan disentangled themselves. Jonathan had wrested the claw from Andrew’s wrist.
“Hi Buffy,” Jonathan said meekly.
Jonathan gave Buffy a full confession. Andrew wouldn’t talk. In consequence, Jonathan was free while Andrew was tied to a chair. Buffy had the claw and was absently trying it on as she lectured Jonathan. Jonathan bandaged up his forearm.
“I swear I didn’t have anything to do with the attack on Willow,” he said piteously.
“I get that you guys would want to be supervillains,” Buffy said. “I even get the whole hypnosis thing. But why are you working with Harmony? I mean, God! Don’t you have any standards?” Buffy clenched her fist and the claws snapped out. “Cool,” she said, then turned her attention back to Jonathan. “And what’s with the coats?” she asked. Andrew and Jonathan were dressed almost identically in dark leather dusters. “Is that like your uniform?”
“They look cool,” Andrew objected.
Buffy glared at him disdainfully, silencing him.
“I want to help,” Jonathan said.
“To make up for what I’ve done. Working with you I felt needed for the first time in my life. And I felt like I was doing good,” he said. “I-I can’t really explain it – but it’d mean a lot to me if you let me.”
Buffy nodded. “What do we do with flute boy?”
Andrew cleared his throat, “I’d just like to say,” he began slowly, then quickly and mechanically continued, “that your ‘dogged perseverance has given me new insight on the futility of my evil ways and that if you leave me alone for a few months of quiet contemplation I will likely return to the path of righteousness.’ I promise.”
“It’s a trick,” Jonathan said.
“Shut up, Jonathan,” Andrew hissed.
“Number 92 on the Evil Overlords’ list,” he continued. “Don’t believe him.”
“Of course I don’t believe him,” Buffy said dryly. “Well, we’ll worry about him later. Just leave him bound and gagged. We’ll be back eventually – unless Warren kills us,” she said turning to Andrew and speaking in a condescending tone, “then you’ll probably starve to death or die of thirst.” She shrugged. “Gag him, then let’s get out of here – it’s almost dark and I have to see a man about a dog.” Andrew’s eyes widened.
Harmony wandered down into Warren’s lab. He was finishing up his battle armor. “Hey Warren,” she said.
He looked up, then glanced at his watch. “It’s about time for you to head out to Jonathan’s place,” he said.
"Okay. Where’s the claw?”
“I gave it to you.”
“Andrew said you wanted it back.”
Warren paused. “Where’s Andrew?” he demanded.
She shrugged. “I thought he be hanging out with you. I was upstairs playing with Spike. His leg grew back. Of course now it’s a black and scaly bird foot instead of a smooth and silky dog’s foot, but at least he’s not wobbling around any more.” The dog started barking upstairs.
Warren turned to the monitors and punched in a few codes. “Buffy,” he muttered under his breath. “And Jonathan. Right outside.”
“What!” Harmony shrieked. “She’ll kill me!”
“Relax, we can fight them. We’ve got the magic bone and my battle armor.” Warren typed quickly. “I should’ve know,” he said as Andrew appeared on the screen, tied up in Jonathan’s room. “Look at him. Pathetic.” A crash from upstairs followed by loud howling indicated the arrival of the slayer. “Stall her while I put on my armor,” Warren said,
But Harmony made no move; she listened, in terror, to the sounds of the struggle above. Warren struggled into the armor and had just finished putting it on and powering it up when Buffy stepped down the stairs with Jonathan in tow. The armor now covered his arm and upper torso, but the remainder was little more than a skeletal framework of hydraulics. “That’s far enough,” Warren called out, raising the magic bone in his robot arm. “One more step and I break the bone.”
Jonathan and Buffy both stopped.
“It’s over, Warren,” Buffy said.
“Over for you. Join us Jonathan – it’ll be like old times. Three to one – she can’t take us all.”
“Two to one,” Buffy corrected. Warren glanced over at Harmony, but she was gone – fled into the caverns at the first sign of the slayer. “And you’re the one,” Buffy began advancing, slowly at first, then she leapt towards Warren, knocking him back. She balled her hand into a fist to punch him, but the claws sprang out. She released her grip, stepped back and began to remove the claw in irritation.
It was all the time he needed – a sudden jolt of electricity shot out from his suit, knocking Buffy down and away. Warren strode over and raised a metal foot to crush her skull – but was knocked aside by Jonathan.
“What are you doing!” Warren yelled.
“I’m not going to let you do this,” Jonathan said evenly, “Just go. Now. Before Buffy gets back up and it’s too late.”
Warren backed away towards the exit, but Buffy was on her feet, shaking off the effects of the shock. “It’s already too late,” she growled as she advanced. Warren crushed the magic bone in his hand. Jonathan let out a scream.
Buffy turned to look at him – he had collapsed. His body was covered in blood. She looked back – Warren was clomping down the hall in his unwieldy suit of armor. She took a step to follow him, then hesitated…
“So Warren got away?” Willow asked.
“Yeah, Will,” Buffy replied. Buffy, Dawn and Tara were gathered around Willow’s hospital bed. Willow was had been allowed visitors – Tara had been with her most of the day and Buffy and Dawn had stopped by on their way home from school.
“But you saved Jonathan?”
“It wasn’t easy. When Warren broke the bone, every injury that the spell had prevented came back in full force. Serious wounds – especially the one to the stomach. But I stopped most of the bleeding – I’ve gotten lots of first-aid practice – and the paramedics did the rest.”
“You did the right thing,” Tara said encouragingly. “You can stop Warren any time.”
“What are you going to do when Jonathan gets better?” Willow asked
“I think he’s learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of magic,” Buffy said pointedly. “I’m sure he won’t abuse the darks arts again.” Willow blushed and murmured something that sounded like assent. “And then… a little forgiveness might be in order.”
“Forgiveness is good,” Willow said hopefully.
“Yes, Buffy agreed. “Very good. I’m just glad he’s finally off the critical list. I think I’ll stop by after we’re done here,” she continued. “Want to come with me, Dawn?”
“Okay, okay – just asking. But I thought you liked him.”
“Yuck! Who told you that?” Dawn ran out of the room.
“She sure is moody,” Buffy said with a shrug.
“But the uniform is very cute,” Willow said. Tara and Buffy nodded.
“Oh no!” Buffy exclaimed jumping to her feet, “I forgot about Andrew!”
“There you are Harmony,” Warren called out. He stomped toward her in a fury.
“Warren? Is that you?”
They were in a small, rough-hewn cave, part of an old, abandoned mine.
Warren caught hold of Harmony and threw her against the wall. “My ally! The village idiot!” He raged. “The girl who makes stupid look like genius.”
“I’m not stupid,” she cried, struggling back to her feet.
“Poor little Harmony,” he continued bitterly, knocking her back into one of the supports. “Runs away at the first sign of danger. A big, bad vampire who’s afraid of her own shadow.”
“Um… Buffy’s the SLAYER! I’m SUPPOSED to be afraid of her!” Harmony yelled back. This time when Warren attacked, she threw him aside. “And what about you?” she demanded. “If you’re so smart and brave why are you hiding down here from a girl?” She kicked Warren, striking the exoskeleton and hurting her foot – she danced away in pain.
Warren steadied himself, then launched himself at Harmony, catching her and pinning her to the wall.
“You know what your problem is, Warren?” she spat. “You need to get…” but her final words were silenced as Warren began to kiss her passionately. She returned his embrace fervently – and then the floor gave away…
There was a light tapping at the door. “Buffy?” Jonathan called out weakly.
The door opened and the dark-haired girl from the convenience store stepped in, embarrassed and apologetic. “No, just me. I-I heard about you being here on the news and I wanted to stop by. See how you were doing, you know?”
“You’re concerned about me?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” she said awkwardly. “I mean, are you gonna be alright and everything?”
“Yes,” he said as a smile crept across his face. “I think I am.”
Harmony and Warren began to stir. Scattered about them were bits of Warren’s armor and pieces of Harmony’s clothes. “When did the cave collapse?” Warren asked.
“Who cares?” Harmony replied dreamily. “That was amazing. Where’d you learn to do all that stuff?”
“Robot girlfriend,” he replied. “Programmed with all the variations in the Kama Sutra. And some variations that weren’t in there.”
“So what do we do now? Buffy’s going to want us dead.”
“Smell the air,” Warren said. “Salt – these caves lead to the ocean. We’ll travel at night to the next town, then buy a car and get the hell out of Sunnydale. Forever.”
“Buy a car?”
“Yeah. I’ve got tons of money in my bank accounts. Jonathan and Andrew never really knew how much we had or how much things cost. Losers. We can go anywhere.”
“Can we go to France?”
“Oh, Warren,” Harmony sighed, cuddling close to him. “I love you!”
“Love ya too, babe,” Warren replied easily as he glanced at his watch. “We’ve still got a few hours to kill before we can leave the caves – any suggestions on how we spend the time?” he asked with a leer.
“A few,” she replied coquettishly.
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