Buffy and the Seven Scoobies
(Well, three, actually, unless you count Giles, Andrew, Angel and Spike, but they were really Scoobies at heart, weren’t they?)
Or ‘True Love’s Kiss’
Giles was enjoying the sight of a wintry sunset, where the soft oranges and rosy pinks of the sky were, for once, unconcealed by the habitual grey clouds of a country where rain was an ever-present topic of conversation. He did rather miss the constant sunshine of California. However, he was perfectly happy to put up with excessive precipitation due to the fact that he could view the weather through his own window in the English countryside and he was not, for once, facing an imminent apocalypse. Yes, that was a splendid thought.
How marvellous it was to be able to take advantage of the free time he had (due to the unusual inactivity on the part of the forces of evil) to spend some time helping to set up a new Watcher’s Council. The coven was involved, as were the few remaining Watchers. It had not been easy to rebuild, after the decimation caused by the powers of evil, but they had made, in his opinion, an excellent start.
After Willow’s magnificent spell, there were now so many ‘Slayers’ that there was a crying need for new Watchers. All those girls with Slayer powers were a wonderful gift to the world, but they needed training ... badly. Most of them had no idea of what they were capable , and all that uncontrolled power could be dangerous. The last thing they needed was a rogue Slayer. Images of Faith when she had ‘chosen to play for the wrong team’ flashed through his mind. He shivered slightly. Yes, he definitely needed to focus on increasing the ranks of the Watchers. Thank the Lord that he had no other pressing issues to deal with.
‘Da da da dum.’ The dramatic and familiar notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony suddenly rang out. Xander, with that distressingly juvenile streak that years of contact with dark forces had not managed to eradicate, had, unbeknownst to him, changed the ring tone of his mobile phone (dreadful invention but unfortunately necessary these days). He was embarrassed to admit that he was so technologically challenged that he had been unable to alter it to something less mortifyingly attention-seeking. Well, he would just deal with this call, and then it would be pleasant to have a spot of lapsang souchong tea. Annoying sounds, hordes of teenage girls in need of guidance, apocalypses – anything seemed easier to deal with after a cup of tea.
He answered his phone.
It was Willow.
The mildly irritated look on his face was replaced by one of careful blankness, but his eyes were horrified.
A few minutes later he put the phone down, very carefully, as if it might explode with the force of the news it had carried. The tea, the training, everything; it would all have to wait.
Buffy was extremely frustrated, which never augured well for those whom she considered to be her enemies. ‘Die,... damn... you! I... need... my... beauty... sleep!’ Each word was punctuated by the vicious blows she was landing on the particularly hideous demon she was currently fighting. ‘I have a breakfast date with the Immortal tomorrow - I should be home dreaming of his gorgeous eyes, hot bod and the scrumptious almond biscotti he’s going to feed me, while telling me how ‘bellissima’ I am! That’s how this night should be going!’
But this demon seemed to be scarily tireless; not really powerful but with amazing stamina. Buffy was not exactly worried; after all, what was one demon compared to the hordes of Übervamps she had faced and, anyway, hadn’t she done this all a million times before? A billion times, it sometimes felt. Well, that’s what she did. What she was. As she tried to turn the demon into a smear on the ground, operating on autopilot, part of her couldn’t refrain from sighing at the Groundhog Day feel of her life these days.
Yet this demon, a putridly stinky green scaly thing with way too many teeth and more limbs than you would think any sensible creature would want or use, kept coming at her. Whatever hits she got in, it did not seem to want to give up. ‘Right, enough’s enough. It takes a lot longer to make my hair look perfect than anyone realises! I need to end this now!’ The ‘relentlessly club them into submission’ tried and tested routine was clearly not working. Time for Plan B.
She looked around hurriedly for something hard and sharp to cut the green and nasty’s head off. That would teach it! Funnily enough, as she was in a small park on the outskirts of a large Italian city, surrounded by just trees and flowers, there did not seem to be anything handy. She prided herself on being the MacGyver of Slayers, able to turn all sorts of innocent seeming objects into weapons of demon destruction, but there was nothing, nada, zilch. What was Plan C again? Was there a Plan C? It never usually took that long. She sighed again, as she continued to rain blows on Why Are You Not Dead Yet, Demon Guy?
What had possessed her to come out in the middle of the night and not bring any weapons? But patrolling had not really been on her mind. After being woken up by a weird dream, and unable to get back to sleep, a 3am walk had seemed a good idea. Well, that was also a tad bizarre - she was not exactly hiking girl and a middle of the night assault on the refrigerator to see if there was any ice cream that had escaped the attention of Dawn and her constantly ravenous teenage friends, would have made more sense. When she went walking, it was usually to thin the ranks of the bad guys, not to admire roses in the moonlight, especially in the winter, when the roses were nothing but thorny twigs.
While wandering around the admittedly pretty and fragrant park, not sure why she had come, she had suddenly heard a piercing scream that made even her usually pretty unfazed by anything blood run cold. Sprinting through a small, leafy stand of trees, she came across a very strange sight for an Italian park in the middle of an icy cold winter’s night. A petite old lady, dressed in midnight black, with a lacy shawl around her shoulders and what looked like a white cap on her head, was backed against the gnarled trunk of a large, leafless tree. In front of her was a demon, (jeez, was it Demons Go Wild in Rome Night?) who was reaching out to the woman, with its several arms, about to seize her. Buffy launched herself at the demon, yelling to the woman to get out of the way. Even though she spoke in English, the lady seemed to know what she meant and ran off to the side. After that, Buffy forgot about her as she fought with the monster, who was proving to be a pretty tough opponent.
She was getting really exasperated as punch after punch seemed to have no effect on the demon. It whimpered, seemingly in pain, but it kept coming back. It rarely managed to touch Buffy and when it did, the force of the blows was pretty pathetic for a large, seven foot creature from the underworld. Yet, the bloody thing would not die. She faltered a little; why did she keep using that word, that ‘bloody’ English word? Another little reminder of the blond vamp whom her psyche would not let her forget. Damn it, this was so not the time to be thinking of him. Either deal with this creature or run away (sorry, make a strategic withdrawal, as Giles would put it), grabbing the old lady on the way. Okay, she really was not concentrating; what the hell was wrong with her?
Well, that was a question she had been asking herself for a while. Here she was in a fabulous country, with a great boyfriend and a life where the burden of being the Slayer was now shared by many others. She actually had a life, for once, where dates and shopping and manicures were allowed. She was helping the Italian Watchers Council and doing some patrolling. In a while she was going to help Giles train some new Slayers. Things were relatively calm and peaceful. She should be over the moon and having the best time, yet......
‘You’re bored, pet’ said a little voice in her head. Funny how that faintly mocking voice happened to have a sexy English accent. Why was she still thinking about him, why was he still part of her inner life?
‘Ow!’ One of the demon’s long, needle-like, dirty brown claws scratched her arm. It was a small mark and hardly bled, but it burned like acid, just for a split second. ‘Right, this is ridiculous. Time to get serious. You’re going to DIE!’
Buffy turned, ran to the nearest tree and pulled off a low hanging branch. Before the demon could react, she stabbed it through the chest with the sharp end of the wood. For a moment, the monster looked surprised, and then it collapsed, slowly dissolving into a revolting, steaming pile of green goo, some of which touched Buffy’s shoe. ‘Yuck. That’s truly gross, and I’ve seen a lot of disgusting things in my time.’
A gentle voice interrupted her contemplation of what was left of the demon. ‘How can I ever thank you, my dear? You saved my life.’ Buffy spun around in shock. She had forgotten that there was someone else there.
The full moon was bright and Buffy could see her surprisingly clearly. The elderly lady was tiny and looked like an illustration from a children’s book of the perfect grandmother. She had snowy white hair under the delicate lacy cap, a smiley face, with rosy apple cheeks and that perfect peaches and cream complexion with tiny little lines, which some old people are lucky enough to have. Her bright eyes glittered behind a pair of small, silver rimmed glasses. She wore a long black dress, fitted at the waist, with a beautiful black shawl around her shoulders. Yes, a walking grandma doll who spoke perfect English with the merest hint of some kind of European accent. Buffy couldn’t help but smile at her.
‘It was nothing. I’m glad I was here to help. But why on earth were you out here so late? It seems a dangerous thing to do in a city this size.’
‘Well, dear. It was my cat, Lion. He’s very naughty and likes to stay out all night but I worry about him in this weather. And you hear strange things about this park. Other people have lost their pets recently and so I was looking for him.’
‘That was brave of you, but maybe you should go home now. I’ll have a look around and make sure the place is safe. Perhaps I’ll find him. Or do you want me to walk you home?’
‘Thank you. That would be very kind of you. But you’re very strong for such a small girl. How did you manage to defeat that creature? And what on earth was it? I thought perhaps it was some drug addict in a costume trying to frighten people.’
‘I don’t know. Best not to worry about that. Let’s get you home.’ With a reassuring smile, Buffy offered the old dear an arm, which was taken with a surprisingly strong grip.
And so they made their way out of the park, with the lady calling out ‘Lion, my naughty Evelion, where are you?’ every so often, but to no avail. At the other end of the park, they went through a creaky gate and down a thickly wooded path. Buffy and Dawn had walked through this park many times but she had never noticed the ancient wrought iron gate before. That was a little weird. What was also odd was that there was a nameplate on the gate, with the words, ‘Briar Rose Villa’ written on it in very curly, old fashioned writing. Why was it in English? Well, no point thinking about it now; she really wanted to see the old dear home and then get back to her bed, to get started on that dream of the pleasures the following day might bring.
After a few minutes they arrived at a tiny but exquisite villa, made out of what looked like bone white stone, thickly overgrown with vines and climbing plants. It would be a riot of colour and fragrance in the summer and even now it was stunningly beautiful. They went down a short path made of worn black flagstones to the ornately carved wooden front door. The old lady pulled out a fantastically shaped iron key and let them into the house. Inside, the place matched the outside, being full of moonlight glinting off marble and wood, gleaming metal and luxurious fabrics. Everything seemed antique and yet in perfect condition. Buffy longed to see it all in the daylight. There was a faint smell of lavender and beeswax throughout the house, with a strange musky note underneath.
Buffy turned to speak to the woman, and gave a little start, because Grandma was right behind her. How did she move so fast and so silently? Recovering herself, Buffy said, ‘You have a beautiful home.’
In the light from the wall lamps that had been turned on, Buffy could see that those bright eyes were a vivid grass green. Those eyes were twinkling up at her, as the woman laid a little paw on Buffy’s arm. ‘Thank you, dear child. Can I get you something to drink, or would you like to freshen up? You must be exhausted after your fight with that horrible thing. Some tea would be nice.’
Well, the night was getting more and more surreal. Shouldn’t Grandma here be a little more traumatised or curious? She had just had an encounter with a hideous demon and a small American blonde with super strength. Yet here she was offering refreshments and they were exchanging polite small talk! Buffy had a vision of herself sipping tea out of a fabulously delicate bone china teacup, sitting on a red velvet cushion in a chair that really belonged in a museum, while she was covered in sweat and demon slime.
‘That’s very kind of you, but I really need to get home. I hope you find your cat.’ Buffy turned to leave, but the lady stopped her.
‘Just a moment, I want to give you something to say thank you. It’s not much but they do come from my own garden.’
She disappeared through a door at the back of the shadowy hall, returning in a minute with a brown paper bag that looked out of place in such an exotic setting. The most mouth-watering smell was coming from it. Buffy took it, feeling somewhat awkward, murmured ‘Thank you’ and went out of the front door. She felt an odd sense of relief at being out of that house, though she couldn’t for the life of her think why. But her Slayer spidey senses were tingling, and the hairs on the back of her neck were standing to attention. ‘I’m so ready for this night to be over’, Buffy thought to herself. ‘I’m imagining Big Bads all over the place.’ She hurried down the path, clutching the unknown gift in its homely little container.
As she got to the gate, she turned. The old lady was at the front door waving to her with a white frothy something, a handkerchief probably, in her hand. The moonlight was reflected in her spectacles, making her eyes glitter like some large insect. Buffy frowned. She was an adorable old dear, so why would the insect image come to mind? ‘I really need some sleep.’ Buffy started to walk back to the park but something made her pick up her feet and sprint the rest of the way home, as if there were something devilish at her heels.
When she got finally got inside her shabby but lovely apartment, she decided to have a quick shower to wash the smell and gunk of battle off her body. As she removed all traces of leftover demon, she shook her head at the whole weird night. ‘Last time I go for a moonlit walk, unless I have to patrol,’ she thought to herself. Finally, wrapped in a fluffy robe, and in clean pjs, she went to the kitchen. The bag was on the table where she had left it. Curiosity getting the better of her, not to mention the powerful but yummy scent emanating from it, she sat down and carefully opened the bag.
Her mouth fell open a little in surprise. Inside was a selection of the most gorgeous looking fruit she had ever seen. From her own garden, the lady had said. How had she managed that in the middle of winter? Plump, juicy, claret red grapes, a couple of luscious peaches that looked like an illustration from a magazine, some sunset orange, smooth-skinned apricots and, at the bottom of the bag, the most perfect apple - round, bright red, with blemish-free shiny skin and smelling like heaven. It was the appleist apple she had ever seen. ‘This is like the granddaddy of all apples. How the heck do you grow something this perfect looking? Without taking time to think whether this was a good idea, her mouth watering, she sank her teeth into the plump flesh of the apple.
‘Buuuffffffy!!!! Why didn’t you wake me up? I am sooooo late. You know Antonia’s picking me up at 9 so we can go to that shoe sale! Buffy! Where are you?! Dawn came rampaging out of her bedroom, like a mad teenage mosquito. Buffy had promised to wake her early. And now look what had happened! There was every chance that Antonia’s superhot brother Marco would be giving them a ride, and she needed time to make herself look as cute as possible. Anyway, in Italy, jeans, t-shirt and sneakers would not do. All the teenagers looked like something out of a Gap advert and she was not about to look like some unsophisticated country bumpkin, so she needed TIME to get ready. ‘Buffy! Where the heckles are y....’
Her words died away as she rushed into the kitchen and saw Buffy, slumped at the table, head down. ‘What on earth are you doing?!’ Thoroughly alarmed, she shook her sister by the shoulder, with increasing violence as she got no response.
Then she saw Buffy’s face. It was as white as snow, as milk, as marble, as anything else that you could think of which is that deadly pale colour, with no hint of pink, no hint of life. Her lips, on the other hand, were bright crimson red, a colour Buffy rarely wore. Dawn felt a tingling in her head, her fingers, and her spine and she was sure her own face would be nearly as pale as the Slayer’s. She suddenly whipped round to face the door, convinced that there would be something behind her, but the kitchen was empty. Turning back to Buffy, she noticed something else which both disgusted and scared her, though she couldn’t understand why she felt that frisson of fear as she looked at what was on the table.
Buffy’s head was surrounded by decomposing fruit; there were shrivelled up grapes, peaches that had mushy looking patches of decay on them, slimy orangey things that could have been anything and an apple, with a bite taken out of it that showed the rotten brown flesh inside.
What was going on? ‘Buffy! Buffy!’ Her voice was shrill with terror.
Five minutes later she was at Defcon 1 in terms of panicking, but she felt a tiny bit of relief when she found out that Buffy was still breathing. Dawn had done something she had seen in movies but had not really believed would work - held a small mirror near her sister’s mouth. Amazingly, there had been condensation on the mirror, so Dawn had decided that at least Buffy was still alive. But nothing had woken her up - shouting, water on the face, slapping her, tickling her - nothing. Her mind was a blank as she tried to think of the best thing to do.
When the doorbell rang, Dawn jumped out of her skin, but then the realisation eased a tiny part of the tension flooding her body. Antonia! Please, please let her dad or mom be with her; someone to take charge, to be responsible, to FIX this. As she hurriedly pulled open the door, her heart sank when she only saw her petite, ebony haired friend. ‘Thank God you’re here! Quick, we have to do something!’ She pulled the startled girl inside and all but dragged her to the kitchen. ‘What is this? Is she sleeping? Maybe she is drinking yesterday? That is really a big hangover!’ ‘No!!.... I don’t know, but I can’t wake her up!’ She knew the fear was making her screech like a crazy person.
Looking at Antonia’s wide-eyed, scared face, Dawn realised that she had to stop behaving like a hysterical teenager and start taking action. After all, she had fought demons, vampires, the several potential ends of the world, and God knows what else, so she should be able to deal with a catatonic sister. Dawn took a deep breath, pulled her shoulders back and said, ‘Right, we need to call a doctor.’