“Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service”
“I Remember the first time I saw you.”
“Oh yeah?” She replied, breathing out half asleep.
“Think I was buggered from that moment forward.”
That grabbed her attention and she woke up a bit more.
“Flatterer” she concluded. Pure flattery. Had to be. To have gone through the waning last of baby fat, and the awkward bang phase, she’d be surprised anyone had found her attractive.
“Dancing with your mates.” She had instantly captivated him. All fire and life. He couldn’t help himself, gave her a long, hard stare, head to toe. The way that blonde hair bobbed, tight, luscious lips, pert lithe body, He’d written it off as part of his slayer killer mojo. His predatory stalking and sizing the girl up. But much later, he admitted to himself a spark was lit like no other, deep down, where he hadn’t even been aware.
She turned on the cot to face him. And he strengthened the arm he had draped across her waist just a little bit.
“I didn’t know what to make of you, here was this dangerous vampire trying to kill me, but flirting at the same time.”
He’d always been a hottie. She snorted at the word in her own brain. The innocence of youth and words like “hottie” seemed like someone else saying and thinking them, another planet completely. But she could picture those deep blue eyes, that slicked back hair, the rushing sound of the duster when he moved with the speed and agility that only a century old master vampire could. Those cheekbones that would make even the best sculptor cry, and that smart ass grin that she wanted to slap off his face.
He closed his eyes for a moment and murmured absentmindedly “Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service”. His voice slipping between accents and back. It wasn’t the first time he’d done that, or randomly quoted something profound from ages past. She didn’t know who or what the quotes always came from, it added to the mystery of Spike. He seemed to pick up that he revealed something from the hidden deep pool that was Spike.
He kissed her forehead and breathed a sigh of contentment into her hair.
She awoke against her will, keeping her eyes shut on purpose as to not let the dream burn away so quickly. Slowly she felt his arms fading from their protective embrace. With a sigh she opened her eyes and sat up in the bed. The reality of the alone-ness and spike-less-ness settled in with the chill in the air.
She was in a small room not too far down the hall from the rub she had soaked in the night before. She slowly turned, her feet on the cold stone floor. She stood up and shivering grabbed the nearby shawl that was provided by Mara along with the sleep clothes the night before. She tucked the soft garment around herself and tied the corners in the front.
The small fireplace in the room that had held the cozy fire the night before had reduced to flowing embers. The window opposite of it revealed that it was starting to lighten outside, but still was in that place of pre-dawn.
The Spike memories that made way into her dreams were both a comfort, and the most divine sorrowful torture imaginable.
She realized she had been staring at the stone floor for who knows how long. She needed to walk, to occupy her mind, to be in motion, to bury that sorrow just a bit deeper. Sliding her feet into the simple pair of slippers she’d been provided. Still chilly she grabbed a blanket from a small wooden chair near the bed and threw it over the shawl, around her shoulders.
Passing silently through the kitchen area she had been the night before. The gray gloom of the pre-dawn filled the windows on the kitchen end. Curtains had been pulled over the ones near the girl.
She pushed open the heavy wooden door that led outside, and carefully closed it after. The air was cool and crisp, a scent of grass, trees, nature, and dampness greeted her. There was one, possibly two mountains in the near distance. The grayness of the morning swirled about, and rings of fog encircled the peeks of the mountain, obscuring a portion of the center. It had obviously rained, or at least misted overnight. The beads of moisture settled on the endless expanse of grass, and a light fog danced about waiting for the morning sun to burn it off.
She could hear sounds of animals. Many different kinds she gathered. Bleats of sheep, and occasional far off moo sound, birds sang, amongst other unidentifiable animal calls.
There were several vast split rail fences set up amongst the surrounding fields. Through the light fog that had settled overnight she could see some of the said animals dotting the landscape. To her left there was a stone well with a couple of buckets sitting next to it. Behind the well sitting a little back were at least 2 barns.
She pulled the blanket tighter around her and started up the worn path leading there. “Good a place as any for distraction.” She swore she heard a horse neigh in the near distance.
Inside the barn the sweet smell of hay greeted her nose. It was cozy in here, and dry. A few lanterns hanging from random cast light in the darkness. Running her hand along the top of the wooden stall doors. The calm and glistening eyes from the occasional horse regarded her curiously. Bridles and saddles were neatly stacked on the far wall, and several hay bales were stored in the overhead lofts.
The last stall was different from the others. Several blankets had been nestled among the hay on the floor. A weak sounding bleat rose invisibly from the center.
“Mother’s ill.” A heavily accented surprised her from behind. She startled just a little bit.
She turned to see Yuri step out from a stall across the aisle. He appeared to be fastening a top on a glass bottle. A tube dangled from the lid.
Without another word he stopped next to her. Yep. Still just as tall and broad as she remembered. Those steely gray eyes, reserved, yet inquisitive. With a sweep of his hand, he opened the stall door, and gestured for her to enter in.
He sat on what had to be the world’s smallest stool. “Milking stool.” She said to herself. She’d seen “Heidi” enough times growing up to recognize that.
He sat with one heavily booted leg out in front and scooped up the tiny lamb with one hand, wrapping a blanket around it with the other. He produced the glass bottle and carefully placed it in the lamb’s mouth. A minute or two later the lamb began to feed hungrily.
For such an intimidating man, he was amazingly gentle and patient. His shoulder length hair hung loosely as he turned his attention from the lamb.
“You are a shepherd, yes?” He asked taking his place back on the small stool. “What was that accent? Russian? Definitely something……European?”
“A Shep…um, I’m not sure that would be the right….I mean…” “Great Buffy, you can knock ‘em dead with your gift for words.”
“We will look after him, and keep him strong for his mother. Until she is better.” He carefully rose from the stool, lamb in hand, and walked towards her. Slowly bending down, she realized he meant to hand her the tiny creature.
“Oh, what, oh I can’t….” She started out. But he placed the creature in her hands regardless. And rearranged the bottle before handing that to her as well. A moment later the lamb was quietly suckling away at the warm milk.
“Shepherd always cares for their flock, even the tiniest.” He gently stated.
She flashed a passing smile looking at the lamb. Half asleep, feeding, warm. Safe. Loved. She couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of envy. How long had it been since she felt the same?
“Shepherd always cares for the flock.” Yuri said simply. Taking his place back on his stool. He crossed his arms in front of him. “Is the same with slayers, yes?”
It was then she thought of the Mini-Slayers. In a way they were part of a flock. A lot of good she had been able to do for them in the end. Some Shepherd.
They were all dead. Whatever forces that were aligning against them had wiped them all out. And when the mini slayers were gone, they’d started eliminating the potentials, and not just teenage potentials, the young girls too. Younger….and younger.
Even if one was chosen to be the next slayer, barely being out of potty training wasn’t going to do anything at all. Luckily being tapped the next slayer was a problem that was avoided…at least until Faith was killed. But by then it didn’t matter. Whole cities were wiped out. “Right end times.”
“I don’t know how good I am at that.” She said in a soft whisper.
“You’re troubled.” He said genuinely.
The thought “well duh!” Flitted through her mind. But thankfully this time her brain was able to stop it from crossing her lips. She knew the information imparted the night before was the barest scraping of the barrel. Everything had been so…..jumbled.
“These girls, they looked to me…” Her mouth felt dry. “They looked to me for guidance, survival, training.” It seemed so long ago now. Willow’s spell, the awakening of slayers world-wide. Dozens of young eyes turning to her for…..everything.
“What did you do?” He asked.
“Those last months.” She started. The lamb had finished his milk and dozed lazily in her arms. She wrapped the blanket a little tighter around him and set the glass bottle on the floor.
“The first.” When he looked at her quizzically, she elaborated.
“The first evil.” She explained. “We just called “The First.” “Could take the form of anyone who had died.” She licked her lips. “Including myself.”
That seemed to surprise him. “You……died?” He asked sitting forward on the stool a bit more and threading his fingers together.
“I think the count was up to three last I checked.” She muttered. It really wasn’t something she was particularly proud of. She hoped she didn’t need to talk about how she had been yanked from heaven by well meaning friends again.
He seemed to know better than to push for more of an explanation. And she was more than happy to divert back to the previous subject.
“The first started manipulating, corrupting, messing, with everyone.” A flash of a disheveled Spike half out of his mind floated through her mind. Finding him crouched in that basement had been the last thing she had expected to find. Lost and remorseful. So….Un-Spikelike. It made it even more tragic later on when she learned the very thing, he had fought tooth and nail for was now twisted to be his worst enemy.
“People died. Innocent people, friends, young girls, and it doesn’t seem like it should’ve taken that long to figure out, every minute that went by…was too long.”
“In the end, we did it. Collapsed the hellmouth, destroyed the Turok-Han Willow…my friend…. she’s a witch, woke up all potential slayers into full slayer power.” She cradled the lamb gently in her hands.
“There were of course…. losses.” She closed her eyes against the painful jab of watching Spike burn to ashes, and the scattering of dead girls whose final resting place lay underneath the crumbled wreckage of the high school and countless houses and businesses.
“And you see yourself as the wicked one?” Yuri asked studying her intently, from across the stall.
“I did what I had to do.” She stated softly but simply. She had spent so much of the time that year being an impenetrable hard ass, -doing what needed to be done- that she hadn’t been able to slow down and allow herself to feel anything, everything just sort of froze. And then later, well, when everything had really hit her. It had been bad. Devastatingly so. She barely had had time to collect her thoughts when this much larger scale world-endy apocalypse bitch slapped everyone.
“You see.” Yuri continued rising from the stool. “There is forgiveness if you ask for it, but is much harder to forgive yourself.”
She regarded him for a moment. He listened intently, but patiently. He was probably trying just as hard to figure her out as she was him.
extended a hand to her to help her stand from the stool. She paused for a moment, shifting the sleeping lamb to her other arm and took his outstretched hand. It was calloused, but soft and warm.
“Yeah, that turned out about as well as everything else.” Having a sister slayer in Faith, and later a subsequent army of mini slayers was supposed to have spread that burden a little more evenly. But somehow, she thought it had actually made it worse. Having to deal with Faith’s temporary snap with reality, and then later waves of hormonal teenage girls who had no time to adjust what was placed on them. Made her feel more alone than ever.
“There’s a reason you were chosen, being able to make the decisions no one else could.” Yuri started. “Heavy is the burden when it falls to you, but he does not give you more than you can handle.”
“Ah. All part of the slayer fun time prophecy.” She thought to herself. Then it dawned on her.
As they walked back to the main house, the sun started to pierce its way through the nighttime fog and burn it away. She was able to get a better look at her surroundings.
The main large house where she had emerged from earlier lay ahead. It was made almost entirely of stone, with the occasional wooden beam. The entire roof was thatched, and it seemed more of a part of this nature landscape that it was interrupting it. Smoke rose lazily from one of the chimneys. There also appeared to be a large coop sporting several chickens not far from the barn. A rooster had begun it’s morning wake up call.
The mountains in the near distance begun to show in the sunlight, they shone rocky peaks and lush greenery all the way down. A small bridge was not too far from the base, presumably over a river or stream and continued to snake and wind, splitting off into a smaller trail that led here. She could feel the air here, thick with magic.
The door of the house opened, and Mara appeared. She had a thick shawl wrapped around her as well, holding it closed with one hand. Her thick blonde braid swung to her side as she leaned out of the door frame and peered out.
“There you both are.” She said spying the little bundle Buffy had wrapped in her arms.
“Ah, the wee one.” She regarded when Yuri and Buffy reached her. “How is he doing?” She asked Yuri, concern crossing her face.
“Better, he finished all the milk this morning.” He held up the empty glass bottle. “He’s taken to Buffy quickly.”
Mara smiled and pressed her hand to her chest. “He knows a good heart when he’s found one.” She motioned for them to come on. “Bring him in, he can sleep by the fire while we talk.”
Buffy placed the tiny lamb into a hay filled basket near the hearth.
Mara had shed the shawl she had been wearing and buzzed about the kitchen pulling iron pots and pans about. A pile of dough had been portioned into smaller pieces on a metal tray. A basket of eggs sat on the table in front.
A small iron stove was nearby. A pot already steamed happily away on the surface. A skillet adorned the place next to it. And the attached iron oven glowed. Mara grabbed the metal sheet and placed it inside, shutting the door.
“I’ve left you a dress in your room if you’d like to change for the day.” She told Buffy. “Breakfast should be ready in short order.”
She returned to the room to find a simple purple dress laid across the bed. A pair of what she assumed were underwear were next to it. She remembered vaguely hearing them called “small clothes” in some story or play she had read in high school. Now she really wished she’d paid more attention in class.
After changing into the dress. “This was going to have to take some getting used to.” She had retreated to the bathroom. Pouring some water into the basin, she washed her face and used the tooth powder. She brushed her hair out and fastened it into a simple ponytail.
She rejoined the room to find the large rectangular wooden table had been cleared and chairs had been placed. Yuri had already claimed a seat at one end. He had a small paring knife and busied himself with an apple, cutting off a small piece at a time and eating. A bowl of fruit sat nearby.
“We’ll check on her again after breakfast.” Mara said to him as she opened the oven door. “I’ve made an elixir for her, should help.” Buffy realized she was talking about the lamb’s mother.
Mara’s spied her. “Fits well?” She asked, as she put a thick cloth around her hand and opened the oven door.
“Yes, thank you.” Buffy replied taking a seat at the table.
Mara took the metal tray out and set it on a thick wooden slab on the table. What appeared to be biscuits steamed from it.
Mara put out containers and tins. There was a glass jar with what appeared to be jam, another with a teaspoon sticking from it, seemed to be honey. There was a small pitcher of milk, a larger one of water, and a small bowl with butter. Several empty bowls and plates, and flatware adorned the table.
“I’ve got hot water above the fire.” She stated. She brought the pot that had been on the oven closer to the table and began ladling out it’s contents to the empty bowls. “Porridge.” She explained. When the last bowl was filled, she replaced the pot back on the oven. She brought back a rather large bowl of scrambled eggs and placed it in the center.
Buffy’s stomach danced, reminding her how hungry it was, and that she needed to rectify this situation.
It was that moment that the door opened and a woman stepped in. She donned a gray cloak with a hood. Moving forward she stopped at the other end of the table.
“You’re just in time.” Mara smiled at her.
“Exactly when I meant to be.” The woman reassured her, returning the smile.
She lowered the hood away from her head, and removed the cloak. She hung it on a nearby hook besides Yuri’s long coat.
“You must be Buffy.” The woman said. Taking the seat at the other end of the table opposite Yuri.
“I am Thea.” The girl offered. She had black hair, and dark eyes. Her skin was of a medium olive complexion, her voice also sported an accent.
“You’re the seer.” Buffy recalled the conversation from the night before.
Thea regarded her warmly. “Please eat some breakfast, you will need to recover your strength.”
“There’s plenty of food.” Mara stated.
Buffy didn’t need to be told twice.
Buffy couldn’t recall the last time she’d had a good breakfast, or really much of any breakfast. She quickly found herself becoming a fan or porridge though. Having only ever heard of it via “The Three Bears.”
Mara excelled at keeping the kettle and cups full and warm, and there were several different teas to choose from. Buffy had never been a big tea drinker, but found herself quickly becoming a fan. When the consumption of breakfast had left all fat and happy.
Thea was the first to break the proverbial ice.
“You want to know what happened.” She said stirring her tea and setting the spoon aside.
“To put it simply.” Buffy returned. Wallachia
“We’re still trying to figure it out on this end too.” Mara offered.
“We worked out the spell with your witches.” Thea explained. “To unusual stirrings.”
“There have been strange events, but nothing outright, certainly not perceivable to the general public.” Mara explained.
“But as we work in shadow…” Thea continued.
“It was noticeable to us, and disruptive in the…” Mara searched for the right words. “Flow of energy.” She concluded.
“We are protected here.” Thea assured. “We have concealed this place from discovery.”
“First spell we conjured.” Mara continued. “After contact with your coven, and finding out this dark future.”
Buffy fingered the Talisman around her neck, the one Giles had given her right before…..
“Protection.” Buffy agreed.
The two witches offered her a smile. “Yes.” They agreed.
“There’s ALWAYS been evil.” Thea continued. “It’s a sort of balance though. Where there’s light, there’s dark, where there’s warmth, there’s cold.”
“When it passes, those who are judged guilty are smote down.” Yuri added from the far side of the table.
“Where there are good men, there are also those who are bad.” Mara added.
“And usually there’s a balance.” Mara explained taking a sip of tea.
“Ying and Yang.” Buffy added.
“When the first slayer was created….” Mara began. “It was to help to keep balance when it was tilted, since the creation of the first vampire, and the many he sired, and the many demons that caused to be inhabited in a place they normally wouldn’t be.”
Buffy couldn’t help but be a little surprised, “Slayer origins.” As it were, was only something that seemed to have been explored by Giles and herself. At least as far as she knew. But seeing as they knew of the existence of slayers, and watchers, and the council, she should hardly be surprised.
“After we found your coven reaching out, I sought the others.” Thea stated. “There are witches throughout Europe, others like myself, and like Mara.”
“In a same sort of way, she was able to talk to your Coven.” Mara explained. “Except on a smaller plateau, not across time, but just the distance.”
“We began to realize the stirrings seemed to grow in the bigger cities.”
“Which is where all the people are.” Buffy finished the thought.
“Yes.” Thea confirmed. “We just don’t know who or more importantly…why.”
“A wicked lot.” Mara added.
“Vampires.” Thea elaborated. “But not just vampires, demons, darkness, and others I can’t pinpoint, I can’t see through the fog, it won’t let me.”
A thought dawned on Buffy. “Your slayer.” She slowly started. “There is a slayer in this time?”
“Yes.” Yuri replied from the far end of the table.
“But she is missing.”