The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt V
PostPosted: Mon Aug 23, 2004 2:11 am 
Intrigue and more intrigue. Looking forward to these very much, thanks!


Sheacht mh'anam déag do bhéal, do mhalaí's do ghrua



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt VI
PostPosted: Thu Aug 26, 2004 11:36 am 
I've been reading this series over the last week and it's very good.



Stephen King wrote about the gotcha factor, which is where after starting a story you can't put it down no matter what. Given the number of very late nights I've had after starting this series, I'd say it's got it in spades.



I like the premise of the series, of Willow getting a glimpse of the future and this changing everything. Am I right in thinking that it was Willow going back in time that caused the memory spell to fail?



So now there are two Buffies, how is the world going to cope? Thw watcher's council certainly seems to like playing with genetics. I'm thinking that any attempts at reforming the council will prove to be futile. They'd be better disbanding the council and starting again from scratch.



I have one nit to pick. In the story where Xander is opening the portals (as others have mentioned he does seem happy to abuse magic for his own ends, which wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't just as quick to condemn others for doing the same. Hypocracy is terrible, except when it's me doing it) Willow says that she went back in time following Glory, when she was actually following the First (which is who the Tribex demon was working for)



Looking forward to :read the later stories.

"VOOM"?!? Mate, this bird wouldn't "voom" if you put four million volts through it! 'E's bleedin' demised! - The Parrot Sketch



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt VI
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 3:21 am 
Glad you've enjoyed the stories Justin.

Quote:
I like the premise of the series, of Willow getting a glimpse of the future and this changing everything. Am I right in thinking that it was Willow going back in time that caused the memory spell to fail?


It was basically, of course how this loop got started in the first place is another matter...

Quote:
I have one nit to pick


Hmmm, well I could just claim that Willow was upset and a little confused, or just admit this is what happens when your writing in the small hours of the morning.:)

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt VI
PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2004 7:03 am 
I've read your story for quite a while now and wanted you to know I have really enjoyed it and can't wait for more. I love your long updates and can't wait to see what happens with Sabrina and LJ. When will you be updating again? Hope all is well!

Kristin



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt VI
PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2004 4:41 pm 
Quote:
When will you be updating again?


Glad you're enjoying it noellebrin, 'Cold Hearted' should be ready in a couple of weeks. Update frequency has slowed down partly because of work and partly because I've been working on an actual book, which I just finished, so ti might pick up a bit.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt VI
PostPosted: Fri Sep 24, 2004 12:58 am 
Well after what seems like forever 'Cold Hearted' is finished, just needs some editing and polishing and it will be up.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2018-4:Renaissance Pt VI
PostPosted: Fri Sep 24, 2004 1:46 am 
Glad to hear we'll have another instalment of the series soon :wave


Sheacht mh'anam déag do bhéal, do mhalaí's do ghrua



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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt I
PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:14 am 
Title: Cold Hearted

Author: Mike Mullen

Rating: NC-17/18 because of violence and adult themes.

Spoilers: Actually less than zero

Disclaimer: All the original BTVS characters belong to Joss Whedon, but everyone else in the stories are my personal slaves, and will be for decades to come….

Summary: LJ and her parents set out on separate investigations that rapidly converge into a deadly threat and a new set off opponents.

Authors notes: One step closer to a first encounter...

Feedback: Just add your comments at the end of the story.





Cold Hearted




1. "Cold Comfort"




Time was running short; she knew it was still coming; her best efforts to repel it had failed miserably. The sense that was she just wasn't good enough, didn’t have the skill or the knowledge nagged at the back of her brain, stop thinking like that, if you believe it you're finished, she admonished herself and grabbed a small box containing a selection of charms from the shelf and began laying them out in a simple pattern muttering an incantation as she did so. The spell was barely finished before she heard noises from the hallway beyond. She hastily got into the middle of the charms and huddled there; trying to control her pounding heart as the door handle began to turn, this has to work.



        Sifting through the mounds of letters, reports, and schedules on her tablet Willow wished that the new semester could have started a little later, like next century perhaps. She had always made a point of getting all her paperwork in order well in advance; that though had been before her daughter had become the Slayer. Fighting the forces of evil wasn't conducive to maintaining the routines of everyday life, especially when you couldn’t exactly explain why to anyone else.

        As she was still playing catch up Willow was far from happy to hear a knock at her office door. She was tempted to just pretend she hadn't heard them; then a voice called out, "Professor Rosenberg?"

        The voice was vaguely familiar, female, and unmistakably a student. Willow sighed, "Come in."

        The girl who entered had short brown hair and brown eyes, she was dressed rather severely, the kind of student who wanted to emphasize they were here to learn, not fritter their time away partying. Willow could sympathize with that but she also knew the value of relaxing and enjoying yourself, well I used to, not so much these days. Willow put that unsettling thought aside and focused on the student, whose name she had dredged up, "It's Louise isn't it?"

        Louise seemed surprised Willow had remembered that much about her, "Yes, Louise Pauli."

        Willow rather expected the girl to go on and when she didn't Willow had to contain her impatience and nudge her gently, "What can I do for you Louise?"

        Louise still took another couple of seconds before she finally go going, "In your class you talked about magic. You told us about how herbal medicine and extracting metal were magical in ancient times; about how magic contributed to the beginnings of science; and how the idea of the wicked witch was all about Renaissance sexual politics rather than black magic."

        "I'm glad you were paying attention." Willow interjected, really wishing the girl would get to her point.

        Louise nodded, "I did but all the time I was there I never found out one thing; do you believe in magic Professor Rosenberg?"

        The question instantly put Willow on edge; it was one thing to teach classes on the subject but admitting she believed in it, let alone practiced it, could create a lot of grief; especially if this girl was on the university paper, "Why is that important to you Louise?"

        Louise didn't answer directly, "I have a cousin, she's a Wiccan and she's always driving me crazy with her talk about spells and potions, then every so often something would happen and she would put it down to her magic."

        "Something odd enough that you couldn't explain it away." Willow conjectured.

        "Sometimes yes. That's why I took your class, I was looking for an answer to explain it all away, to put her down."

        Willow smiled, "Which you didn't find."

        Louise's response wiped the smile away, "And now I probably never will. A few days ago they found my cousin in a coma surrounded by her magical stuff. The doctors can't explain it. I don't want to believe that is magic but no one can explain what's happened to her, so I need to know Professor do you believe in magic; is it real?"



        Tara had just speared the last forkful of her salad when Willow reached that point in her account, "What did you say to her?"

        "What could I say? I couldn't tell her it was all just make believe and keep a straight face, and it's possible that her cousin was trying something that got out of control." Willow knew that was all too easy from painful personal experience.

        Tara knew what Willow was thinking about, and had to agree that it would be all too easy for an eager young witch to overstretch themselves, "Her description doesn't give us a lot to go on, her cousin could have tried to enter the ethereal plane and gotten lost."

        "And that's not even the worst possibility." Willow noted soberly, there were plenty of things all too eager to snack on a human soul.

        "So we're going to investigate this I take it." Tara's tone was more of a comment than a question.

        "I don't see how we can avoid it. I mean if it's magic the doctors aren't going to be able to help, and who else is there?" Willow asked firmly.

        The obvious answer would have been the Watchers but the last communications from Wesley in England had been grim; the council hadn't survived the aftermath of the Renaissance business. The last couple of months had seen the Watchers fragmenting, lining up on different sides of the argument over the rights and wrongs of the actions of Jones and his crew. There simply was no one else, "So I suppose we need to bring LJ up to speed."

        Willow shook her head, "I was thinking this was something we could work on ourselves, I mean she has enough to worry about when we don't know for sure this is magic yet."

        "And it would be a way to show our daughter that we're really not to old to do this ourselves." Tara agreed teasingly.

        "Well yeah." Willow admitted, blushing in what Tara thought was a thoroughly cute way.



        LJ felt a little odd walking down the hallways at school, the place seemed different after the summer holidays. As Tara would have pointed out that was only to be expected. Her friends had spent the summer partying, shopping, or lying on a beach. She had spent it chasing down all manner of demonic nastiness, which made for a certain distance.

        She was still contemplating that when she spotted Ally standing by her locker talking with some boy. That was unusual in itself. What was positively unheard of was when the boy leaned in and kissed her friend. LJ stood staring in shock, and then turned away in embarrassment as the exchange of spit went on seemingly endlessly.

        The boy finally released Ally and walked away down the corridor, leaving a rather dazed looking Ally behind him. LJ walked over without her friend noticing her presence, until LJ spoke to her, "Who was he?"

        Ally jumped, "Oh, LJ, hi."

        "Hi yourself, you didn't answer my question." LJ pointed out.

        Ally's eyes gleamed, "His name is Tony. We must have been going to the same school all this time and never met. Then our parents met on holiday and we got talking and realized we both went here, and we laughed, and," Ally hesitated.

        "One thing led to another." LJ offered.

        Ally blushed, "Nothing like that.”

        LJ sighed in exasperation, "I meant you became a couple."

        "Oh, that, yes we've been going out for six weeks." Ally finished up.

        LJ found her feelings were mixed; she was of course happy for her friend but there was just something not right about Ally being part of a couple when she was still single. Still she carried on in her most supportive manner, "Well you look happy, I'm glad for you."

        Ally gave her an appreciative smile, "Thanks," she hesitated as LJ turned towards her locker, "how about you, have you met anyone?"

        LJ considered that. She could tell Ally about the replica of Buffy but that hadn't been anything really, just a pretty face without any prospect of anything happening, and she would have to explain how she met the other Buffy, "No there's no one."

        Ally had expected that, "Well I might be able to help you there."

        Again Ally had managed to surprise LJ, "thanks but I'm really not looking for a boyfriend."

        Ally knew this could be awkward but plunged on anyway, "Actually I meant there are a couple of girls who might be interested."

        That got LJ's complete attention, "How do you know I would be interested?'

        Since LJ sounded curious rather than angry, and she was in too deep to get out now, Ally explained, "It's just this look you get sometimes, and well you never ever take any interest in boys whatsoever. Whenever we go see a movie you always talk about the actresses not the actors, it's stuff like that."

        LJ realized that there was a lot of truth in what Ally was saying; guess it's easier to see these things from the outside sometimes. She realized that Ally was expecting a response, "It's nice of you to offer but there's a lot of stuff going on in my life right now. It would be really, complicated, to date someone."

        "I guess I understand," Ally conceded, "but you never know when you might meet someone."

        LJ nodded, and didn't tell her friend how close she had come to taking up the offer, being a lone wolf Slayer basically sucked and having a date for Saturday night would be nice but complicated was putting things mildly, right now the closest thing she was going to get to a date was whatever demon she pummeled on patrol.



2. "Cold Warrior"




What was now an apartment complex had started life as a factory; a great art deco monstrosity from the 30's that had long since ceased to be useful for its original purpose and had passed into dereliction before being converted. Such conversions went in and out of fashion and right now they were definitely out, hence they made a good choice for students on a budget.

        The complex was laid out in a sort of indoor courtyard. The apartments were stacked against the walls in a checkerboard pattern of black and silver fronts four storeys high with elevators at either end. The central area was laid out as a common area with tables and chairs and strange bits of sculpture in lieu of plants, some of which bore labels that identified them as the products of the students.

        "Cold sort of place." Tara commented as they walked through the common area.

        "I guess if it lets you spend money on something other than rent may be you can put up with that." Willow suggested.

        Tara was still hard pressed to see anything positive about the place, "Maybe they should have spent some of it on better security."

        Willow wasn't going to argue with that, they had wandered in off the street without being challenged, and they hadn't had to resort to magic either. They rode the elevator up to the apartment and Willow still felt guilty about how they had come to be here. They had decided to investigate but that didn't mean they were going to share everything with Louise. With Tara's assistance she had come up with a cover story; to the affect that her cousin might have tried a spell and suffered some sort of psychological trauma, of course it could be true, Willow tried to convince herself.

        A padlock had been placed across the door to the apartment of the girl that they now knew as Maggie Pauli. The damage to the door had been what alerted her neighbours and the initial impression had been of a simple and rather clumsy burglary. The police lost interest when there was no trace of anything being missing, no forensics, and no signs of violence on Maggie. Willow had a key to the padlock supplied by Louise and since there didn’t seem to be anything of interest on the outside she undid the lock and the couple walked in.

        The police had insisted on preserving the scene before they lost interest and afterwards no one else had felt like going in and tidying up. That meant the magical arrangements were largely as Maggie had laid them out. Willow and Tara squatted down amongst the debris and examined the charms that the girl had laid out, ""Well she certainly knows something about the art," Tara commented as she turned an amulet over in her fingers.

        Willow nodded, "It's a good selection of charms, not very exotic but nice, especially if you had to put together some wards in a hurry."

        "Which means she was definitely expecting a big bad." Tara concluded.

        Willow stood up, and looked back at the door, "Something big and bad that followed her here."

        Tara followed her gaze, "Right, if someone just broke open the door she wouldn't have had time for this."

        "And she must have seen enough of whatever it was to be sure it wasn't a person, otherwise she would have dialed 911, or banged on a neighbours door."

        "A monster," Tara sighed, "and one that walked right through the wards Maggie set up; we have to help her," she concluded decisively

        Willow agreed, "We also need to find whatever did this."

        "Do you want to bring in LJ now?" Tara didn't sound overly eager.

        Willow was also still disinclined to involve their daughter, "She seemed a little down when she got back from school, and I don't think she needs to know about this just yet."



        LJ seldom found herself patrolling so close to home but this evening she wasn't in the mood to go anywhere exotic, and certainly not on her own. Instead she had bounced around San Diego, checking out graveyards and some other hotspots she had gleaned from searching through the medianet, or having the household computer do a search for her rather.

        So far there was nothing to distract her from thinking about her situation, obsessing, she corrected herself honestly, it was just bothering her more not less as time went on, she felt like she was going to explode, obsessive and now melodramatic, she chided herself

        LJ was on the point of calling it a night when she spotted a figure shambling towards. She tensed up until she saw it was a thoroughly human figure dressed in a suit, great, sum total of this patrol is one drunk walking it off. She was about to give the guy a sobering shock by teleporting out when a speed blur began to form in front of the man, strangely faint but coming straight at her nonetheless. LJ didn't hesitate; she summoned a witch light to let her get a good look at the man; and really wished she hadn't.

        The man looked like he had crawled off a mortuary slab and gone for a stroll. His face was pallid and slack, the muscles no longer bothering to hold an expression. It might have been comical if he wasn't lumbering towards her in a menacing manner. LJ had faced off with zombies before but they had been more mummified, this one was almost fresh.

        "I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you to back off?" LJ offered, the zombie ignored her and kept coming, "Didn't think so," she launched a fireball straight at him, and watched as it dissolved and was soaked up like a sponge. All it achieved was to encourage a burst of speed from the zombie.

        Taken by surprise LJ almost let the thing grab her, only the cold sensation as it reached for her shook her out of it and she dropped and rolled out of reach. Springing to her feet LJ saw that the zombie was still advancing on her, not remotely discouraged by her efforts so far, "Ok so let's stop playing around," she uttered an incantation and stretched her hand into the air, and then violently yanked it back.

        Lightning clawed its way out of a clear sky and enveloped the zombie. For a moment LJ thought even this was going to fail but smoke began to rise from the shambling figure's clothes and in an astonishingly short time he was reduced to smoldering pile of ash. LJ went over and looked at the remains; there was nothing left that would indicate what they had previously been, or any clue as to how the zombie had gotten here, "So where the heck did you come from?" she asked the ashes.



        Louise kept looking around furtively as she led Willow and Tara along the hospital corridor. It was beginning to annoy Willow, this was a perfectly ordinary hospital visit as far as anyone else was concerned; or it would be if Louise weren’t acting so suspiciously. "Please try and relax Louise." Tara suggested in her best calming tone.

        "How can I? How am I going to explain your being here if any of the rest of my family show up?" Louise sounded increasingly panicky as she went on.

        "By telling them that I'm a psychiatrist checking into the possibility that this is a psychosomatic trauma." Tara reminded her.

        "And I'm her assistant." Willow couldn't help smiling at that.

        Louise relaxed a little but Tara’s suggestion provoked another question, "Are you sure that isn't the explanation? That she just did something that was so scary she went into shock?"

        Willow could see the Tara's professional pride was being roused by Louise's amateur psychology. She intervened, "Louise remember in my office you asked me if I believed in magic, believed it was real. Well I don't believe, I know."

        The certitude in her voice made Louise hesitate and Tara followed up, "Something happened to Louise and it was very real, just rather out of the ordinary. There is a chance though that we can help her." That left Louise in a thoughtful mood; which was better than her previous jumpy, guilty, manner.

        Maggie looked as if she was peacefully sleeping. The sensors that monitored her vital signs were subtly incorporated into the frame of the bed, doing away with the alarming looking wires and pads of the past. Since Maggie was breathing on her own there weren't any life support machines so the illusion was complete, except that if you tried to rouse her nothing would happen, she was in a place no one could reach her.

        Willow stood by the doorway with Louise while Tara walked around the bed and looked carefully at Maggie's aura, it looks sort of shredded, she commented silently to Willow, not wanting to make Louise any more disturbed than she was until they had to.

        How do you mean baby? Willow enquired.

        It literally looks like something reached in and tore pieces out. Tara's thoughts sounded queasy.

        Willow didn't blame her. The aura was the visible representation of the soul, those missing piece meant that whatever had attacked Maggie wasn't interested in flesh and blood, it wanted something more basic, part of the very essence of what made the girl who she was. To avoid the uneasy feeling in her own stomach Willow focused on the practicalities, [/i]do you think we can help her[/i]?

        Tara thought it over; [/i]It's a magical attack so there ought to be something.

        Like a transfusion[/i], Willow announced with a sudden inspiration, and we know someone whose pretty good at healing, her reluctance to involve LJ gave way in the face of Maggie's plight.

        Now it was Tara's turn to put the brakes on, perhaps but I think we should have a better idea of what we're dealing with before we unleash LJ's enthusiasm on the girl.

        That made sense to Willow and as she considered a course of action she became aware that Louise was watching her intently. From the girls point of view the pair had simply stood silently staring into space for several minutes, "Sorry we were, thinking this over. I believe can help but it's going to take a little research." Some very fast research before whatever this is strikes again.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt II
PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:15 am 
3. "Cold Trail”




Tara was considering whether they could get away with laying a protective charm around Maggie as a precaution when a young and frazzled looking doctor walked in, "What are you doing here?" his voice was faintly hysterical as spotted Willow and Tara.

        "Visiting." Tara responded succinctly and politely.

        "They're with me Doctor O'Connell." Louise added.

        As O'Connell spotted Louise he relaxed, marginally, "You aren't relatives are you?"

        "I'm Doctor Maclay," Tara didn't often resort to her formal title but this seemed like an appropriate moment, "psychiatry."

        That put O'Connell in a more respectful frame of mind, "Is Maggie a patient of yours?"

        "No, I've just been asked to look into the case."

        "And I am assisting." Willow added helpfully.

        O'Connell was uncertain how to respond, he decided on going back to his original purpose for coming in, "I just wanted to check on Maggie before we move her."

        That startled Louise, "Moving her where?"

        "To an intensive care unit where she can be monitored more closely, just a precautionary measure." O'Connell smiled reassuringly.

        Tara didn't buy it; she had offered that same professional optimism to enough patients to know when it was being used to avoid a difficult question. She decided not to call O'Connell on it in front of Louise; she did however cast a significant glance in Willow's direction. Willow understood; it was time to go and do some digging elsewhere, fast.



        As it happened Willow and Tara arrived in the living room only a few moments after LJ appeared in the kitchen. She walked in with a glass of milk in one hand and several chocolate cookies in the other, "Hey moms, night on the town?"

        "Just visiting a friend," Willow offered disingenuously, "How was your patrol?"

        "About usual, I think I'll just going to go upstairs and veg out for a while before I go to bed." LJ suggested casually.

        Willow and Tara were only too happy to agree, "Just don't stay up too late dear." Tara reminded her.

        "I won't." LJ promised as she made for the door.

        Had any of them been less intent on their own agendas they would have known something suspicious was going on. Willow and Tara would certainly have known that LJ was dissembling, and never believed she was just going to her room to relax. If LJ hadn't decided solving the mystery of her attacker on her own as a distraction from her other 'issues' she would have asked what sort of friend they were teleporting to visit; as it was they were preoccupied and so they went in their own directions.



        As soon as her room door was closed LJ picked up a tablet and spoke to the house computer, " I need you to access the magical database, the subject is zombies."

        "That is a rather broad subject." The computer pointed out.

        "Just give me an overview, the basics of; zombification." LJ wasn't sure that was a word but it did the trick.

        "There are three fundamental classes of what are commonly referred to as zombies." The computer began in its best lecturing tone.

        "Three?" LJ couldn't help interrupting.

        "Three." The computers tone bordered on the terse, "The first is the 'accidental' classification. This most commonly involves the exposure of the dead to powerful magics, especially ritual sacrifice."

        "Like the unquiet dead, the ones at the archeological dig." LJ suggested.

        The computer dredged up the reference, "Exactly, there is no intent to raise the dead in such instances, they constitute the closest group to the image of zombies perpetrated in cinema, rising from the grave to punish the living."

        LJ mulled that over, "Well I don't think it's very likely that's what I ran into tonight; what about two and three?"

        "The second category is Necromancy, magic involving the dead. In such rituals it is common for the dead to be resurrected, usually to be asked questions or used in ritual acts themselves. It is also possible that the dead may have a curse or geas placed on them that they have to fulfill before they can return to the grave."

        "That sounds a little more likely." LJ commented, although if someone was gunning for her, and there were plenty of candidates, it seemed a pretty lame effort, "What about number three?"

        "That differs from the other two in that the victims are living."

        LJ practically fell off her bed, "I thought zombies were dead?" she had a very nasty knot forming in the pit of her stomach.

        "No, in certain Voodoo rites a victim is placed in a death like state that leaves them under the control of the priest or more commonly priestess."

        LJ really, really didn't like the notion that the pile of ashes she had left in the alleyway had been an actual living person but there was no way to be sure now, unless; "Computer I'm going to feed you an image of a person I want you to check everywhere in San Diego for them, missing persons, DMV, everywhere."

        "I can do that but it will take time."

        "Then we better get started." LJ laid her hands on the tablet and focused on the face of the zombie.



        Part of the reason the computer needed so much time was that it was already devoting most of its resources on behalf of Willow and Tara. As soon as LJ was safely upstairs the pair settled down to do some digging about why O'Connell was really so concerned about Maggie, "He was definitely unhappy about something." Tara stated positively.

        "Right but it could be something as mundane as a malpractice suit." Willow countered.

        "Which you don't really believe." Tara pointed out.

        Willow nodded in agreement, "Which I don't really believe," she ran a finger over the screen until she isolated Maggie's file. It came as no surprise that there was some special notation attached to her record. Most of it was medical jargon and abbreviations that Tara was able to untangle. One though resisted immediate analysis, SRG.

        "Are there any other similar notations in the record?" Willow asked the computer.

        "There are five other SRG entries."

        "Show me." Willow demanded.

        The entries racked up besides Maggie's, and were practically carbon copies in their description of the symptomology, "Whatever this is it's been busy." Tara commented grimly.

        "And it explains the isolation, the doctors think they have some new disease and they want to keep all the victims in one place, and keep the media from finding out." Willow could understand the impulse but all it had done was let some monster stalk San Diego with impunity.

        Willow quickly cross checked with other databases, searching for a pattern in the attacks, and getting nowhere fast, "Maggie's attack made a kind of sense, in a demony way, but some of these are just weird. A man parks in an underground garage, gets in an elevator, and ten floors up he's found in a coma. That's pretty arrogant even for a demon."

        Tara knew that was a distinct possibility with a demon but there was another, "Or pretty desperate."

        "Either way there's no pattern to it, day and night, all over the city, men and women." Willow was very unhappy; she liked patterns.

        Tara tried to help, "Well it seems to take two women for every man, that's sort of a pattern."

        Willow smiled and was about to thank her for trying, and then stopped, there was a pattern to that ratio. It could just be coincidence but if she was right it was a lucky break, if you call that lucky.

        Tara watched as Willows fingers traced out a series of commands on the screen and saw six identical strings of symbols appear, and recognized them as pieces of genetic code, and one she was particularly familiar with, "That's the magic gene."

        Willow wished for once that she hadn't been so clever, "Whatever this thing is it likes witches." Suddenly this little investigation was very, very, personal.



        LJ wasn't much happier with her results, the zombie had turned up on the missing persons database, Jacob Sawyer, last seen at his apartment four days ago. She had been hoping for some report of a break in at a funeral home, or empty graves but instead what she had was a grainy picture of a man very much alive. The man she had encountered had looked dead. You can't be sure he wasn't, she reminded herself. There was only one thing she could focus on to keep the guilt at bay, someone, somewhere, had turned this man into the walking dead, and she was going to find out who.



        The office was cramped, not because it was small as because it was stacked with bric-a-brac, ornaments, boxes of old books, plaques and diplomas. The woman looked disapprovingly at the clutter, "Why don't you unpack all this, or throw it away."

        The man behind the desk shrugged, "It's a big piece of my past, and I don't currently have the time to sort through it all, unless you'd like me to take a few days off?"

        "I also don't appreciate your sense of humour." The woman stated flatly.

        The man was equally firm, "And I don't appreciate being nagged, if I did I wouldn't be divorced."

        The woman bridled at that, "It's not nagging to remind you that you have responsibilities; and of the potential consequences of failure to fulfill them."

        "Are you threatening me?"

        "Not at all," the woman assured him, "when I'm making threats you won't need to ask."



4. “Cold Fear”




The night passed sleeplessly for Willow and Tara, both of them unable to settle after their discovery. Instead they huddled together in the middle of the bed sharing their thoughts, this is stupid, being scared like a little kid. Willow grumbled silently.

        It's not stupid or childish, what we're afraid of is real, Tara countered, it's personal, and impersonal at the same, which is a hard concept to get your head around.

        Willow realized that Tara was, as usual, right. Most of the demons they had faced over the years had been like a virus, striking indiscriminately, not caring who they victimized just so long as there was a victim. There had of course been exceptions, the Shadow, Glory, the First, but they had been known, up front, positively eager for Willow and Tara to know who their enemy was. This fell between those two paths, something was seeking out those who shared one of the things that was at the core of who they were, their magic. At the same time this enemy was faceless and anonymous, able it seemed to go wherever it liked and strike without anyone noticing, and that was scary.       

        I don't suppose you've changed your mind about telling LJ
? Tara asked mostly to interrupt Willow's dark train of thought.

        No, we have no idea what we're dealing with and she has enough to cope with; I don't want her seeing how rattled we are by this.

        Tara accepted that, for now, so we find out what's behind this, and I think we should also check out the medical team looking after the victims.

        What for?

        Because if we're going to help Maggie and the others we may have to infiltrate the doctors
, Tara was still trying to figure out how they might help but it would be good idea to be prepared if the opportunity arose. Healing a physical injury by magic was hazardous and uncertain, to the healer as much as anyone. Working on a magical injury was going to be that much worse.

        Well if anybody's going to do any infiltrating it probably better be Doctor Maclay, Willow suggested, I'll stick to hacking and sneaking.

        Deal
, Tara agreed and the pair snuggled closer and tried to sleep as best as they could.



        Morning in the Rosenberg-Maclay house was a bedraggled affair, no one had slept well, and no one was awake enough to notice the state of the others. Instead everyone just concentrated on keeping up a front and dragging themselves out the door. Willow and LJ had classes, Tara had appointments, none of which could be ditched because of a crisis, however menacing it might seem.

        Slayer constitution meant that LJ had largely recovered by the time she got to the school doors, and so she waved goodbye to Willow as she drove away and steeled herself to make it through the morning, and suppressed the urge just to cut class and go investigate her zombie; that would bring the wrath of her parents down on LJ's head. And that would not only bring grounding and removal of allowance in its wake; it would force her to reveal what had happened in the alleyway and she still wasn't ready for that.

        Time finally ground its way to the lunch bell and since Ally had other, boy related, plans LJ had no trouble slipping away from school unnoticed. She grabbed a sandwich and a soda from the canteen and wolfed them down before teleporting out to the street where the unfortunate Sawyer had been living.

        LJ had been visualizing some seedy dive in a dingy back street; instead it was a mid price apartment in a mid range district of San Diego. Not as broad and leafy as the street she lived on but pleasant enough; not the sort of place where you expected zombies to come crawling out of the woodwork. Doing some quick scouting around LJ confirmed that there was no one watching so she summoned up the concealment glamour and sidled over to the apartment to stare through the window and make sure no one was house-sitting on Mr. Sawyers behalf.

        Moments later she was standing in the living room looking around her, well the moms would approve, he's certainly tidy. There were no magazines lying on the coffee table, the matching cushions on the sofa were plumped up and neatly spaced and as she carried on looking it struck her that it was more than just the cushions that matched; everything in the living room was a perfect set. LJ walked into the kitchen and opened the cupboards; plates, cups, bowls, glasses. Everything was there, again in perfectly matched sets; no mismatched substitute for a smashed glass, no souvenir mugs from some holiday.

        It was the same story in the bathroom, a complete set of towels, all the same style, matching toothbrush holder and soap dish by the basin. In the bedroom closet there were trousers, jackets, shirts and sweaters; all the same labels, same style, probably from the same store. There was no past its best favourite sweat shirt or tie shoved to the back because it had simply gone out of style, no old clothes at all in fact.

        LJ walked back into the living room and looked again at the matching furniture, nothing in this place could be more than a few months old, and it had all probably been bought at the same time and probably from the same store, which raised the interesting question of why Jacob Sawyer had felt the need to start from scratch with his life? And did it have anything to do with his winding up as a shambling zombie roaming the streets of San Diego? Right like it’s just a huge coincidence.



        Willow nibbled a sandwich as she sat at her desk and regarded the tablet. The victims of the, whatever it was, had been neatly clustered together but the medical team was harder to pin down, it seemed like every doctor in the hospital had come along to poke and prod them at some point. She swallowed another mouthful of Tuna and mayonnaise, and wished once more that the canteen would invest in some better quality bread. Willow decided to leave the regular staff aside, this kind of case was bound to bring in specialists and they would be a lot easier to infiltrate since a strange face there wouldn’t stand out.

        The list of specialists wasn't too long to Willow's relief, neurology, cardiology, neurology, virology, genetics; cryonics. That brought Willow to a grinding halt, cryonics had made a lot of progress over the years but no one would seriously consider freezing a living human being, not publicly anyway, the grim thought came unbidden. Could the doctors be so desperate that they would actually be considering it? If they were that added a new priority to the list, and one that went right at the top.



        LJ hadn't wanted to ransack the apartment, it seemed like adding insult to injury after what she had done to the occupant but she had no choice. No one could just sweep away a whole life; there had to be something here that hadn't come out of a department store. What she eventually found wasn't strictly speaking a personal item but it didn't come from any store. It looked like a wristwatch or a silver bracelet with a large crystal set in to it. As she ran her finger over it the crystal lit up and reported heartbeat, blood flow and several other readings LJ didn't understand. She turned it over and looked at the inside, it was engraved in neat letters, Property of the Petersen Institute. It wasn't much but it was a place to start at least.



        Tara had a gap in her appointment schedule and Willow had finished with her classes so she slipped into Tara's office and stretched out on the couch. Willow's skirt hitched up as she did so in a manner that Tara found quite distracting but she managed to focus on the matter at hand, "So one of the specialists they've called is in a specialist in cryonics? Freezing dead people so they can be revived when science figures out a way to revive them?"

        "Corpsicles if you want to be ghoulish about it," Willow added, and saw Tara's grimace, "Sorry I've been digging around in this subject and I think the gruesomeness is rubbing off on me."

        "You didn't find anything about anyone trying to freezing living people did you?" That suggestion worried Tara the most.

        Willow hesitated, "I didn't find any references to it outside of some sci-fi stuff about deep space travel but that doesn’t mean much; if you were freezing real live people you wouldn't want to advertise it, wouldn't do this doctor Debreaux's reputation a lot of good."

        "So we better find out for sure before they start experimenting on Maggie and the others."

        "That's what I thought as well," Willow agreed, "so I managed to track down the place where Debreaux normally works."

        "Well I have one more patient to see and then I think we should pay this place a visit." Tara knew it was irrational but the notion of place where they kept people like that unsettled her, and the notion they might do it to living people made her feel a lot worse, "Where is his place of business?"

        Willow referred to her tablet, "Just outside of San Diego; a place called the Petersen Institute."

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt III
PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:16 am 
5. “Cold Front”




The Petersen Institute was set in leafy tranquil grounds; there were no walls or wire, rather the place depended on isolation and discrete electronic security to maintain privacy. Up close the building looked more like a Victorian mansion than a hi-tech medical facility, which was doubtless the idea.

        Tara paced out the perimeter of the Institute with growing unease. She had located several air vents concealed among the shrubbery, pointing to an extensive underground facility, a lair, as Tara couldn't help thinking of it. She walked back to the tree that Willow was sat against checking her tablet.

        They were both shrouded in the concealment glamour but even so they were doing their best to avoid the cameras and so Tara had to approach the tree by a roundabout route, "Have you found anything about the underground facility?"

        Willow nodded, "Eventually, they did their best to hide it in different databases, looks like we're not the only ones this place creeps out, they’re worried about unwelcome visitors."

        That didn't surprise Tara, having this place in your neighbourhood would be like having a graveyard in your garden. She suppressed a shiver, "How about a back way in?"

        Willow scrambled to her feet, "There's an external entrance to the basement, don't think we'll have a lot of trouble."

        Despite her unease Tara couldn't help smiling at Willow's certitude, "Then we might as well get started with the B&E."



        Willow wished that she had brought a jacket, or possibly even a parka. It might just be psychosomatic but the place felt cold, and they were still just walking down a corridor, when they turned into the first chamber it dropped to freezing. The room was occupied by a dozen tall metal cylinders, connected to pipes that ran into the floor and were coated with frost. Tara stopped in the doorway but Willow walked in slowly and examined the nearest cylinder. There was a plaque fixed to it bearing a name, date, and a series of medical details that left no doubts about what was in the container, a frozen body.

        Tara was watching from the doorway as Willow made her examination. She couldn't bring herself to go closer; there was just something so, wrong, about this whole idea. She was contemplating that when she had the sensation of something pressing into her. She spun round and saw nothing, reluctantly she stepped back into the room, "Honey I think we have company."

        Willow looked around the room, without seeing anything more than Tara had. She prepared a fireball, "Guide me baby."

        Tara focused trying to pick out what had brushed against her, stretching her senses to pick out a trace of an aura, and quickly picked it out; because it was astonishingly familiar "Hold your fire honey," she surprised Willow by releasing the glamour, which shaded into bewilderment as that was followed by her daughter appearing in the middle of the room.

        The phrase, "What are you doing here?" Emerged from three throats.



        The atmosphere in the living room was tense to say the least; the scene at the institute had threatened to degenerate into a full-blown row, which would draw security down on their heads. Tara had managed to keep the lid on until they teleported back to more private surrounding, though it didn't defuse the tension, “Have you been spying on me?" LJ demanded.

        That nonplussed Willow and Tara for a moment, "No, we had no idea where you were." Tara assured her.

        "Which is the real question, why didn't we know where you were?" Willow was upset with herself as much as LJ; things could have turned disastrous in the cold room.

        LJ was equally aware of that, and equally unwilling to say it out loud, "Well why didn't you tell me where you were going?"

        "I think it's because you wanted to prove you could do this on your own." Tara suggested.

        Both partner and daughter turned to argue, and stopped as they saw the others reaction. Tara waited until they looked suitably embarrassed, "Obviously we've all been working on the same thing, and I'd love to know how."



        "The zombie had an apartment?" Willow was finding LJ's story more than a little bewildering.

        LJ nodded, "And I found a medical monitoring bracelet with the name of the institute on it, so I looked the place up and went to take a look around."

        Willow was still puzzled, "Did you keep the bracelet?"

        Embarrassedly LJ nodded and reached into her pocket, "Didn't figure he would need it anymore," she mumbled.

        Willow took it without comment and turned it over. In addition to the institute engraving there was a makers mark and a serial number. Willow picked up her tablet and started a search. It didn't take long to find the company, and hardly any longer to break into the sales records, "The institute bought twenty of these things."

        "Well it's not that weird, a clinic giving the bracelets to its patients I mean." LJ pointed out.

        Willow and Tara glanced at one another, and it was Tara who answered LJ's point, "You didn't look up what the institute does, did you dear?"

        LJ had a very bad feeling, "No, why?" Tara told her why and LJ looked appalled, "All those tubes had dead people in them?"

        "Yes they did dear." Tara suppressed a smile as she confirmed the details.

        "So what was Sawyer doing there?" LJ demanded.

        Willow looked up from her tablet, "He was a resident."

        "A medical resident?" Tara wondered dubiously.

        Willow shook her head exactly as Tara had expected, "A resident in one of those tubes, Mr. Sawyer died in nineteen eighty-eight," She handed over the tablet. Willow had expanded LJ's original search and dug up an awful lot more information, and wished she hadn't thought of the words 'dug up'.

        Tara and LJ examined the details, "They brought him back." Tara whispered.

        LJ remembered her encounter the night before, "Not very well."

        Initially Willow had been interested in the institute only to prevent further victimization of Maggie and the other patients. Now the whole thing was swinging around, "I wonder if Doctor Debreaux was invited to join in the investigation of the coma patients, or if he invited himself along?"

        "Maybe we go ask him." LJ suggested, and nw neither of her parents were inclined to argue with her.



        Walking up to the front doors of the Petersen Institute was a rather different experience than skulking around the grounds, for Tara and LJ anyway. The place was quite imposing with carved angels framing the great arched doorway, gargoyles would be more appropriate, Tara decided. All the money they had spent on a fancy frontage didn't make them any the less ghoulish in her view. She was too well trained a psychiatrist not to analyze that emotion. Tara decided it was simply that to her what that they were doing was promising resurrection, and in magical terms that was dangerous and costly, far too costly.

        As they reached the door LJ pulled it open ostentatiously. Tara hesitated for a moment until she felt something, or someone, brush past her, she's in, Tara informed LJ and the pair of them marched into the institute. The reception area of the institute looked more like a car showroom than a clinic. Tara did her best to hide her distaste and strode up to the reception desk.

        The young man behind smiled at Tara and LJ, especially at LJ in Tara's opinion. She stepped into the line of sight between him and her daughter and fixed the receptionist with an icy stare, "We want to see doctor Debreaux."

        The receptionist was nonplussed by the abrupt approach, "Do you have an appointment?" he asked lamely.

        "Absolutely not." Tara assured him.

        The receptionist had the sudden powerful desire to be anywhere else right now, he glanced towards LJ hoping for some escape but the teenager had a wicked grin on her face. He turned back to Tara and took a deep breath, "I'm sorry but the doctor is a very busy man, he can't just see people who walk in off the street."

        The mans apologetic smile didn't cut any ice with Tara, "I think you'll find that he will make time for us, tell him that we're interested in the whereabouts of Jacob Sawyer."

        LJ could see that meant nothing to the receptionist but her mother’s unflinching determination had him reaching for the phone. As he spoke quietly he kept glancing nervously at the pair. LJ suspected her mother wad enjoying herself, though she would never admit it.

        The man gave a relieved smile as he put the phone down, "Someone will be out see you in a moment."

        "Doctor Debreaux?" Tara asked dubiously.

        "His assistant." The receptionist squeaked and retreated.

        Before Tara could follow up a young woman emerged through the double doors at the back of the reception, "I'm Mary Case, I'm Doctor Debreaux's personal assistant."

        Tara suspected the woman had been hiding behind the door listening but let it go, "I'm Doctor Tara Maclay, and this is my daughter Lydia," she also ignored her daughter's grimace at the use of her proper name.

        Mary was about twenty-five in Tara's estimation with light brown hair and now a frown on her face, "Doctor Maclay?"

        "I'm a psychiatrist." Tara explained.

        That didn't make Mary any happier, "Perhaps we should go through to see doctor Debreaux."

        Tara followed after Mary as she headed back for the double doors and LJ fell in behind, mom do you see anything weird in her aura?

        Surprised by the question Tara concentrated, it looks normal to me.

        You don't see the glitter?

        Glitter?

        I can see little points of light scattered all over her speed blur
, LJ expanded on her explanation.

        Tara stared at Mary again, I still don't see it, she admitted grimly.

        Oh, was LJ's only response, if there was something here that could evade Tara's senses then what kind of trouble might Willow be getting herself into?

       

6. "Cold Storage"




The upper levels of the institute were intended to be soothing to the relatives of the people who were, 'interred' in the place. There was none of the austere concrete and strip lighting that characterized the basement, which of course none of the relatives ever saw.

        Willow wondered how many of the customers would sign up if they had seen what she had seen? Probably run for the exit instead, she decided. Her plan was to find a quiet computer terminal and do some snooping, what she had found instead was a cardboard box sat on a desk in a dusty office with a stack of metal plaques in it, all of which bore the marks of being unscrewed from something. Willow turned them over and wasn't remotely surprised to find they were the same plates she had seen on the tubes in the basement, and one of them belonged to Jacob Sawyer. Willow did a quick count; there were a dozen plates in the box and the way they had just been left lying around suggested a carelessness that didn't bode well for their operation.

        Slipping out of the office Willow pressed herself against the wall as several people walked down the corridor, two men in lab coats and a rather severe looking woman following behind them. The woman glanced towards the wall and to Willow's amazement and horror instead of turning away again reached out and grabbed Willow's arm; the glamour collapsed and the woman's face was suffused with anger, "Why are you here?"

        Before Willow could even begin to frame an answer the woman shook her head, "No, before you try and lie to me remember that I am here with the support of the highest authority; whatever you may have been told I speak for the Athenai in this place, and you would be best served to tell me who sent you."

        Willow made a show of deliberating deeply for a moment before she gave the woman a wicked grin, "Actually I hadn't heard of them until ten seconds ago; maybe you want to let go my arm and tell me more about them?" As she spoke Willow's eyes turned dark and the woman backed away, before magical energy danced across her fingertips.



        Tara examined the cup of coffee and then looked back at doctor Debreaux sat behind the desk. There was something faintly repellent about the man in her view, perhaps her view on the work he did coloured her view but it could also be the overdone tan, too perfect teeth, and just enough grey in his hair to look distinguished rather than simply old. It was all just too perfect, purely intended for projecting an image, and the office they were sat in wasn't any better, clearly intended for show not for working in. Mary Case was standing next to the doctor and seeing that he had no intention of opening the conversation she decided to ask the question she had bitten back in the hallway, "How do you know Mr. Sawyer?"

        LJ looked at her mother and tried to keep the anxiety out of her expression, this was the part of the plan she was least happy about since it called for her mother to lie outright. She was in for something of a shock as Tara announced calmly, "As I said I'm a psychiatrist. Mr. Sawyer was having trouble adjusting to his situation and now he's vanished."

        That was smooth mom, LJ offered up the compliment silently. Nothing Tara had said was a lie, though the middle part was a guess, and neither the doctor nor his assistant noticed that Tara hadn't really answered the question.

        Now Debreaux decided to speak up, "We provided extensive counseling for Jacob."

        "Not a runway success." LJ chipped in, which got her a withering look. She didn't back down, "I met the man, he wasn't well adjusted."

        "Not surprising of course, being resurrected in a world that has moved forward thirty years, and there are the unknown traumas of the process itself." Tara followed up smoothly and still without any actually lying.

        That had the desired effect on Debreaux, "The restoration process is far from traumatic, ask Mary."

        Both Tara and LJ turned their gaze onto the woman. She looked deeply embarrassed, "I suffered a brain aneurism in nineteen ninety nine, though I don't remember much about it. I was the first person doctor Debreaux revived."       

        Debreaux cut across her, "That was a year ago and does Mary seem traumatized? What we have here is a major medical advance, and one that I hope you understand must remain confidential for the time being."

        Tara could see the man's aura was in turmoil; she just couldn't be sure whether it was because she had impugned his technique or because he had darker secrets. Her uncertainty was increased by the apparent well being of Mary Case. She was just planning exactly what to say to find out which it was when an ear splitting klaxon drowned out every other thought except one, Willow.



        When the woman summoned up the magical energies Willow wasn't especially worried, she could see anxiety in her eyes. Willow decided to see if she could turn it up a notch, "You want to tell me your name? I hate to kick a stranger's ass."

        "My name is Cassandra, and I have no interest in knowing a dead person," she let fly with a bright blue arc of energy that leapt towards Willow.

        Willow knew that LJ would probably have brushed it aside with a glance but even so she felt her own performance was pretty good. She thrust the palm of her right hand forward and the arc splintered and struck the wall behind her, "That's just plain rude." Willow used her best lecture hall voice and then gestured; sending Cassandra slamming into the opposite wall.

        The other witch shook her head and tried to focus on Willow. She saw the redhead’s eyes had shifted back to normal but that didn't make Cassandra feel any better. It was painfully clear that a continued fight with this redheaded woman was going to be an ugly and futile business. Cassandra had an image of herself lying here sobbing and telling the witch whatever she wanted to know. Knowing the likely consequences of that she looked desperately for an alternative, and spotted it ten feet to Willow's left.

        Willow tensed as Cassandra unleashed another bolt of energy but it flew wide; and she realized she wasn’t the target when it slammed into a fire alarm on the wall. As the klaxon began to wail Willow's telepathy cut through the noise, wuss. With that Willow summoned up the concealment glamour and raced for the double doors. Her timing was excellent as the two orderlies came racing back swinging the doors wide and letting her easily slip through.

        Cassandra was pulled to her feet by one of the orderlies, "What's going on here?" he demanded.

        The witch was about to demand they go after her opponent when common sense got the better of her; if she demanded they go look for an invisible woman the only thing they would search out was a straight jacket, "Just an accident, take me to see Debreaux." There was no way Cassandra was walking these corridors alone right now.



        As the alarm resonated through the office LJ did her best to match Tara's expression of innocent bemusement. Debreaux on the other hand did bother to hide his annoyance, "I'm sorry but I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you ladies to leave, I'm sure you'll understand," his tone said he didn't care whether they did or not.

        Tara was trying to figure out a way to stall when a voice in her head removed the necessity, I'm on my way to the front door baby, see you outside. With that reassurance Tara got up and smiled, "Of course but I still have questions about Mr. Sawyer, I will be back."

        "Fine, fine," Debreaux called over his shoulder dismissively, "Mary will show you out."

        Tara made no effort to resist and LJ followed behind. Case lead the way towards the exit, "Regardless of what you may feel Doctor Maclay it is imperative that this remains a secret, for the sake of myself and the other patients if for no other reason."

        That Tara had to concede was a strong point, she had no intention of turning the media loose on any innocent bystanders, assuming they were innocent. She extended her hand to Case, "I can promise you that at least."

        Case took it, and as she did so Tara felt a slip of paper pressed into her palm, "Thank you doctor, I'm glad I can count on your discretion."



        Willow had slid through the door as LJ once more ostentatiously held it open. She found a quiet spot to drop the glamour and walked over to where the car was parked, casually leaning against it as Tara and LJ approached, "I take it you ran into some trouble," Tara commented, "I knew you needed me with you."

        "Well it would have been nice but I did find out something useful, well it might be useful." Willow wasn't exactly sure what her run in with Cassandra implied about the institue.

        Tara knew exactly what Willow meant as she fingered the slip of paper in her hand, "My little distraction took an interesting turn as well."

        LJ looked from one to the other, "Could we save the mutual appreciation society until we get home?" She was just grumpy that she hadn't gotten to do much more than sit around in the office.

        Willow smiled reassuringly, "Don't worry dear; I'm sure you'll have an opportunity to get in trouble again before we're through with this."

"I hope so." LJ muttered.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am

Edited by: Sheridan at: 9/28/04 1:21 am


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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt IV
PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:18 am 
7. "Cold Equations"




The piece of paper Mary Case had given Tara was unfolded and lying on the living room table. All it contained was the name of a park near the institute, a particular statue, and a time several hours from now, after nightfall, "Do you think it's a trap?" LJ wondered.

        "It is sort of trap like," Willow didn't exactly sound convinced and went on, "but why? Just knowing about Sawyer doesn't seem like enough."

        "Maybe it is," Tara pointed out, "we don't know how important it is to Debreaux, or Case, or this Cassandra woman."

        Willow shook her head, "All we have are pieces, there are the coma patients, the zombie Sawyer, and doctor Debreaux bridging them, now we have this Cassandra woman."

        "And Mary Case who was the first person Debreaux; revived." Tara added.

        "Or the first one he succeeded with." LJ concluded gloomily.

        That ugly thought left a gloomy silence only broken when Willow picked up the piece of paper, "I suppose we have to go to the meeting."

        Tara took the paper, "We have to go," she gestured to herself and LJ, "we're who she's expecting."

        "Well I can come along and stay hidden, in case." Willow began.

        LJ interrupted her, "In case what mom? I think the two of us can deal."

        Willow knew she couldn't really argue that, "So what am I supposed to do instead?"

        Tara smiled, "What you do best, poke around and find out about these Athenai."

        The mention of that name brought that the pompous image of Cassandra to mind, "Well I can do that."

        "And if there's any real fun to be had we can always give you a call." LJ offered magnanimously.

        "Thank you so much." Willow muttered.

        LJ ignored the sarcasm; "I'm going to go pick out some discrete weaponry to take to the meeting.”

        As she watched LJ march out of the room Tara was sure that her daughter's real purpose was to give her and Willow some alone time. Tara appreciated that; but not for the reasons LJ imagined, "Have you ever heard of this Athenai before?"

        "No," Willow confirmed Tara's suspicion, "I've never seen it mentioned anywhere."

        "I can think of one place where it might be hidden away, the Apocrypha."

        Willow considered that for a moment, and then leaned in and kissed Tara, "Have I told you lately that you're brilliant?"

        "Not for a couple of weeks." Tara commented.

        "And you didn't want to mention this in front of our daughter." Willow deduced.

        Technically they had given LJ full access to the Watcher archives but also technically the Apocrypha wasn't part of the archive. Willow had felt a little guilty about that omission but it had seemed essential. They had shared almost everything about the past, and potential future, but some things remained too dangerous and painful to discuss, top of the list would be the Fire. The Watchers had decided to keep the existence of those elemental crystals out of the regular records, given the temptations and potential consequences. Willow had come to terms with what had happened long ago but that didn't mean she enjoyed thinking about or wanted her daughter to know about that burning madness. Willow pushed the thought aside, "Ok so while you two are out on the town I'll do some digging."



        LJ walked into kitchen checking the balance of a long thin dagger, "Please put that away dear, we don't want to scare Miss Case away."

        Her daughter gestured and the knife disappeared into a sheath up her sleeve, "Are you sure about that?"

        Tara put the coffee cup back down, "She's certainly unhappy and nervous about things but she's not devious, though I wouldn't say the same about Debreaux."

        "Yeah but what about the glitter?"

        LJ's description of the effect she had spotted in woman's trail didn't ring any bells with Tara and she had no idea what it meant, "What do you think it is?"

        That sort of question still took LJ by surprise, the notion that she might know more than her parents, or at least know something they didn't, "Could be a sign of something hanging around her, or a spell, something to manipulate her aura so it looks normal."

        "That's a disturbing notion." Tara's expression said that she was wondering why that particular had crossed LJ's mind.

        LJ ignored the question quite openly, "Just a thought."

        Tara picked up the coffee cup and finished it off; letting LJ stew while she did so, "Alright I better pick out some ingredients, we'll find out if Miss Case is packing any magic."

        LJ decided to treat that as a win, "Ok then, good," she announced and left the kitchen with all the dignity she could muster.



        Willow gave her daughter and partner a hug, "You will call me if there's any trouble?"

        "We'll call you if we need you." Tara made the subtle distinction, "I promise."

        Willow decided to live with that and stepped back before Tara and LJ. She stood for a moment and stared at the empty space. After a moment she shook it off, "Computer open the Apocrypha files."

        The house computer was sophisticated enough not to need any passwords, it simply reached into an out of the way chunk of file storage, "The files are ready."

        "Start a search, look for any reference to a group calling itself the Athenai.

        Several seconds passed, which in computers terms was a long and painstaking search, "There are a significant number of references, gathered over a long time frame."

        That didn't surprise Willow given the meticulous nature of the Watchers, "When's the first entry?"

        "338 BC."

        "Huh?" Was the best response that Willow could come up with.

        "The Watchers are in possession of a copy of a papyrus in Greek containing the oath sworn by members of a coven of Witches called the Athenai."

        Willow now understood, and was able to make some deductions, "Did they by any chance dedicate this oath to the goddess Athena?"

        "They did, and they dedicated themselves to knowledge, wisdom, and truth."

        "Well the woman I ran into didn't strike me as a seeker after truth."

        "The Athenai were suppressed after the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the state religion. They reemerged in the tenth century in the Byzantine Empire. They continued on until fourteen fifty before they were suppressed again; the Watcher's speculate on the connection between that and the fall of the empire several years later."

        "Another burst of religious zeal?" Willow's tone was bitter; the historical treatment of those who practiced the craft was one of her bete noirs.

        "No, a matter of political necessity. The Athenai had become familiar with axiom 'Knowledge is power' and were applying it to openly for the emperors liking."

        That fitted in rather better with Willow's impression of Cassandra, "But that wasn't the end of them was it?"

        "The Athenai appear in Watcher reports again in seventeenth century Italy and then move around the globe. They lost track of the Athenai in the early part of the twentieth century; the theory was that they had simply become aware of being monitored and adopted a lower profile."

        "But their still in operation," Willow mused to herself, "And involved for some reason with the Petersen Institute." Willow's thoughts descended into silence as she considered what sort of people they might be up against.



        Cassandra had to keep reminding herself not to touch the lump on her head; it just made the pain worse. She gingerly turned to look at the materials lying on the desk besides her. For once she was actually grateful for the institutes security system; having machines picking up her every move went against Cassandra's principles but at least it gave her evidence of what had happened.

        She didn't instantly answer the knock on the door; taking a few moments to compose herself before getting up. When she opened the door she realized she needn't have bothered, "Oh, they sent you."

        "And it's great to see you too." Sabrina offered as she marched past.

        Cassandra slammed the door of the office shut, "Why did they choose you?"

        "Had some spare time, and I'm trustworthy." Sabrina accompanied the statement with a winning smile.

        Cassandra looked at Sabrina, currently clad in a tight white sweater and even tighter black jeans with her dark hair spilling down her back, and could easily believe the rumours she had heard about how the young woman had earned that 'trust', "Well I suppose you are as good as anyone else for a simple courier job."

        "If it's that simple why didn't you do it yourself?" Sabrina shot back.

        "Things are far to delicate here for me to leave right now." Cassandra hoped her air of certainty was convincing, it wouldn't do for Sabrina to suspect she was fearful of facing her superiors.

        Sabrina though was clearly bored with the conversation, "Fine have it your way. What am I here for?"

        Cassandra was also fine with getting down to business, "There's a disk, and those hardcopy images."

        Sabrina picked up the photos. The first was a middle aged red-haired woman who looked vaguely familiar, she noted the woman's eyes were pools of darkness, that pointed to a master, or mistress, of magic. Sabrina flipped on to the next image; another oddly familiar face, this time blonde and middle aged, a face that radiated calm and reassurance. She flipped on to the last picture, and it was a miracle she didn't shriek out loud. She understood why the other two looked so familiar, they had to be blood relatives of her; well goddess, was still the only name she had for her, "I don't suppose you got their names?"

        "The blonde woman identified herself as doctor Tara Maclay and the girl as her daughter Lydia. I didn't get the redheads name but she looks to be related to the girl, one or other of them probably is her mother."

        "Well they can hardly both be." Sabrina's sarcasm was offhand, Lydia, finally a name to go with that face, one step closer, she thought excitedly before worry set in, regardless of how powerful the older woman was what could three people do against the Athenai?



        Debreaux switched off the monitor, usually he wouldn't care if the witch types got into a fight with one another but this carried to big a risk. If his 'benefactors' wondered why these other witches were interfering then he was going to be in trouble; he needed to buy time, if he had time everything could be put right. That only left one option, and ugly as it was Debreaux didn't hesitate, his work was the only thing that mattered; everything else was expendable.



8. "Cold Storm"




LJ had gone off to 'check the perimeter' as she put it, which meant that when Willow reached into Tara’s mind she didn't have to worry about hiding the conversation from her daughter. She had every intention of sharing the information with LJ, she just wanted to be able to edit the Apocrypha out of that conversation; did anything point to a connection to Debreaux?

        Nothing obvious
, Willow didn't sound too disappointed, but I did find out something interesting while I was looking. Guess where the doctor spent three years working?

        Since it would have taken a small miracle to guess Tara didn't try, I give up.

        Willow was too pleased with herself even to be upset at Tara's refusal to play the game, Haiti, she thought smugly.

        Tara concluded that she probably should have guessed that; Haiti legendary for voodoo and zombies. That could hardly be a coincidence and Tara needed exactly zero guesses about Willow's next move, you're off to do some island hopping.

        I figure it's worth checking out, at least find out more about what sort of person he is.

        I don't suppose you want to wait until I get home
? Tara suggested.

        You've already had enough excitement for one night, Willow responded mischievously.

        Tara was going to point out that she hadn't any excitement when she spotted LJ heading back to her, alright honey just don't have too much fun without me.

        How could
I? Willow stated gently before breaking off.

       

        From the smile on Tara's face LJ could tell her parents had been in touch, "Don't you two ever stop?"

        "No." Tara's cheery answer made LJ grimace, and it wasn't entirely theatrical. That sense of aloneness was rearing its ugly head again.

        LJ ignored it and carried on, "Didn't see anything out there; apart from some homeless people," and some couples being very energetic in the bushes, she didn't add.

        Tara hadn't really expected there to be an ambush but still it was a relief to have it confirmed. LJ's timing turned out to be perfect as it was barely a minute before the pair spotted Mary Case walking towards them. Tara adopted a casual posture and LJ followed suit.

        Case on the other hand looked tense and didn't relax one bit when she saw the pair waiting. Her comment of, "I'm glad you came," sounded distinctly hollow.

        "I'm still mystified why you asked us," Tara kept her tone puzzled rather than aggressive, "in the office you implied that everything was fine."

        "It was fine; at first." Case admitted reluctantly.

        "So what changed?" LJ decided that if her mother was going to play nice then she would be the 'bad cop'.

        Case hesitated before she framed a response, "Being brought back was rough. Everything had changed, and the idea that I had been dead," she stopped and shook her head, "anyway the Institute laid on a small army of therapists and counselors, and psychiatrists to help. What really helped though was when the doctor started reviving other people, we felt we had something in common, we supported each other."

        LJ was getting tired of Case's reminiscences and repeated her question with more emphasis, "So, what, changed?"

        Case looked pained but answered anyway, "The most recent revivals, people like Sawyer, started dropping out. Whenever I try to bring it up with Debreaux he tells me they just wanted to move on."

        Tara was studying Case closely; the woman's anxiety and doubt were genuine but there were undercurrents of something more, things perhaps that the woman hadn't even faced herself; the look on LJ's face reminded her that there was another option, so let's find out. Reaching into her pocket Tara pulled out the charm she had prepared. It consisted of some thin herb stalks twisted together and wound round a faceted piece of rock crystal.

        As Tara extended it towards her Case simply stared at it, "What is that?"

        Tara threw it to her, and muttered a small incantation as she did so. Case instinctively grabbed it and a flickering ember of light appeared in the heart of the crystal. Case stared at it, "What makes it light up?"

        "You do." LJ explained grimly as she stepped towards Case.

        Tara stepped between the pair, and took the stone from Case, the faint glow brightened considerably; she passed it to LJ and it shone like a streetlight. LJ took the hint; Case might have magic but she was no witch.

        Case had been puzzled at first but confusion rapidly shaded into annoyance, "Look I came here looking for a help, not cheap magic tricks."

        "Magic yes, tricks no." Tara replied, "And we are here to help, I'm afraid this is far worse than you've imagined. This isn't going to be easy for you to hear or believe," she stopped as she became aware of two people wandering down the path towards the trio. Tara didn't read the aura of everyone who crossed her path but there was always a vague sense of it, like something seen out of the corner of her eye, this pair however were utterly blank.

        "Miss Case would you mind sitting on the bench? Tara requested calmly.

        LJ could tell that Case was going to argue and she had also spotted the approaching pair, and something unpleasantly familiar about the way they moved. LJ grabbed Case and ignored the woman's protests as she was shoved unceremoniously onto the bench.

        Tara had already moved down the path and now had a clear view of the new arrivals; and she really wished she hadn't. The pair were a man and a woman, or at least they had been. Now they were slacked jawed and dead eyed; there didn’t seem to be anything human inside them though they seemed to sense Tara's presence as they turned towards her and reached out their pallid hands. Tara was keying up a spell to repulse them when she felt a terrible coldness sweep over her and couldn't quite remember what she had been trying to summon.

        The moment passed as several stones flew past her head and sent the zombies staggering back down the path. LJ followed up her barrage by pulling her mother back, "I think you better let me handle this mom."

        Tara wasn't inclined to argue and LJ stepped firmly in front of her. Lightning had certainly dealt with her last zombie encounter but hadn't left a lot of evidence to study, so let's see how they like a cold front instead.

        The zombies were just about recovered from LJ's previous attack when a chill wind began to whip around them. In moments it was transformed into a cyclone tightly wrapped around the pair and frost was dusting their hair and clothes.

        Tara had slumped down onto the bench beside Case and as she recovered she saw the shocked expression on the woman's face. As she looked back to LJ Tara couldn't blame Case; magical energy was practically crackling around her daughter and the two zombies had turned into ice sculptures.

        "I think that will do dear." Tara said it quietly but firmly.

        Studying her handiwork LJ decided that her mother had a point. She dispersed the winds and the zombies toppled to the ground with a dull thud. LJ walked over and nudged the male figure. It might not strictly speaking be dead but it certainly wasn't going anywhere.

        Case was so overwhelmed by events that she had slid into a sort of numb denial. That was why when Tara led her towards the frozen figures she didn't try and pull back; the whole scene was simply too surreal for her to comprehend until she looked down at the frozen faces, "That's Bernie, and Mrs. Galloway, they're two of the people I was telling you about."

        And that's no big surprise, LJ's thought was sharp as it entered Tara's mind, and they didn't turn up here by accident.

        Tara nodded in agreement, "Mary I don't think it's safe for you to go back home, or to the institute. You better come with us."

        Case was still too dazed to refuse but she did gesture towards the frozen zombies, "What about them?"

        We can't just leave them here, LJ agreed telepathically, she could just incinerate them but LJ didn't feel comfortable with that; these weren't monsters they were victims of someone else's evil magic.

        Well we can't take them home; Tara had a gruesome image of the zombies defrosting on her living room carpet.

        We need somewhere we can check them out, LJ pondered, someplace like; a laboratory.

        Tara could pick up the image that had formed in LJ's mind and had to smile, [/i]well he does owe us a favour[/i].



        The only images of Haiti Willow had ever seen fell into two categories; either trashy touristy films of Voodoo rituals or news reports of disaster and warfare. The New Medicine Clinic didn't fit in with either image, it was a low rise complex of white buildings connected together by palm lined walkways. Willow walked along one of the paths expecting to be intercepted and challenged at any moment. That nothing of the sort happened Willow had to attribute to the fact that she was far from the only American around the place, and by the looks of things not the only gay American either. Willow consulted her tablet and turned to the left, heading towards a building made up of interlocking cubes; a residential block for the clinic staff.

        Marching up to the front door Willow took a careful look round before pressing her hand against the electronic lock that secured the door. With a surprisingly small amount of concentration she heard the click of the catch and went inside. As she made for the stairs Willow shivered as the temperature dropped several degrees, clearly the staff didn't believe in forgoing the creature comforts.

        Willow's target was a large apartment on the third floor. Her only concern was that the person she had come to see would either still be at work or simply not home but there was only one way to find out; she rang the doorbell and took a step back. The woman who answered the door was a few years older than Willow and a bit taller but she shared Willows colouring though with strands of grey in her hair.

        The woman didn't however share Willow's temperament, "Who are you and how did you get in here?"

        Willow didn't let it faze her, "I'm Willow Rosenberg doctor Anders, I want to talk to you about your ex-colleague doctor Debreaux."

        Anders expression shifted from annoyance to concern, "Oh god what has he done now?"

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt V
PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 1:23 am 
9. "Cold Decisions"




Willow thanked doctor Anders for the glass of fruit juice and placed it down on the little table beside the chair after taking a sip. She wasn't really thirsty but she didn't think it would be good manners to refuse when the doctor was trying so hard to make up for her initial brusqueness, and when she was hardly an invited guest, "You have to understand that we've had several people try to get in here and express their opinion about our work, usually with a string of four letter words."

        "I'm surprised you haven't beefed up your security." Willow knew she could be shooting herself in the foot but her curiosity got the better of her.

        "More security would increase the stress on our patients, and most of them are already in a fraught mental state so we simply rely on the security at docks and airport to screen out the worst offenders." Anders explained, doing her best to sound philosophical but not quite succeeding.

        Willow was now thoroughly distracted, "Are there really still people objecting to your work here?"

        "Enough of them that it's still illegal back in the US; gene therapy, stem cell treatments, and of course the Milstrom technique, the bete noir of the moral hysterics back home. Do you know about the technique?"

        "I've heard of it." Willow was hedging; she had spent years looking into to it.

        Anders seemed to feel the need to get something off her chest, "It allows us to combine DNA from two people of the same sex to create an embryo, and that was just to much for some American politicians," she paused as she saw the pensive look on Willow's face, "You don't approve?"

        Willow was startled, "Actually I was thinking about the way Milstrom took credit for someone else's work." Not that he quite managed to steal all of it from Doctor Tomarov; it took a real genius like Clelland to reproduce it.

        Now Anders was nonplussed, "There were rumours, it was one of the reasons he never won any of the major prizes."

        "My partner Tara and myself have a daughter, she's sixteen, almost seventeen now." Willow explained.

        "But the oldest Milstrom baby is only eleven," Anders stopped as the implication sank in, "ah I see, I don't suppose you'd like to tell me the whole story?"

        "Perhaps another time." Willow was being totally sincere. Finding Clelland’s notes had opened up new possibilities but they were contingent on finding a trustworthy medic to use them, and Willow had a hunch she might just have found one. The best way to check out that hunch was to get back to the reason she had come here, "Right now I need to talk about a different doctor, Gerard Debreaux."

        "Well he's not a plagiarist but he had other; flaws."

        Willow just nodded, prepared to let Anders proceed at her own pace.

        After a moment’s consideration the doctor did go on, "His specialty is, or was, nanotechnology. I'm guessing you know what that is?"

        "Microscopic machines, some of which are designed to be injected into the human body for medical treatments." Willow confirmed the doctor’s assumption.

        "In a limited way, for very specialized treatments. What Debreaux was working towards was a generalized design, able to carry out repairs at the cellular level throughout the body on all types of tissue without any special programming. As it happened he was having grave problems getting facilities in the US and given the potential of his work he was offered a place in our research labs here."

        "And things didn't go well." Willow was guessing but Anders reaction to Debreaux's name suggested it was a good one.

        "At first it did, he was persuasive and his initial results were promising. After the first six months though it became clear the work had stalled, questions started being asked about the direction of his approach, and his interest in some of the more extreme applications of the technology made me and the rest of the senior staff uncomfortable; and then he really went off the deep end."

        "Let me make a wild guess," Willow interrupted, "Voodoo."

        "So he's still playing around with it?" Anders shook her head, "We have done research and there are some interesting pharmaceuticals in some of the Haitian rituals but Debreaux was convinced that there was more to it than that, he thought they really could raise the dead."



        Reese was staring at a display and trying to see how he could fit in seven instruments into a lab space only big enough for six. He still wasn't prepared to admit it was impossible even after six hours of trying; the whole point of his work after all was figuring out how to fold space. He reached for the coffee cup next to him and almost knocked it over when he heard the voice behind him.

        "Hey Reese, you're working late." LJ reached out and saved the coffee cup from shattering on the floor.

        "Reese the young lady appeared to just materialize in the laboratory; should I check for a malfunction in the security system?"

        Now LJ almost dropped the cup, "Who the heck is that?"

        Reese smiled at the way the element of surprise had shifted round, "System, this is Lydia Joyce Maclay and there's nothing wrong with the security sensors; she can already do what we're trying to figure out ."

        "That is very interesting, I had assumed you were joking when you told me about witchcraft." Again the reply seemed to come from all around the room.

        LJ cut across the conversation, "Reese you better explain before I have to hurt you."

        Reese knew it wasn't necessarily an empty threat so he quickly explained, "System is a computer, an artificial intelligence actually."

        LJ wasn't exactly a science geek but that still impressed her, "You mean it can think for itself?"

        "Well that's a matter of some discussion amongst the computer experts but I do like to think so."

        LJ felt embarrassed, "Sorry didn't mean to offend you."

        "That's alright, I'm not actually capable of being offended. Now given the time of day I'm guessing you have something to ask Reese about."

        Reese nodded, "I didn't think it was a social visit, so what's up?"

        "Actually we were going to contact your cousin but she's out of town apparently."

        "She's in England, an old friend invited her over." Reese explained.

        LJ digested that and suppressed a smile, you sly old dog Wesley. She couldn't really begrudge him taking a chance to be happy; the disintegration of the Watchers had been hard on him. Still it left LJ with a problem, "We were hoping since she was on the faculty she could get us access to some of the lab facilities.'

        "What do you need Miss Maclay?"

        LJ gave Reese a questioning look. Reese shrugged, "System is hooked in to all the science labs."

        LJ considered that, "Ok, System you can call me LJ and how would you like to help analyze a zombie?"

        "It sounds bizarre but fascinating."

        "Great, I'll let my parents know." And one of them is going to get a real kick out of meeting you.



        "Quite astonishing Professor Rosenberg, when Reese first introduced me to his theorems I didn't see how they could work in the real world but after tonight’s demonstrations I can appreciate their true power
."

        "Without discussing it with anyone else right?" Willow had indeed been seriously impressed with the AI but didn't forget it was essentially a computer and might be under certain limitations.

        "Absolutely not Professor, it's far too fascinating. Besides they would conclude I had suffered some sort of malfunction and I have no desire to be dismantled searching for a nonexistent fault."

        "I know the feeling." Willow admitted. She looked over to where LJ was watching over Mary Case, there's someone being taken apart without any outside help. She wasn't happy about Case being here but there wasn't any good alternative; Tara had been very clear that the woman couldn't be left alone and even with the assistance of Reese and System it needed all the family to make sure there were no traces left behind that might provoke awkward questions.

        System interrupted her contemplation, "Professor I believe your hunch was correct, the analysis has isolated something very unusual in the subjects blood stream[/I`]."

        Willow should have been pleased with that but given the potential consequences it was hard to feel good about it, "Can you show us in here System?"

        "Of course Professor, the large screen on Reese's workstation will be ."

        Willow found the space in front of the workstation extremely cramped as everyone crowded in to see what had been extracted from the frozen flesh of the zombie. What appeared on the screen was somewhat surreal. In the background there was what looked like a dark red donut. In the foreground was a gold coloured object made up of two concentric rings with what looked like a fan or propeller set inside the inner circle. The two outer bands were joined together by a series of complex symbols. Willow recognized some of them but others were new even to her but she concluded that they must all have one thing in common; reanimation.

        "What's the red thing behind it?" Reese wondered.

"That's a red blood cell." System explained in a deadpan tone.

        "Nanotechnology, with a big dose of magic added," Willow was thinking out loud, "I guess Debreaux found a way to make his idea work, sort of."

        Mary Case had felt too bewildered and oppressed to say anything much until now, "But it has worked, really worked. I'm here aren’t I?"

        Willow looked over to Tara; I don't think we really want to discuss this in front of her.

        Neither do I
, "I'm sure your right but I'm afraid Willow and Reese are going to get into some hardcore science geek stuff and I think you could do with a little rest."

        Case was about to argue but the truth was that she was mentally exhausted and not keen to spend one more minute with these people, "Perhaps but I want to go home."

        Tara was tempted to veto that suggestion but they needed to get the woman out of here, "Ok I'll drop you off."

        Case didn't like the notion of how Tara was going to do that but she didn't bother arguing, “let's just get out of here.”



        As soon as Case was gone Reese piped up, "Who is that woman?"

        Willow pointed at the screen, "A woman with those floating around in her blood."

        "That's what the glitter was!" LJ exclaimed and then frowned, "But I didn't see it with the two in the park."

        "Perhaps because Miss Case’s were active and these are inert?" System offered.

        Listening to that Willow felt the last piece of the puzzle fall into place, "And I think now we know why Sawyer attacked Maggie, and what makes Mary different, they aren't zombies; their vampires."



10. "Cold Gold"




Tara took the time to make sure Mary went into her apartment and settled down before she returned to the lab, having the woman out on the streets was simply too dangerous, come to that Tara wasn’t happy about leaving her alone in the apartment but the woman wasn’t giving her any choice in the matter. When she materialized she was struck instantly by the grim atmosphere in the lab. It hadn't exactly been sunshine and smiles when she left but now it was in a deep gloom, "You've figured it out haven't you?"

        LJ answered her indirectly, "Mom when those zombies came after us in the park you kind of froze up, what exactly happened?"

        From the attention focused on her Tara guessed this was an important question so she thought about it carefully, "I just felt confused, paralyzed, totally lethargic."

        LJ glanced at Willow, "Sort of confirms it I guess."

        Willow looked at her partner, "Debreaux’s little machines, they make each cell in the body act as if it was alive, which makes them way more powerful than anything regular voodoo ever managed and as long as everything is working who cares how it does it right?"

        Willow's tone was bitter and she had a strong hunch what was coming but she had to hear it, "So what went wrong?"

        "Debreaux made a huge mistake, those things burn up the magical energy powering them. Still no big if the person their inhabiting has magic of their own; then they just draw energy from the host without them even knowing."

        LJ had been looking increasingly agitated, "For everyone else it just goes out looking for a new battery."

        The memory of that moment in the park now snapped into crystal clarity; not simply lethargy but a feeling of being drained, "The coma patients, the damage to their aura's. The zombies drew so much power through them that it did real damage."

        "And they'll keep doing it, time after time, every time they run out of juice." Tara had never that much rage in her daughter’s voice.

        She decided the best way to channel those emotions was to concentrate on the practicalities, "So how are we going to help the victims, and stop Debreaux spreading this further?"

        The words didn't erase the anger but they did provide a focus, "We could just go and kick Debreaux around his office until he tells us what we want to know."

        "That may not be the best course, it is the method not the man you need to concern yourself with, if he flees, or leaves work for others to copy then you may be no better off." System counseled

        Willow thought of Clelland's recreation of Tomarov's research, "Right we need to do this the sneaky way, and we better not forget about his Athenai friends either."



        Mary Case wished she were more of a drinker because a swift check of her fridge and cupboards revealed nothing stronger than orange juice, and she really felt the need for the stress drowning qualities of alcohol right now. When she had decided to talk to doctor Maclay she wasn’t expecting to hear anything good but she hadn't expected to be plunged into some gothic horror and as much as she tried not to let she found belief creeping up on her; the horror was real and she was a part of it.

        "Where have you been Mary?"

        Case spun round and saw Cassandra standing in the middle of her living room, "How did you...Oh god your like them."

        Cassandra arched an eyebrow, "Like who Mary?"

        Case had reached her limit, she had been pushed around and questioned enough for one day, "Why don't you tell me? You obviously know more than I do."

        "Not very difficult," Cassandra's contempt was palpable, "but you do have a few crumbs of information I need so why don't you just let me ask the questions?" Before Case could reply Cassandra gestured and the unfortunate woman was knocked to the floor.

        Cassandra knelt down beside Case, "Now let's see what you know."

        As Cassandra reached out to her Case tried to scream, and her terror grew as she found she couldn't make a sound.

       

        Tara looked at the small vial of shimmering liquid set on the living room table, "I really don't like having that stuff in the house."

        Willow put an arm around her, "I'm not thrilled either but it should be safe like this."

        "Without a body those little pests don't have anything to work on, and I can't think of any other way of finding their buddies." LJ was trying to sound positive but she wasn't wholly convincing.

        The logic of having Reese and System extract a quantity of the 'nanocharms' had been impeccable. They needed to find the source of the charms and since Willow's snooping had pretty much ruled out the Institute and trying some sort of locator spell made to much sense to say no.

        So here the stuff was, and all three witches would rather have been faced with a vial of high grade Plutonium. After staring at it for several minutes Willow finally decided they needed to get on with it, "Let's get the map out, and then LJ, you can give that stuff a jolt."

        As Willow and Tara spread the map out LJ examined the tube. It was a little hard to believe that it could be so dangerous but if the secret got out, how many people would try and cheat death and not worry about the cost? Her mother had likened it to vampires but at least with vampires the prey outnumbered the predators thousands to one; with these little machines it would be the other way round, and how long would it be before someone decide to manage a scarce resource, before the Wicca were reduced to cattle? LJ had to restrain the urge to vaporize the vial where it sat, they needed to get it all, and make sure no more was ever produced.

        Tara could see the strength of the feelings in her daughter's face, "Alright dear we're ready, let's see if it responds." In spite of herself Tara couldn't help tensing as LJ passed her hands over the vial. As it happened the result was pretty tame, just a momentary glow in the liquid that faded as quickly as it came.

Willow had marked out a compass in the centre of the map, with the cardinal points represented by runes. LJ stood the vial in the centre of the compass and chanted a small incantation that sent a ring of light flowing across the map; leaving a series of bright points in its wake. Most were dim sparks but there were two that stood out. One was fairly obviously the Institute but the other; "That's the biggest concentration of them all, and it's in a residential district."

        "So it's either a zombie frat house or Debreaux's nano factory." LJ's flippancy sounded hollow.

        "Either way, it's our next stop, and we better be ready for anything, to do anything."



        LJ stared in disbelief at the house before her, "Well if I were a mad scientist this would be my first choice." She commented as she scanned the overdone gothic frontage from end to end.

        Neither of her parents was inclined to argue, the place looked like a refugee from an Edgar Allen Poe story, "Debreaux really owns this place?" Tara wondered out loud.

        Willow was checking her tablet, "Apparently it belonged to some relative who left it to him, and he couldn't sell it off."

        "What a surprise." LJ muttered.

        Tara smiled but didn't lose sight of their purpose, "Now how are we going to get in there?" she turned to see what LJ thought and discovered she was talking to herself.

        LJ had simply had enough, they had played nice up until now and she had decided it was time for the Slayer to kick some butt. The front door of the house flew open when she was still a couple of feet away and LJ stormed into the hallway beyond ready for a fight. What she got was an empty hallway with dark wood walls and black and white checkered linoleum covering the floor. Ignoring the offence to good taste LJ marched down the corridor trying to decide which door to kick in first. She stopped when she spotted one set underneath the stairs, right the basement, where else? She grabbed the door handle and when it proved to be locked she pulled the door free with a loud cracking sound as the jam disintegrated. An eerie light glowed at the bottom of the stairs and LJ summoned up a fireball before descending.



        Trailing behind their daughter Willow shook her head, "We better find something here or our little girl is going to be facing vandalism charges."

        "You're just mad because she got in first." Tara observed sweetly.

        Willow maintained a dignified silence and walked into the house. She hadn't gotten more than five feet when LJ came charging out of the basement door, "Run! Get out of here!" she screamed at her astonished parents and dragged them out of the door and down the path at Olympic speed.

        Before they could gather the breath to demand an explanation LJ pulled them to the ground, just as a loud roar filled the air and a jet of flame leapt from the open front door sending a wave of debris flying through the space the trio had just vacated.

        Willow picked a couple of fragments out of her hair and turned to look at her daughter, "Lydia Joyce Maclay, what did you do?"

        LJ looked pained, and fell back on the answer she had always fallen back on as a child, "I didn't do it!"



        When LJ entered the basement she found herself in something that was half magical lair and half factory. LJ examined the machines set against the wall she had never seen anything quite like them and she had to guess that they were used to make the nanocharms themselves. The setup in the centre of the basement was somewhat more familiar. A bowl was set on a table with a soupy concoction filling it and it was surrounded by a collection of charms and fetishes. It looked like they came from several different traditions and the patterns and markings matched the ones she had seen on the Reese's workstation screen.

        It looked like very much to LJ as if Debreaux was still working away on his pet project, right why let little things like coma patients and zombies stop you?

        That odd glow she had noticed at the top of the stairs was beginning to irritate LJ as it blinked and flickered and she began to look around for the source, which was when she found the thing stuck to the wall. It had a piece of crystal that was the source of the glow pushed into a yellow claylike material. It took a brief moment for her brain to run through the possibilities of what the ‘clay’ actually was and when it finished, that was when she ran for her life.



        "So when I figured that it was a nice mix of plastic explosive and magic I knew we needed to get away from ground zero." LJ finished explaining.

        Willow frowned, "It's kind of extreme, even Debreaux knew we were coming here in advance."

        Tara shook her head, "Debreaux has too much ego; blowing his work up would be admitting it was flawed."

        Willow was willing to accept Tara's opinion as fact, and that brought another suspect sharply into focus, "The Athenai, if they found out that Debreaux's technique was a threat."

        "Could be but how come they just found out now?" LJ had barely spoken the words when the answer came to her.

        Tara saw it at the same moment; "We have to go to Mary Case, now."

        Willow was on the same wavelength, "Take LJ, I'll check with Reese just in case."

        "Alright but yell if there's trouble." Tara reminded her."

        "So loud you won't need telepathy." Willow assured her before teleporting away.

        "Do you think you can put us inside Mary's home?" Tara asked LJ.

        "Shouldn't be hard." LJ assured her.

        Tara was about to tell her to do it but another thought struck her, "Dear before we go I think you better brace yourself, I think this is going to be bad."



        Looking casually at Mary Case in her darkened living room you could imagine she had simply sat down to relax and put her feet up. Pulling back the curtains dispelled any such notion. LJ had seen dead things, dead people before but this was bad, bad enough that only a refusal to look childish in front of her mother prevented her from screaming.

        Tara examined Mary carefully and gently. If she hadn't met her the night before she would have sworn Mary had died days before, and she hadn't died quietly, "I'm sorry, I should have made you take the guest room," she whispered.

        "They didn't need to do that, I mean she would have told them whatever they wanted to know." LJ was bewildered and angry.

        "That wasn't the point," Tara was equally upset, "this was covering their tracks, erasing any clues to Debreaux's work."

        Another thought struck LJ, "What about the others? The ones Mary told us about."

        Tara shook her head, "Even if we had all their details it would be too late, look at this and the bomb, they aren't taking any chances."

        LJ was still considering that when Willow's thoughts slid into both their minds, Reese is ok but System swept the media and police channels. There's been a massive power failure at the Petersen Institute and a number of ‘former patients’ have vanished and Debreaux is being pursued as a suspect, except no one can find him.

        LJ gave Tara a pained look, "Like you said mom, they're not taking any chances."



11. "Cold Solution"




Willow placed a cup of coffee beside Tara and looked at the time, "She should home by now."

        "She has a lot of frustration to work out, I think the Slayer is going to make a few demons share her pain." Tara observed.

        "Maybe we should have gone along." Willow wasn't being entirely facetious.

        "I think we're old enough to talk things out instead of going looking for something to beat up." Tara suggested gently.

        Willow slumped into the sofa beside Tara, "And what do you think we need to talk out?"

        "The sense of relief that someone else took the hard decision about dealing with Debreaux." Tara said it quickly before she lost her nerve.

        Willow stared at her for a moment, and then nodded, "I didn't like some of the options we were facing; but with so much at stake; yeah I'm sort of glad that we didn't have to deal with it," she hesitated for a moment and when she went on her tone was harsher, "that doesn't mean the Athenai are off the hook, what they did to Mary Case and the others was vicious, and I don't think they were worrying about the big picture; they just wanted to cover their backs and get even with Debreaux."

        "I don't think altruism looms large on their to do list." Tara had read Willows research and the Athenai's attitude to magic went against everything she believed in, "So what are we going to do about them?"

        Willow smiled, "Let's just say the next time I meet an Athenai I'm going to express my feelings the direct way."



        Normally watching a stuck up bitch like Cassandra getting a dressing down would have been fun for Sabrina but her attention wasn't on the figure stood in the centre of a circle of her peers, it was the leader of the Athenai; more specifically it was the photograph's that Phoebe had spread before her that held Sabrina's gaze.

        "And it was these three who uncovered Debreaux's deception?'

        "No," Cassandra sounded desperate rather than emphatic, "They may have unnerved him, forced him to make mistakes but I uncovered the truth about his activities."

        Phoebe’s gaze was penetrating and cool; "So you say, and even granting you that there is the small matter of you're being deceived by him for months."

        As Phoebe shuffled the pictures of Willow, Tara, and Lydia together Sabrina held her breath, and relaxed only a little when Phoebe went on, "I suppose on this occasion they have done us a favour but in future we should keep them at arms length."

        Speak for yourself, Sabrina commented silently to herself before shuffling out of the room with everyone else bar Cassandra and Phoebe, I want to get a lot closer than that.

        As the doors slammed shut Phoebe’s mask of calm slipped, "How much of an idiot do you think I am Cassandra?"

        Cassandra knew better than to answer that, "The scheme seemed good, Debreaux was persuasive."

        Phoebe sighed, "I can accept that not every plan succeeds but I can't accept your allowing Debreaux to take advantage of us." Before Cassandra could respond Phoebe gestured and runes that been invisibly laid into the floor flared into life, rendering the polished marble as insubstantial as air. Cassandra didn't even manage a shriek before she vanished into the darkness. Phoebe scooped the photographs from the desk and examined them, "And ladies don't count on being so fortunate next time." With that she sent the pictures spinning across the floor where they followed Cassandra into the hungry darkness.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt II
PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2004 4:56 am 
I agreed with Tara that the Petersen Institute was unsettling; you described it really well. It was easy to get a picture of the ominous building and what it contained. As always, there was a great deal of intricate details in the story, Debreaux's work and the Athenai especially.



Even though LJ has wonderful parents, at the moment she feels quite alone; well she is the Slayer - and a teenager - so it's not surprising. I found it amusing that Willow still used her full name when accusing her of causing the explosion in Debreaux's house.



The Athenai, I'm sure, felt they had their reasons for doing what they did, but their actions seem very cold and merciless. Not surprising that our girls are wary of them.



Thanks for the update.


Sheacht mh'anam déag do bhéal, do mhalaí's do ghrua



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt II
PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 1:08 am 
Quote:
Not surprising that our girls are wary of them.


Well Mollyig as this sequence of stories progresses we will be seeing a lot more of the Anthenai, and one in particular who Willow really doesn't like though LJ feels a little differently.:devil

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt V
PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2004 11:45 am 
I'm going to be a bit presumptous and file these Anthenai under the bad guys column.



It could be argued that like the coven Tara's grandmother belonged to they're doing questionable things for the right reasons, because they can see the "big" picture. However that doesn't really tally with their actions.



Its seems from Tara and LJ's reaction that Mary's death was rather unpleasant. Which suggests that more than just trying to tie up loose ends Cassandra enjoyed making her suffer as much as possible.



Also there's Cassandra's fate at the end. I don't trust organisations who will kill their own members for making a mistake. It brings to mind the kind of organisation you see as the villains in a Bond film.



I'm not sure why Phoebe was so upset about what happened. For sure they didn't get what had been advertised but it seems to me that this technology would make a very affective anti witch weapon, which they could use against any one who tried to oppose them with magic. Such as the Rosenberg-Maclay family, so maybe it's a good thing this didn't occur to them.



I'm a bit dubious about Sabrina being apart of this group. Hopefully her "goddess" will be able to show her the light.



I have one question, what happened to Maggie and the other coma patients? Was LJ able to help them or were they killed by Anthenai?



Looking forward to :read more.

A good story should provoke discussion, debate, argument...and the occasional bar fight. -JMS





Edited by: justin at: 9/29/04 11:47 am


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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt V
PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2004 1:16 am 
Quote:
For sure they didn't get what had been advertised but it seems to me that this technology would make a very affective anti witch weapon, which they could use against any one who tried to oppose them with magic.


Oh it occurred to them but the thing is it's like any other weapon; how long could you keep it a secret? Once other people began to copy it, well the consequences were too much of a personal threat to Phoebe and the Athenai. The status of Maggie and the others will be updated at the beginning of the next story 'A Fine Line', and as for Sabrina's involvement with the Athenai; that's at the centre of the forthcoming 'Perfect Day'.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt II
PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2004 3:34 am 
Ahhh, Sheridan, how can we get you to publish these RC stories on good old fashioned paper? My eyes are hurting from spending too much time on-line!

I just know there would be a ready market out there, compared to the DMW shit currently on offer these are much superior.

But I suppose his nibship would undoubtedly take offence that someone is making better use of his creations than he did.

-----------------------------------

love and kisses

Still Waters



"just an old, saggy cloth cat. Baggy, and a bit loose at the seams, but Emily loved him"



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted
PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2004 9:04 am 
That’s got to be one of my favourites so far, that was awesome! I like how you mixed fantasy and sci-fi with your nano-voodoo and cryo-zombies.



Your portrayal of Tara and (particularly) Willow’s insecurities was good, the way they want to show they can still scoobie with the best of them, even now the best of them is their daughter. And LJ worrying if she will ever find someone, well, I think we can guess what’s going to happen there… :)



Sabrina is interesting, I like that you didn’t tell us everything about her at once (and still haven’t) even though I’m impatient to find out! I guess the question is how involved is she with the Athenai, and how much like the other members is she? I can see why Will and Tara don’t approve of her.



And the Athenai, nasty! Well, Cassandra and Phoebe are, we’ll have to see how similar the other members are. And the best bit of that story was when W/T were forced to admit they were glad the Athenai made a difficult choice for them.



I’m loving this fic, I hope you’ve got a lot more parts to write :)



Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted
PostPosted: Fri Oct 01, 2004 2:25 am 
Quote:
how can we get you to publish these RC stories on good old fashioned paper? My eyes are hurting from spending too much time on-line!


As it happens Still Waters that other project I mentioned that was delaying the writing here was finishing a non-W/T book which I'm trying to get published and it's a somewhat daunting task for a first timer. Do you get an agent? Go direct to a publisher? How about e-publishing? Add in the legal problems from Joss and FOX and it would probably be 2018 before any of it got into print!

Quote:
I’m loving this fic, I hope you’ve got a lot more parts to write


Well Chronic there are three more 2019 stories, which will focus on the Athenai and bring out most of Sabrina's back story, and I have a rough out of 2020. Then it's the biggie, a nine story arc covering 2021-2022 where you will meet 'Pathfinder' find out why the Circle of the Glade have manipulated things for so long, and see what happens when, if you'll forgive the expression, magic comes out of the closet. :)

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am

Edited by: Sheridan at: 10/1/04 2:29 am


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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt V
PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2004 4:37 pm 
Phew....I caught up...again!!!....:lol



I really love this story...the plot is really interesting...even if sometimes I get a little bit lost...and I have soft spot for LJ ;)



I have a couple of questions tho.... How come Dawn still had her powers....adn there was another slayer?....:confused Whys LJ's name is Maclay only? Why not Rosenberg-Maclay... or Maclay-Rosenberg...I know it's kinda long to have... Lydia Joyce Rosenberg-Maclay....but still..



I loved the flashback, when LJ was a kid, are we going to get more of these?....I think it'll be cute to see how W/T were ebarrassing LJ...or how she found out about her parent's "lovey-dovey" connection:lol :lol :lol .... But that's just me;)



Sabrina is one interesting charachter....how she came to refer to LJ as a goddess?...She saw ehr before? I mean pictures...and what's up with the obsession...I get it that she's going ot be "the one" for LJ (correct me if I'm wrong) and if LJ loves her....there'sgotta be good in her....but you said there's going to be more about Sabrina....



Amy.....So...Amy saw the future and she changed it? Or it was never her future? Was it part of a different reality? I'll have to agree with Tara on that one...soemtimes time travel gives one hell of a headache :lol :lol :lol :lol



Edited: so my question basically...if Amy changed her future...it also changed other people future...no? So basically the future LJ came from is no the same as it's going to be....now?.....Arg....this is confusing....:lol ....Or it's not really relevant?.....



Thanks :) great job!!!!!



:peace :heart

M.

Edited by: YMKA at: 10/10/04 4:55 pm


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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted Pt V
PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2004 2:08 am 
So many questions YMKA.:) I'll try and answer a few.

Dawn still had Buffy's powers, LJ's were inherited from the line that ran through Faith. Her parents decided to keep LJ's name to a reasonable length and because Tara carried her settled on Maclay as her surname. Were Willow, and this is pure speculation of course:wink , to carry a daughter and call her Rebecca, then she would be Rebecca Rosenberg.

There's going to be quite a bit more about Sabrina, and she thinks of LJ as a goddess because she is seriously smitten. The next three stories build up the conflict with the Athenai, and begin the relationship between LJ and Sabrina, which of course leads to something of a dilemma for both of them.

Amy did change her fate without really altering history.Think of the RC timeline like a rubber band stretched between two fixed points. You can stretch it and distort it in the middle but the end points remain the same; unless of course you stretch it to much and the rubber band snaps...

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted
PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2004 6:29 pm 
The intricate details, the depth of the emotions, the palpable tension, and the always amazing love in the Rosenberg-Maclay family... how do you do it :hmm . I am oh so glad that you can :bow . Can't wait to see where you're taking us next.





behindhereyes

Kim

"To the world, you may be one person; but to one person, you may be the world"



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted
PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2004 10:06 pm 
I love this series - every time there's an update, I drop what I'm doing so I can read it. I don't always have time to leave feedback (because I frequently have to dash out the door to make it to work on-time), but know that you've got a very loyal reader here.



-Sass



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted
PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2004 1:33 am 
Hi Kim and Sassette glad your enjoying the stories and I'm about a fifth of the way through writing 'A Fine Line' right now, so with a following wind should be done before December rolls round.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: Re: RC 2018: 2019-1: Cold Hearted
PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2004 1:59 am 
Ok, 'A Fine Line' is finished, a few days editing and it will be up here.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-2: A Fine Line Pt II
PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 2:03 pm 
3. "First Sight"




The DeAngelo family's warehouse looked the same as any other from the outside. Even inside it looked prosaic; unless you happened to examine the contents of the crates and barrels that lined the shelves. Of course those with a true talent for denial could still persuade themselves the contents were just theatre props and Halloween gimmicks.

        That might account for the looks Willow was getting as she eagerly examined the myriad of magical paraphernalia. Tara suspected though that any middle aged woman running around like a kid in a candy store would get stared at, "Honey remember we're here looking for clues."

        "I am looking for clues.” “Willow assured her, somewhat unconvincingly.

        Tara sighed, she couldn't entirely blame Willow for getting a little carried away; besides Willow being enthusiastic was always cute and it wasn't like she had a better idea for investigating the incident that had afflicted the warehouse the previous week.

        It had occurred during a night shift at the warehouse and started off as nothing more than odd noises that steadily built in intensity, like a thousand people whispering, impossible to comprehend, impossible to ignore, and threatening to reveal terrible things if you listened too long. In half an hour it had emptied the warehouse and it had taken Francis DeAngelo two days and the promise of substantial bonuses to get his employees back.

        A week later and Tara was growing increasingly dubious about their chances of finding anything, there was simply too much magic lingering in the place to pick out any single part or track it. She let her gaze wander round the cavernous building, taking in the apparently endless rows of shelving and the people and machines tending them. Her gaze traveled on, and then swung back. Keeping her gaze placid Tara nudged Willow, "Come on Will we need to keep looking."

        Willow was going to protest when Tara followed up with an unspoken addendum, there's something here.

        "You're right, we can window shop later." Willow agreed casually and let Tara lead the way, what are we looking for?

        The guy in the red shirt
, Tara explained, her attention clearly on the target.

        Willow tried to casually check the man out but all she could see was a perfectly ordinary workman wandering amongst the shelves, what about him?

        He's not all there
, Tara's remark wasn't all that helpful but before Willow could press for more details Tara continued, you'll see in a second. Tara made a pass through the air and the man in the red shirt disappeared; to be replaced by the form of a girl dressed in jeans and a tight t-shirt with long dark hair falling down her back and currently a stunned expression on her attractive face.

        Tara glanced towards Willow to explain, which was what saved the girl from a pounding. No one else could have read Willow so completely and realized what she was about to do. She knocked Willow’s hand upwards and a telekinetic wave slammed a box off a high shelf and sent it smashing on the floor.

        The crash had an electrifying effect on the girl, she uttered an incantation and Willow and Tara were momentarily dazzled. When they could see again they were surrounded by a group of bemused looking warehouse workers. Willow looked around frantically for the girl, "We have to track her down."

        Tara laid a hand on her arm to hold Willow back, "Ok honey, just as soon you can explain why you tried to turn her into a Frisbee."

        Willow looked at Tara and her mouth opened and closed a few times before she finally formed a weak reply, "I don't know, I was just so mad at her."



        Slipping into a bathing suit had seemed like a good way to blend into the crowd while LJ snooped around the beach looking for traces of the demon from the night before. What she hadn't allowed for in her plan was that wandering around a packed beach and closely scrutinizing her surroundings was apt to be misinterpreted. Thus she had spent a disproportionate amount of time fending off the attentions of the local lotharios rather than demon tracking. Finally though she had picked a trace of what she had been searching for; a snaking thread of light that only LJ could see, demon blood mixed into the beach sand.

        LJ had cleaned the knife she had used on the beach thoroughly but luckily the trash hadn't yet been thrown out and she had been able to retrieve the rag she had used, along with its smears of demon blood. Using those smears it hadn't taken long to concoct a spell that would let her track it down when she returned to Miami. Being hit on every five minutes hadn't been the only problem with her plan though. LJ hadn't realized just how much the ordinary foot traffic could churn and disturb the beach. The trail, or trails as it turned out, were hard to unravel but finally she was sure of where they all converged; right on the waters edge. LJ had been hoping that the demon made its home amongst the sand dunes, or in a sewer outfall but the thing was clearly amphibious, lives in the water and just comes out looking for some easy pickings. That just left LJ with 'plan B'.



        Any spell that involved blood was usually unpleasant; the same applied to anything that called itself a hex, curse, or geas. The two together made for the sort of spell that LJ's parents definitely didn’t approve of. Still given that the alternatives were growing gills or turning into a fish LJ decided it was definitely the lesser evil. She found a quiet spot amongst the dunes, opened her beach bag and spread out her towel. She arranged a few items in a circle; after carefully drawing a concealment glamour around herself to ensure that anyone inclined to walk this way went elsewhere.

        Satisfied with the glamour and her arrangements LJ set a ceramic bowl in the middle of the circle, mostly to protect the towel. She lit the rag and dropped it into the bowl while uttering a dark incantation and watched as it burned to ashes before pouring the contents of a vial from the bag on top of it, "Well if that doesn't bring you running nothing will."

        About to conclude that nothing was exactly what she was going to get when LJ finally spotted a sinuous movement in the sand that had nothing to do with any passing breeze. She drew her favourite sword from the bag and stood up to take a defensive position.

        The creature rose out of the sand just short of the towel and rose six feet into the air swaying back and forth in a snake like manner but coming no further forward. It stretched and flexed its limbs, which looked even deadlier in the daylight. LJ wasn't impressed, "You can knock that off, and you aren't getting free until you tell me what I want to know, understand?"

        Rather than nodding or making a sound the demon swept one of its limbs across a patch of sand to smooth it out and then used the point of one of its scythe like appendages to scratch in it; YES

        LJ was startled but recovered quickly, "Ok, I figure that you didn't just wander on to the beach that night, you were looking for the DeAngelo's right?"

        The demon underscored the 'YES'.

        "Right, now let's go for something multisyllable, why were you after them?"

        The demon swept the sand clean again, OWED MELZNAR, it scrawled.

        "Another demon right, so tell me where to find it so we can skip the twenty questions." LJ instructed.

        The creature complied, HALF DEMON RUNS BLUE BREAKER BAR

        Deciding she had gotten all she needed LJ was left with the question of what to do with the demon, just slicing up an ensorcelled creature was too much like shooting fish in a barrel for her taste, "Go, and I suggest you stick to eating fish from now on, or next time I see you I'll feed you to them."



        Tara handed Willow a cup, herbal tea rather than coffee, "Feeling better?"

        "I'm fine," Willow protested, "You're acting like I've turned psycho."

        Tara fixed her with an appraising gaze, "Honey you did seem to have an episode, and it's not precisely the first time."

        That made Willow start, "What are you talking about?"

        Tara sat down next to her, "When the Renaissance tried to grab Dawn and that girl stopped them. Dawn was telling the story, LJ made some harmless remark and you practically tore her head off."

        Willow considered that, "You know they could both be the same girl."

        Not about to be taken off at a tangent Tara waved the suggestion away, "Could be but I'm more concerned about your reaction right now, why it was so violent."

        "There was just, something about her." Willow floundered.

        As it happened Tara had experienced a nagging sense of familiarity but she decided not to mention it right now, "So we have to find out what the something is, look inside you."

        "And what did you have mind?" Willow was curious rather concerned.

        Tara became hesitant, "I was thinking hypnosis."

        Willow looked dubious, "Is this is just a cheap trick to put me under and take advantage of me?"

        "Absolutely not." Tara assured her.

        "So it'll be no fun at all." Willow sighed morosely.

        Hypnotizing a person wasn't a matter of willpower or dominance; it was more about relaxation and trust, which Tara had in spades when it came to Willow so she had her partner under in practically no time. Tara decided the smartest way to do this was to stick with her best professional manner, "Alright Willow I want you to think about the girl in the warehouse but your outside the events, just watching it like a video without getting involved."

        "Okay." Willow agreed distantly.

        "Picture the girl and tell me about the first moment you saw her."

        "She was chasing the men."

        That left Tara nonplussed, "Where was that?"

        "In the Glade." Willow responded.

        That jarred loose the memory that had been jammed in the back of Tara’s mind. All those years ago in the Glade, the girl who chased the two oriental men and stared at her and Willow as if they were familiar but difficult to place, because we were so young. That didn't really explain Willow's reaction though, "What about the next time you saw her?"

        Willow looked unhappy as she thought about it, "We were arguing in the corridor."

        This time the comment didn't trigger any memories for Tara; so she decided to abandon the orthodox approach, "Show me darling."

        Willow needed no further prompting, the memory popped into her brain;



        Sabrina didn't shout she just shook her head and walked away, "Fine I'm the cold blooded killer I'll go do what has to be done and you can keep your hands clean and tell LJ what a rotten human being I am; again."



        Tara shook her head, the fragmentary nature of the memory said it had to be a vision, a fragment of the future that hadn't come to pass yet, "What was going through your mind Willow? Right at that instant?"

        "I just wish LJ could have chosen herself a nice normal..." Willow's eyes snapped open and she sat bolt upright as she finished her sentence, "...girlfriend."



4. "Breathless"




Finding the Blue Breaker tavern wasn't all that hard for LJ; she just pulled on a t-shirt and jeans over her swimsuit and headed for the worst part of the Miami waterfront and looked for the nastiest bar on it. It was so nasty and decrepit looking, and the sign above the door was so faded, that she practically walked past it despite her best efforts. Having caught herself in time LJ wandered in; with a hand casually resting on the hilt of the sword in her beach bag.

        It wasn't surprising that most of the demonic clientele in the bar looked amphibious, or plain aquatic by the look of the floor to ceiling 'aquarium' that occupied one side of the bar; warm waters, golden beaches, hot and cold running tourists, where else would a water based demon want to be?

        As LJ marched up to the bar some of the demons were paying a little too much attention so she pulled the sword out, its obvious sharpness and the iridescence of the magical field quickly had them finding business elsewhere. The bartender on the other hand nowhere else to go and simply stood watching her approach nervously, "You Melznar?"

        The specter of imminent death lifted from the bartender, "No he's in back."

        "Don't mind if I just go see him?" LJ inquired casually.

        The bartender considered explaining that might be awkward but seeing the expression on LJ’s face decided against it, to hell with it, let Melznar sort it out, "Suit yourself, it's the door marked private."

        LJ marched on with a curt nod and straight through the door; at which point her entire plan fell apart. That Melznar was an ugly brute was to be expected, that he was lying cowering on the floor was less expected but hardly astonishing given the sleazy nature of the establishment. No what brought LJ to a standstill was the person Melznar was cowering from. She had long dark hair; dark eyes, high cheekbones currently emphasized by the flush of exertion, and was; gorgeous.

        If LJ was startled Sabrina was thunderstruck, "Lydia."

        The obvious questions that LJ might have asked seemed irrelevant at that moment, only one mattered, "Who are you?"

        "Sabrina, Sabrina Harrington, and your Lydia Maclay." As soon as she said it Sabrina wished she hadn't, she sounded childishly pleased with herself when she said her name.

        Now LJ went back to what probably should have been her first question, "How do you know my name?"

        "We almost crossed paths a couple of times, and I wanted to know who you were." I needed to know.

        LJ was still trying to order her thoughts and somehow Sabrina's explanation didn't seem the least bit odd. It certainly stirred some feelings but the way Sabrina said her name definitely wasn't a bad thing, and she decided to try it for herself, "I guess we're even then, Sabrina."

        Two questions had plagued Sabrina ever since she first saw LJ; is she gay? And what do I say if she is? The way LJ was looking at her pretty much answered the first question the second though left her as scared and blank as before. The only notion she had thought of was absurd; you couldn't just ask someone you had only just met to run away with you. On another day when Sabrina explained her thoughts to LJ she was deeply wounded when LJ burst out laughing; until LJ explained the reason and Sabrina felt like kicking herself.

        Melznar broke up the hormonal maelstrom by unsubtly crawling towards the door. LJ swung the sword down in front of him, "Who said you could leave?"

        Melznar had small piggy eyes that didn't lend themselves to a look of innocence, "I just figured you two might like a little privacy."

        LJ was more than a little embarrassed that her feelings were that obvious, "That's none of your business, and I've got a few questions for you."

        Sabrina raised her hand politely, "Lydia I was sort of here first."

        LJ looked towards her again, "And I've got the sword, I suppose we could fight for him."

        Sabrina wrinkled her nose, "Not much of a prize, maybe we could sweeten the pot somehow."

        LJ felt compelled to play along, "What did you have in mind?"

        Sabrina shrugged, "Depends, what would interest you?"

        LJ had sudden visions of the sunken tub in the bathroom at home that her parents made such hedonistic use of. Thinking of Willow and Tara sobered LJ somewhat, "I'll think about that but it occurs to me we probably want to ask this guy the same questions so why don't I just ask him?"

        It actually sounded good to Sabrina but a certain pride made her ask, "Why don't I do the interrogating?"

        The question didn't bother LJ, "Because I've got the blade, and because it's my job; I'm a Slayer," she was gratified to see that Sabrina was suitably impressed.

        Sabrina knew what a Slayer was and it explained some things about Lydia; the only thing that concerned her was that the Athenai seemed utterly unaware of this fairly important point, or maybe they just decided to leave me unaware, "Ok I'll leave it to the professional."

        That pleased LJ, "Well now that's settled Melznar how about you explain why you set that demon loose at the concert, what's so important about the DeAngelo's?"

        "I don't know, exactly," he added that last emphatic point when LJ moved the sword towards his face, "I just know that there's a serious reward for anyone who can get a hold over them."

        LJ considered that for a moment, before the sword became a blur and a fine gash oozing blood appeared on Melznars scaly face, "How about I give you one more chance to answer before I turn you into luggage?"

        Melznar's tone turned desperate, "The DeAngelo's double-crossed something old and mean and it wants payback. Grabbing one of the DeAngelo kids would guarantee they would play ball.

        "And just how were you planning to collect this big reward?" LJ asked dubiously.

        Melznar, shook his head, "You don't get it. This thing is old magic, you don't tell it things, it knows."

        LJ had the nasty feeling Melznar was telling the truth. She glanced over at Sabrina, who looked suitably impressed by her interrogation technique. Sabrina did have one question though, "What are you going to do with him?"

        LJ shrugged, "Nothing," Melznar looked relieved until she went on, "if this thing knows stuff then it knows Melznar blabbed. I figure he'll be too busy running to give us or the DeAngelo's anymore trouble."

        Sabrina considered that and smiled, which sent a thrill running through LJ. Melznar on the other hand just lay on the floor moaning.

        As they walked out of the bar LJ turned left, and halted as she saw Sabrina turning right. They stood looking at one another until Sabrina spoke up, "I have to check in."

        "Yeah my moms will be expecting me too."

        Sabrina frowned and decided she had misheard. She wasn't quite sure what to say; here she was with her goddess and she couldn't think of how to explain her feelings, how to persuade Lydia not to go.

        LJ's feelings were an exact mirror. She decided what she needed was some time to try and disentangle her feelings; figure things out, "I will see you later,” she hesitated for a moment and then smiled, “I figure we’ve still got a competition going," with that she teleported out.

        Sabrina blinked, "I've got to ask her how she does that."



        Willow was tapping the stylus that belonged to her tablet on the coffee table in an impatient and tuneless fashion, "Are you sure we shouldn't tell her? We did say we wouldn't keep any secrets about the future."

        Tara shook her head, "This would be more like spoiling a surprise I think."

        Willow was tempted to point out that might not be so bad but she restrained herself; her feelings towards the mysterious Sabrina were entirely irrational and if she expressed them to her daughter LJ was apt to doubt her sanity.

        As if the conversation had summoned her LJ materialized in the middle of the living room, "Hey moms, find anything at the warehouse?"

        Tara had spent enough time analyzing patients to know when someone was trying to take control of a conversation. Willow though was still too concerned with her own thoughts to notice, "We didn't find any clues as such but I don't think we're the only ones snooping into the DeAngelo's affairs."

        LJ considered that, and Tara swore she saw a little smile cross her daughters face before her expression sobered again, "Fits with what I found out," she proceeded to lay out what she had learned from Melznar with one major edit; in this version of events it was strictly a two handed conversation.

        Tara wasn't remotely deceived. As LJ related a rather grim tale of interrogation she could see warm positive feelings rippling across LJ's aura that were totally out of place, and since Tara was pretty certain her daughter hadn't turned into a sadist overnight that meant there was something LJ was keeping to herself, which is fine, Tara reminded herself, some things are private.

        When LJ finished her explanation Willow was frowning, "It sounds like someone in the DeAngelo family knows exactly what's going on."

        "It isn't Francis," Tara was quite firm, "he was baffled by this whole thing. His brother and sister though, well there were a lot of strong emotions there. There could be more going on there."

        Willow nodded, "So we see them again and ask them point blank."

        "That mean's splitting up again." LJ commented, and then saw the curious expressions she had prompted, "If we go to them one at a time the other one could get advance warning."

Willow simply sighed, the logic seemed impeccable to her, "So who gets the sister then?"

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am

Edited by: Sheridan at: 11/21/04 2:11 pm


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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-2: A Fine Line Pt I
PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 3:02 pm 
Title: A Fine Line

Author: Mike Mullen

Rating: NC-17/18 because of violence, and adult themes.

Spoilers: None what so ever

Disclaimer: All the original BTVS characters belong to Joss Whedon and ME. Everyone else in the stories are my personal slaves.

Summary: The family are dragged into an extortion plot, and come face to face with the Athenai once more.

Authors notes: Birthday time, and what do you get the Slayer who has everything?

Feedback: Just add your comments at the end of the story.







A Fine Line




Prologue




The second of the Circle of the Glade was incredibly uncomfortable, the jagged rock of the roof encouraged an uncomfortable slouching posture, even if there was no real risk of bumping into it, and the damp and slimy footing made her afraid that if she moved she would slip and fall. Adding in the gloom and unpleasant odor the Second would have preferred to be anywhere else, so let's not drag this out shall we? "Have you come to a decision?"

        "Perhaps, if knew what you expect from this witch; what will I owe you?" The voice came from the gloomiest corner of the cavern.

        The second ignored the irritating singsong quality of the voice, "We have our purposes and this suits them. You will owe us nothing but silence, we never had this conversation."

        "I know something of your purposes witch, I fail to see how this aids you."

        Because what you know isn't even one percent of our purpose, "That doesn't concern you, only that you get what you want, we get what we want, and neither will owe the other."

        There's was a moments silence, "Very well it will begin as soon as you are gone."

        The second accepted the dismissal without comment, she would be as happy to go as her host to see the back of her. As she gathered the magic to teleport out one irreverent thought pierced the Second's somber mood, I hope the girls enjoy their birthday present.





1. "I'm Not In Love"




The noise was pounding and dissonant but Willow held her tongue, she wasn't going to open herself up to being teased about being past it by describing her daughters choice of music as a racket, besides it's her birthday party so it's her choice. She held on to that thought as the alleged song hit a particularly jagged section. To take her mind off it she swept her gaze over the crowd, and was pleased by how many people had come. There were a lot of her fellow students from school and quite a few of her fencing team. LJ had always been fairly popular there but since she had led them to an unbroken string of victories she had become positively iconic. Ally had turned up with her boyfriend and Willow had been as surprised as her daughter by that development. Still the boy seemed nice and Ally seemed happy so she accepted this minor miracle at face value.

        "I still find that hard to believe." Tara offered Willow a glass as she joined her.

        Willow realized her partner had also been watching Ally and her boyfriend, "Just shows you never can tell."

        Tara smiled and let her free hand brush against Willow's. Willow put on a mock frown, "We promised not to do anything embarrassing at the party."

        "Whole point of chaperoning is to embarrass the kids isn't it?" Willow turned to see that Buffy Carter had drifted up behind them.

        "Yes," Willow replied, "but you're never supposed to admit it."

        Buffy nodded, "Right. Anyway looks to me like you haven't done anything to embarrass the offspring, and everyone seems to be having a good time; of course it's easier when you only have to deal with on child at a time."

        "Well Buffy I think you have to blame your husband for that, don't twins run in his family?" Tara's question was so deadpan that it was a moment or two before Buffy laughed and raised her hand in concession.

        "Ok, ok." Buffy gazed around the room and became thoughtful as she saw LJ talking with her friends. "You remember what happened on my seventeenth?"

        "Kind of hard to forget but we've got wards three layers deep around this place and LJ spent the last week making the local demons decide to go on vacation." Willow explained; her daughter had been adamant that nothing was going to spoil her night, it had been a close call dissuading her from putting a force field round the whole block.

        Buffy shook her head, "I was actually thinking about later."

        Willow frowned as she recalled the sequence of events, party, judge, Angel; "Oh, right, well I'm pretty sure we can rule that out to."

        Buffy looked back at LJ and the little group gathered around her, "She really hasn't met anyone?"

        Well she thought your clone was kind of cute but we won't be mentioning that anytime soon, Willow decided.

        Tara intervened to fill the vacuum, "No, she's definitely still young, free, and single." The way Tara said it she didn't think that was necessarily a good thing. Buffy nodded in agreement; being the Slayer meant the concept of waiting until you were older and wiser became a little redundant.



        With senses honed by months of slaying LJ was aware that her parents and Buffy were watching her without breaking the flow of the conversation around her. She even had a pretty fair idea of what they were talking about; or more to the point who. Through the years LJ had pieced together what had happened when Willow and Buffy were seventeen, especially what had gone on around Buffy's birthday, and the way one of her parents had runaway to find the other. With the rosy gloss time threw over the past it all seemed like one big romantic adventure, indeed that was the way Willow had written it in her novelized versions. Even though her parents had made it clear real life was a lot messier, and her own experiences had backed that up, LJ still wanted to try out the adventure for herself. She shook the thoughts off; this is your party so let's enjoy it. "Ok, who else is ready to dance?"

       

        Under other circumstances having an attractive young woman clad in nothing more than underwear and a rather skimpy robe lounging on a sofa next to him would have appealed to Nigel as much as the next man. Those other circumstances would have required Nigel to be at least ten years younger, and the young woman in question being interested in someone of his gender, let alone him. Instead he was quite sure that Sabrina's sole intention was to unsettle and embarrass him, which was par for the course lately. Nigel had never been close with Sabrina but she had possessed some friends in the Athenai, and possibly more than friends if you believed the gossip. The past few months though she seemed to deal out sarcasm and derision with an utter lack of discretion, becoming somewhat isolated in the process.

        That unsettling realization gave Nigel pause, should he simply put things on hold and review the matter with Phoebe? Even as the thought crossed his mind Nigel realized that would be a very bad idea, the decision had been made and it wasn’t a battle he had the energy to fight.

        Getting bored and seeing her attempts to fluster him weren't working Sabrina decided to grit her teeth and ask the obvious question, "What do you want Nigel?"

        "There's a new mission and Phoebe wants you to take it on."

        Sabrina frowned, "You mean as part of yet another stellar team effort?"

        "I mean by yourself." Saying it out loud the notion sounded even worse.

        Sabrina though reacted with a display of genuine interest, "I get to work solo? What's the catch?"

        "There isn't one," Nigel insisted and then hesitated, "unless you count being discrete as a drawback."

        "Discretion is my middle name." Sabrina assured him.

        Nigel didn't even try to hold back his snort of disbelief, "Well we shall see," he pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to her, "The details are in here. Now if you don't mind I'll be going."

        Sabrina nodded distractedly and didn't even notice he had left. She climbed off the sofa and went to pick up a little letter opener on a table next to it. As soon as she did her burst of enthusiasm faded. Sabrina dropped the packet and picked up the letter that had been lying there all day, right, running a mission yourself, making your own decisions, you've done such a great job in the past. The envelope was pale yellow with Sabrina's name hand written on the front and a faint scent of perfume rising from it.

        For the sixth time that day she considered opening it and this time came to a decision. She threw the letter into the air and with a brief moments concentration the letter was reduced to a fine haze of soot and smoke, "Another wonderful birthday Sabrina," she muttered to herself as she turned her attention to the mission packet.



        After the party wound down and LJ said goodbye to her friends she found herself restless and with energy to burn. She could only think of one way to use it up and so she had chosen a good all-purpose blade, a heavy jacket to conceal it in and set out on patrol.

        Since it was still her birthday LJ decided to do her patrolling somewhere different, somewhere upbeat, which was how she came to be strolling along Miami's south beach watching cruise ships heading out to sea. The glittering lights were enticing and for a mad moment she considered teleporting out and taking a wander round. The moment passed and she turned her attention back to the beach. She had found a few reports on the net that pointed to something supernatural lurking on the Miami shore, so far though the cruise ships were the only activity she had seen, until suddenly the night sky was lit up by a fusillade of fireworks. Loud explosions filled the air and multicolored lights threw the beach into sharp relief, so much for getting any slaying done, LJ concluded, might as well go and see what all the fuss is about.

        As Lj made her way round a curve in the shorefront the sky was further lit up with floodlights, lasers, and pyrotechnics, all playing over a crowd that spread out over a great tract of shore. The crowd’s attention though was largely focused on a temporary stage set up amongst the dunes. LJ spotted an array of banners planted in the sand that jogged a fugitive memory loose. The previous year had seen a massive hurricane strike the Miami coast, it's power enhanced by a sudden change of direction that prevented an effective evacuation. To counter the distinctly negative effects on the tourist trade the mayor and the local businesses had initiated a campaign to draw them back, including a series of beach concerts.

        Willow and Tara had Okayed her going out on a patrol but nothing had been said about any concert. She was still trying to figure out a way of rationalizing going down there when a spotlight momentarily picked out an odd rippling in the sand and Slayer instincts instantly told her that she had been mistaken earlier, she was going to get plenty of slaying done.

        As she raced to catch up LJ fretted that the whatever it was just going to pop up and grab someone from the edge of the crowd. She was relieved, and surprised, to see the trail weaving amongst the crowd and plunging deeper; giving her the time to close the gap. The ripple was barely three feet in front of her when the sand fountained up and a nightmare millipede rose up into air. The things 'feet' were a mix of long taloned limbs and clawed hands which were now lunging towards a group of teenagers sitting on a blanket, who were too shocked to do more than stare in open mouthed horror as it struck.

        LJ somersaulted through the air and hit the demon square in the back, smashing it back down into the sand. Rolling away the Slayer sprang to her feet and drew her knife. The thing shook off the sand and reared up again. LJ was ready and her blade slashed through the right hand side of the segmented body, just behind the limbs. Half a dozen of the appendages hung uselessly and the body stiffened though there was an eerie silence from the beast before it plunged back under the beach and rippled away beneath the sand. Since it was heading for the water LJ didn’t see a lot of point in pursuing.

        Brushing off her jacket and pocketing the knife LJ was planning her exit when two of the teenagers on the blanket recovered sufficiently to get up and speak to their rescuer. They were a boy and a girl; brother and sister by the looks of them. It was the girl who spoke up first, words tumbling from her, "Oh god thank you so much, what was that thing? Where did you come from? What's your name?"

        Used to people simply too shocked or too deep in denial to react LJ found the gushing reaction embarrassing, "I'm LJ, its, its just what I do." LJ ran off into darkness again before dematerializing for home.



2. "Loving Family"




Willow and Tara had a very settled Saturday routine, wait until LJ was out of the house and then get into some serious quality time. This weekend though that routine had been reluctantly abandoned. For one thing LJ had gotten in later than expected and reported her beachfront run in. Then Willow found her head was still pounding in rhythm with her daughters appalling taste in music and even after several aspirin it still took her forever to get to sleep and if you added in Buffy sleeping in the guest bedroom, well then it made for a very quiet Saturday morning.

        Heading downstairs Willow was feeling distinctly grumpy, reflected in her choice of a terrycloth bathrobe to wrap around herself. It was an unflattering thing that lurked in the back of the wardrobe and only came out when Willow was in a truly bad mood. It was possibly inevitable that the computer piped up before she could reach the coffee pot, "Professor there is a call for you from a Mr. DeAngelo."

        "Never heard of him." Willow growled.

        "He says that apparently he owes his children's lives to your daughter."

        That hit Willow like two cups of espresso, "Is mister DeAngelo calling from Miami?"

        "He is Professor."

        Willow thought quickly, "Ask him to call back in thirty minutes."

        "Mister DeAngelo says he will be happy too. He also says to tell you he has enjoyed reading the Anne Winters novels."



        Tara and LJ looked as bewildered as Willow had twenty minutes earlier, "He knows thatt you wrote the Demon Hunter books?" Tara fretted.

        "This DeAngelo character is probably a Mafiosi." LJ asserted.

        Willow shook her head, "Not very likely dear, the Mafia aren’t much more than a tourist trap in New York these days." The thought of those themed tours brought back memories of Sunnydale and Willow barely suppressed a shudder.

        "Whatever he does he obviously has excellent connections," Tara pointed out, "to have found out so much in so short a time."

        Willow had reached that point in her thoughts about ten minutes ago, and she hadn't made any progress since on the question that begged, "Why though?"

        LJ had actually gotten one step further along, "You mean what does he want from us? Seems kind of unfair after I rescued his kids, he owes us, not the other way round."

        "Perhaps he wants to offer us a reward." Tara didn't much like that notion; it made them sound somewhat mercenary.

        Willow had the same thought, "In which case we will politely but firmly decline." Actually she was rather hoping that was what DeAngelo did want. That would at least be pretty straightforward, and it would be nice, just once, for things to be straightforward.



        DeAngelo didn't seem fazed to be confronted by the entire family as he stared out of the wall screen, "Thank you for talking to me, and thank you Miss Maclay for protecting my children."

        "Hey it's not like I mind getting a thank you but you didn't need to be in such a hurry to do it." LJ was trying to be flippant but there was a distinct edge to her voice.

        Now DeAngelo looked embarrassed, the expression deepening the frown lines in his tanned face, "I'm afraid last nights incident was not the first where members of my family have been targeted and I'm afraid there was a degree of suspicion among them at the promptness of the rescue."

        Willow rose from her chair and began to respond angrily, "Mister DeAngelo we aren't..."

        DeAngelo raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, "Please I never seriously entertained it, and once I established that it was the Slayer who had done the rescuing they rather had to concede the point. I simply brought it up in the interest of honesty and openness because I need your help, my children were lucky last night, what about the next time?"



        Sat in the kitchen Willow Tara nursed cups of coffee while LJ and Buffy, who had slept right through the comm call, settled on fruit juice, "So are you buying this plea for help?

        Willow and Tara both looked towards LJ. She hastily swallowed a mouthful of orange juice, "Last night couldn't have been a setup, I didn't know I was going to Miami until the last minute, and I practically stumbled into the concert. I'm also pretty sure that demon was on a mission. It skipped plenty of targets to go after that one little group."

        "And DeAngelo seemed sincerely concerned," Tara added, "though I can't be totally sure over a video connection."

        Buffy looked around the trio and drew a simple conclusion, "You're going to Miami."

        Willow looked unhappy, "I don't like being guilt tripped into helping someone but this could be serious and the only way to be absolutely sure is to see him and his family face to face."

        LJ sighed, "Never really understood that old saying about 'no good deed goes unpunished'; until right about now."

        Buffy smiled, "That's Slaying for you, meet interesting people and get dumped on by them."

        LJ resisted the temptation to cram the cheery grin into the waste disposal.



        "You know palm lined driveways are so passé, now if it was lined with pines that would be impressive."

        Willow had to agree with her daughter's assessment. The DeAngelo family home looked like something out of 'Miami Vice' and was about to say so when she realized she would have to explain what Miami Vice was, and that would just make her sound older than she was so she settled for commenting, "It is a little dated."

        "Practically prehistoric." LJ asserted.

        "Not quite that old dear," Tara corrected.

        LJ didn't look convinced but decided not to push it. Instead she marched up the driveway and rang the doorbell. The door swung open and the man behind it just had to be a butler, "Afternoon Jeeves, I believe we're expected."

        'Jeeves' looked pained but since the trio were indeed expected he maintained his dignity, "This way ladies."

        That was uncalled for Lydia, Tara warned her sternly, the man is just doing his job.

        As was often the way her mother's warning produced a mixture of guilt and defiance, ok I'll be nice, unless these guys are messing with us.

        Any chance for her parents to admonish her further was cut off as DeAngelo appeared in the hallway, "Doctor, Professor, Miss Maclay thank you for coming. I suppose asking you about your trip would be redundant?"

        "Passed practically in the blink of an eye." Willow assured him smoothly.

        "I didn't think you would want to face an audience so I tried to keep this as low key as possible." DeAngelo was doing his best to sound like a genial host.

        "How well did you succeed?" Willow was trying to be as pleasant as DeAngelo but was too on edge to succeed.

        "My brother and sister insisted on being here, and since they have a share in the business I couldn't really say no." He gestured towards an open doorway and the trio of witches walked towards it.

        "Do you think this has something to do with your business?" Tara enquired.

        "Practically certain," DeAngelo replied, "but that's about the only thing I'm sure of."

        "Well that's a heartening admission Francis, perhaps it's not to late to stop this nonsense." The man who made this announcement was a little younger and a little balder but clearly closely related.

        "Now Paul there is simply no call to be so abrupt, you'll give our visitors a very bad impression of our upbringing. My name is Kristina, pleased to meet you." The woman was a couple of years older than Willow and Tara with permed hair and the same skin tone that spoke of someone who hadn't quite believed all those warnings about the dangers of UV.

        As Francis DeAngelo seated her family Tara observed his siblings, and Willow spotted the momentary tension that passed over her face. Before Willow could find out why Tara followed up her previous question, "What exactly is your business?" As she spoke Tara let her hand slide towards Willow's.

        Willow never objected to a little physical contact, or a lot, with Tara but she was surprised at her partner being so blatant in front of strangers. Her attention was distracted again when DeAngelo responded, "Our business is magic." Seeing that got the witches attention DeAngelo plunged on, “Not in the same way as yourself, but we may have distantly crossed paths if you've ever bought a charm or magical ingredients commercially."

        "You sell magic wholesale." LJ was too taken with her guess to worry about interrupting.

        DeAngelo didn't appear to mind, in fact he shot an; I told you so, glance at his siblings, "Exactly so, if you've ever purchased magical materials from a shop in the US there's a good chance we supplied."

        "Actually we had a friend who ran a magic store," Tara offered that up, and went on, "and I know it could be a dangerous business."

        That prompted an outburst from Paul, " That's not our responsibility. If some liquor store sells beer to minors would you blame Budweiser?"

        Willow fixed him with a cool stare, "I think what my partner is suggesting is that someone else might not make that distinction."

        "And that would make a good motive," DeAngelo agreed, "one we hadn't thought of. Frankly we were focused on a business rival or an extortion attempt."

        "But you haven't been able to find anything that points in that direction." Willow concluded.

        "I don't think we can rule that out." Paul snapped.

        "We can't rule anything out." Kristina said soothingly.

        Paul wasn't mollified, "Fine, check out everything but do it with professionals."

        This time Kristina was more hesitant, "I'm afraid there I have to agree with my brother, it would be entirely unfair to put this burden on you ladies."

        LJ couldn't restrain herself, "Hey I hate to break this to you but when it comes to taking down demons we are the professionals."

        That left Paul and Kristina speechless. DeAngelo though took it in his stride, "That's why I hoped you would help us. If this is some effort to put us out of business it's inept and ill focused. If it's extortion why no demands? Something dark is threatening me and my family, will you help stop it?"

        Willow looked at Tara and LJ; there was no escaping the sincerity in DeAngelo's voice, or the viciousness of the attack LJ had thwarted. If this went on someone was going to get hurt, or worse, "I don't suppose we can say no."



        After agreeing to help DeAngelo practically swamped the trio with background information and it was another half an hour before they finally got away. That left Willow increasingly on edge because she was sure something was going on with Tara but she hadn't found a moment even for telepathy.

        When they finally reappeared in their living room LJ managed to beat her to the punch, "Wow mom what was with all the hand holding? It's embarrassing enough when you do it front of me."

        The question was joking but Tara looked grim, "I had to be sure about what I was reading. Mr. DeAngelo was genuine and his brother was pretty similar, worried, puzzled, major case of sibling rivalry. Kristina though, she's a lying bitch."

        LJ nearly fell off the chair arm she was perched and Willow went wide eyed, "Baby..."

        Tara raised a hand apologetically, "I'm sorry, it's just that I haven't felt that sort of loathing, well, in a very long time." Not since the last time I spoke with my father.

        LJ and Willow were puzzled for a moment until they made the connection to the handholding, "She doesn't like us." Willow practically spat the word out.

        "We're going to help some homophobe? I think we should just let the big bad have her." LJ's body language said she was ready for a fight.

        Oddly enough seeing her partner and daughter venting took the edge off Tara's emotions enough so that she could see past her antipathy to Kristina DeAngelo, "No we're aren't helping her, we're helping those people you saved on the beach, and all those people who work for the company who could be in the firing line next time."

        Willow managed a smile and took Tara’s hand, LJ still looked unhappy but nodded grudging agreement, "Ok, so I'll go and find the sand demon, am I going on my own?'

        Willow considered that, "I think so, we'll go look at the scene of the incident before that, then we can compare notes, see if there are any obvious connections."

        "Ok, you go snoop, I'll go pound." LJ felt the need to go beat something up, and if not Kristina DeAngelo then a demon would just have to do.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-2: A Fine Line Pt III
PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 3:12 pm 
5. "Love And Hate"




The office of Paul DeAngelo was at the opposite end of the complex from his brothers and one floor up. Tara considered the psychological implications of that; could sibling rivalry have pushed the younger brother to make deals with the denizens of the underworld; trying to prove his superior business skills? Tara looked at LJ; her daughter had formulated the much simpler theory that the guy was just a jerk, though she wasn't wholly convinced that he was actually the bad guy.

        As it happened Tara wasn't wholly convinced that LJ was giving this her full attention but once again decided against asking her about it, at best it would be embarrassing, at worst grounds for a blazing row that Tara couldn't hope to win. She would just have to let her daughter talk about in her own good time. It turned out 'her own good time' would be around another thirty seconds.

        Paul DeAngelo's secretary put up a rather half hearted effort to prevent the pair marching into his office unannounced, her boss it seemed didn't inspire any great loyalty and the pair swept past as the secretary simply threw up her hands and went back to her desk. LJ threw open the door and stormed in; Tara almost slammed into her as she came to a total halt. Paul DeAngelo was sat behind the desk with anger gradually replacing bewilderment, and leaning against the desk was; "Sabrina!"

        The girl almost fell over as she saw who had walked in, and this time it wasn't because of LJ's presence, "Please tell me the other one isn't here as well,” she was staring anxiously at Tara.

        Tara became aware that LJ was staring at her as well, "There was a little incident at the warehouse."

        Sabrina arched an eyebrow; "She tried to throw me across the room." Sabrina corrected her.

        "Exactly why was that?" LJ's tone was a perfect mirror of the one her mothers were apt to use when she done something wrong as a child.

        Tara decided to keep the reply silent; we've seen her before.

        Where
? LJ demanded.

        Another place, another time.

        The emphasis wasn't lost on LJ and only the stares they were getting from Sabrina and Paul De Angelo prevented her from pursuing it further. In fact as she turned her attention in that direction another question crossed her mind, "How come you're here?"

        Before Sabrina could answer DeAngelo jumped in, "I don't think you have any right to question people when you’re in my office."

        Tara ignored the pomposity of the response, she had a shrewd notion of how to get information out of the man, "Well then, perhaps we should just go and speak with your brother."

        That did the trick, "My brother may be content with amateur assistance I prefer to put my faith in professionals."

        "You're a professional?" LJ demanded of Sabrina; and turned bright red as she realized the unfortunate implication of her question.

        Sabrina grinned wickedly, "Well I know a few tricks," then she in turn blushed as she saw the look that comment obtained from Tara.

        She had however misunderstood the reason for Tara's expression, "What sort of tricks do the Athenai teach?"

        Sabrina was surprised by Tara’s incisiveness but prepared for another round of flippant banter until she saw the look on Lydia's face and felt a powerful need to explain herself, "I'm here to stop whatever this is from attacking the DeAngelo's, nothing else."

        LJ looked to Tara, who nodded much to her relief; Sabrina was being truthful, "Dear why don't you stay here with mister DeAngelo while I have a word with your friend outside."

        "Don't I get a say in this?" Sabrina complained.

        LJ shook her head, "Not when she's using that tone, no." Silently she added to her mother, don't you go scaring her away.

        I don't think that's very likely dear
, Tara assured her, in a tone that caused a fresh rush of blood to LJ's cheeks.



        Sabrina held her tongue until they were outside the building. Seeing Lydia and Tara together had settled one question, the pair were definitely related and Sabrina decided to try for a few more before Tara started grilling her, "You are Lydia's mother right?"

        "Of course, do you think anyone else could order her around?" Tara replied amiably.

        "What about the other woman?"

        "Willow, also her mother and my partner." Tara gestured with her left hand and wiggled her ring finger. Seeing that she had plunged Sabrina back into confusion Tara went on, "Don't worry I'm sure LJ will explain things eventually."

        That just puzzled Sabrina further, "LJ? You mean Lydia?"

        Tara was going to point out that no one ever called her daughter that when she recalled that Sabrina had called her Lydia in the office without her daughter objecting, "Almost everyone else calls her LJ, apparently you're an exception."

        Sabrina liked that notion but she suspected she wasn't going to enjoy the rest of the conversation, "Look if you're going to ask me about the Athenai or what I know about the DeAngelo situation then I just can't tell you, I've made commitments and I can't break them."

        "That's good to know but what I actually wanted to talk to you about is Lydia. What exactly are your intentions toward my daughter?" Tara kept a completely straight face, she wasn't expecting a lot from whatever Sabrina said, it was more a matter of what she saw in the girl's aura.

        When Sabrina answered both components satisfied Tara, "I think that's sort of private but right now my only intention is to find out exactly what Lydia wants."

       

        LJ was storming down the corridor towards the elevator when she ran into her mother coming back alone, "What did you do with Sabrina?" She demanded.

        "Actually Lydia we had a perfectly reasonable chat and then she decided she had better go and talk to her colleagues." Tara explained.

        LJ was tempted to ask if Sabrina had left a message but decided it wasn't the sort of thing she would pass through a third party. Tara could read the anxiety clearly, "Don't worry dear I doubt it will be very long before you see her again."

        LJ flushed once again and decided to concentrate on other matters, "I tried to press Paul DeAngelo but he refused to tell me anything, I don't think he would go and bring in Sa... The Athenai if he was involved with all this."

        "He might if he wanted someone to stop it, without worrying about the consequences." Tara pointed out.

        LJ contradicted her hotly, "Sabrina was following the same trail we were, and she doesn't know anything about this whatever it is."

        "I think so too," Tara responded disarmingly, "which means we should probably go catch up with Willow."



        Kristina DeAngelo didn't have an office in the building where her brothers worked, maintaining a certain distance from the grimy work a day world of the family business, implying that she was above that sort of thing. Willow had decided that under the circumstances there was no point in being subtle. After teleporting in nearby Willow marched up to the door of the apartment, glanced through the window and teleported inside.

        The apartment was tasteful and expensive and Willow didn't pay the remotest bit of attention to it. A little unauthorized snooping into the building plans had identified one large room designated as a study and the sounds of a conversation confirmed it as the current location of Kristina DeAngelo.

        Willow yanked open the sliding doors to find the woman sat a desk talking to a screen that had its back to Willow. Kristina looked up from the display in disbelieving shock, "What on earth are you doing here?"

        Taking a step into the room Willow felt a distinct sense of magic hanging over the office, "I considered calling for an appointment but I couldn't face hearing your polite lies about being too busy. Or would you have been so polite when you didn't have to worry about your brother would say about your real feelings towards me and my partner?"

        That washed away whatever trace of restraint Kristina might have had, "You think you have any right to criticize me? You're no better than the beasts I have to deal with."

        The woman stumbled to a halt and Willow fixed her with a triumphant grin, "You're the one dealing under the table. That's why your brother couldn't figure it out; an attempt at extortion or blackmail without any demands. There were demands, he just wasn't the one they were being made to."

        "Fairy tales, products of a hack writers overheated imagination." Kristina sneered.

        Willow had been braced for some name calling on the part of Kristina but 'hack writer' was below the belt, "Listen bitch I don't have to prove anything, once we share our suspicions with you brother I think he'll find plenty in the company records, and now we know your involved its just a matter of time of time before the thing you double-crossed contacts you again; then we'll have the whole story."

        Kristina's response was drowned out by the sound of shattering glass and something big slimy and ugly falling through the broken window and landing wetly on the carpet. The thing had a gorilla like body but the head was vaguely rodentine but where a rat would have had a snout this creature had a raptor beak, not to mention a thin coat of slime over its skin.

        It took a couple of seconds for the creature to get its bearings; enough time for Willow and Kristina both to react. Willow made to summon a fireball but a stinging wave of pins and needles ran up her arms and she flinched back. Instantly Willow understood the purpose of the magic shrouding the room, the stupid woman protected herself from witchcraft.

        Kristina's reaction was more prosaic, she yanked open a drawer and pulled out a chromed automatic handgun. She was still bringing it up to aim when the demon lunged across the desk and slammed into her. Woman and demon tumbled to the floor and Willow practically jumped out of her skin as the thunderous noise of a gunshot rang out. Willow froze in place, until the plainly unharmed beast rose up and turned towards her.

        Her ears were ringing and her fingers were throbbing but Willow still had the presence of mind to step backwards into the hallway and hold position as the creature rounded the desk and advanced towards her. As soon as it crossed the threshold she let fly and this time a ball of energy hit the thing in the chest, sizzling its way through and exploding out the back before dissolving in the doorway as it struck the protective spell. The demon swayed on its feet before crashing to the floor.

        Willow picked her way carefully around the slimy mess the demon was making on the floor before rushing to where Kristina DeAngelo was lying on the floor. As soon as Willow saw the woman her heart sank; the pooling blood and the terrible expression on her face told Willow that it was already too late to do anything to help her. She bent down beside Kristina who was simply staring out into space. The woman seemed distantly aware someone was near because she managed to whisper, "The left hand," before the light went out of her eyes.



6. "Love Lines"




Francis DeAngelo looked bereft as he sat slumped in an armchair. Paul on the other hand was pacing back and forth with an expression of barely concealed anger. Tara could understand both reactions but truthfully she was more concerned about Willow. Her partner’s emotions were confused; she hadn't liked Kristina DeAngelo, to say the least, but being helpless to prevent her death didn't sit well with her. LJ was if anything more confused. She knew she should be feeling bad about what had happened to Kristina but she found herself focusing on someone else entirely and her thoughts drifting in a different, altogether more positive, direction.

        It was Francis DeAngelo who broke the silence. He shook his head and began to speak, "I keep thinking I should be saying something like; 'Kristina wouldn't do this', 'my sister wouldn't be involved with black magic' but truthfully I can't."

        "Perhaps that's why you turned to us," Tara suggested gently, "A feeling you couldn't address yourself so you brought in an outsider."

        "And much good it did him." Paul growled.

        Francis looked at his brother askance, "Did they make Kristina lie to us? Force her to endanger all of us by involving us with demons?"

        Your brother isn't the only one who brought in outside help either, LJ's silent reminder brought Paul up short, he didn't want his brother knowing about his involvement with the Athenai, and LJ was content not to have that conversation with Willow right this moment either.

        Willow refocused the discussion, "The question is does her death mean it's over?"

        That got the attention of both DeAngelo men. Francis threw the question back at her, "Well you are my experts, what do you think?"

        "Unlikely," Willow admitted, "Whatever's behind this wanted something from your sister and most likely still wants it."

        "Which means we're going to have to go back to your sister's apartment, if there are any clues they're probably in her home." Tara concluded unhappily.

        "But we, we haven't even made arrangements, my god we haven't even called the police." Paul DeAngelo protested.

        "The police can't help but if you can make arrangements for your sister quietly, well that would be a good thing." Tara agreed.

        Francis DeAngelo sighed, "I suppose explaining this mess to the police would be impossible, alright give us a couple of hours please, we'll call you and let you know when it's; safe to go in." This time even Paul stayed silent.



        Back at home Willow felt the need for a strong cup of coffee, actually for once she wished she had something stronger in the house but she settled for the coffee. Tara could see Willow was still brooding, "You did your best honey, Kristina DeAngelo did everything she could to prevent us helping her, and you can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved."

        Willow patted her hand, "I know baby but it was just I was thinking bad things about her and then she winds up dead."

        Tara nodded and hugged her, at which point LJ walked in, "Hmm, should I go out and come back later?"

        "That won't be necessary dear." Willow assured her, without breaking loose from Tara.

        Before LJ could reply Tara sent her a telepathic suggestion, I think you should go snoop around Kristina's apartment.

        So you two can be alone
? There was a certain smug suggestiveness in LJ's tone.

        Tara's response was deceptively bland, yes, because I still have to fill Willow in on our meeting with Paul, and who we met. Of course if you want to stay and have that conversation...

        "You know I think I should go snoop at the apartment, you two should take it easy." LJ blurted out, before rapidly retreating from the kitchen.

        Willow stared after her, "What brought that on?"

        "I'll explain later." Tara suppressed any further questions with a kiss; she wanted Willow good and relaxed before she explained that it was a little late to worry about LJ meeting Sabrina.



        The speed with which the DeAngelo's had sanitized the apartment was impressive, and a little unsettling to LJ; that it was so easy to just erase the truth. She looked around the desk gingerly but the glass and blood had vanished. That encouraged her to activate Kristina's computer; there were an array of security measures but Willow had shared enough of her tricks that they didn't pose any problem; the sheer volume of material was another matter.

        "Find anything interesting?"

        LJ snapped into a defensive posture, and only partly relaxed when she saw Sabrina leaning against the doorframe. Black was a traditional colour for sneaking around in but LJ didn't call a black mini skirt, sweater, and knee length boots exactly unobtrusive. She felt a little dowdy in her jeans and jacket, though the look on Sabrina's face suggested she didn't think so, "I'm guessing this isn't a coincidence?"

        Sabrina shook her head and walked over to LJ, "Paul DeAngelo gave me the all clear as well, I just waited to see who else was going to turn up, I didn't want to run into Willow again," she saw the smile on LJ's face, "I'm sure she's perfectly sweet and wonderful."

        LJ nodded, "She can be, of course if you’re a demon or a mad god, or a primordial evil, then she'll kick your butt."

        Sabrina looked at her askance, trying to tell if she was serious. LJ looked around rather furtively, "Have you ever read any of the Demon Hunter novels?"

        It seemed a total non sequitir but Sabrina answered anyway, "I read one once, never really got into them."

        "Did the one you read have a couple of witches in it, a blonde and a redhead?"

        Sabrina did recall that, in fact it was one of the things that had stuck in her mind, a blonde and a redhead kind of like, "You're kidding me."

        "Let's just say that those novels should really be under 'biography' but if you let my mom know I told you I'll be the one on the receiving end of Willow's magic."

        "Your secret's safe with me, cross my heart." Sabrina's accompanying gesture pulled LJ's attention to Sabrina's bust area, where it lingered until Sabrina walked round the desk and leant into the screen. Since she was now scant inches from LJ it simply intensified the Slayers scrutiny. Sabrina was aware of that and she stuck her butt out in a totally unnecessary fashion, "Have you thought any more about it?"

        LJ was thoroughly confused, "About what?"

        "About what the prize should be in our contest." Sabrina explained.

        LJ recalled the conversation in the bar and had identified one problem with Sabrina's notion, "We haven't exactly decided what sort of contest it's going to be."

        "Well I figured it would be whoever solves this mess first."

        "Ah but what if my parents solve it on their own?" LJ asked smugly.

        Sabrina looked suitably horrified; "Guess I'm going to have to think it through a little more."

        LJ nodded and stopped as she spotted something scrolling past on the computer display. She reached out and halted it. There was an icon emblazoned with the words The Left Hand. Opening it LJ was rewarded with a mass of files.

        "There must be years worth of stuff in there." Sabrina commented.

        LJ shook her head, "Try more like centuries."



        Willow was indignantly wrapping a robe around herself. Tara was still sat in bed, propped against the pillows, looking tousled and wanton with the bedclothes draped across her thighs. Astonishingly even that sight wasn't deflecting Willow from her sense of outrage. The explanation for this turn of events was summed up by the next words out of Willow's mouth, "She's an Athenai? And you didn't tell me?"

        Tara spread her hands in an apologetic gesture, which not wholly coincidentally jiggled her boobs, "I did tell you honey, I just didn't tell you straight away."

        Willow wasn't distracted, "You were just giving LJ a head start."

        "Yes because I wanted a reasonable discussion, not a shouting match." Tara commented.

        Willow was going to deny that would have happened, she stopped when she realized her current position rather contradicted that. Standing there half wrapped in her robe Willow frowned, "But we have to do something."

        Tara had been expecting that, "Actually there are three good reasons not to," she raised three fingers on her right hand and then lowered one, "First you may be getting cause and effect mixed up, you have glimpses of the future, which make you hostile toward Sabrina, which causes the events you foresaw."

        Long experience with time travel allowed Willow to follow the circular reasoning, "Maybe but she's an Athenai in the here and now, that seems like plenty of reason."

        Tara wasn't fazed and lowered a second finger, "She's an Athenai but I've spoken with her and given her a good hard look, underneath a rather brash exterior there's a good person, and there's still reason number three."

        From the expression on Tara's face Willow concluded this was intended as the clincher. She had to ask anyway, "What's point number three?"

        "I didn't just look at Sabrina, I looked at how LJ reacted to her; honey she makes LJ feel happy just by being there, more than I've seen since she became the Slayer."

        After staring at Tara for a moment Willow sat heavily back down on the bed, "Damn," she sighed, "now how am I supposed to argue with that?"

        "You aren't." Tara explained succinctly.

        Willow managed a smile, "But if the girl does anything to hurt LJ..."

        "Then we'll jump on her," Tara stated resolutely, "with heels on, now come back to bed."

        Willow didn't need a second invitation, the robe slithered back to the floor and Willow slipped back under the still warm sheets, "Where were we?"

        Tara pulled her close, "I really don't remember, we'll have to start over." Willow didn't have any objection to that.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-2: A Fine Line Pt IV
PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 3:14 pm 
7. "Love Connection"




LJ spun the tablet around in her hands as she marched into her moms study; and had to suppress an urge to run straight back out. Both her parents were there. Tara was looking relaxed but Willow had her best; you've got some explaining to young lady, look on her face. LJ suppressed the childish urge to flee. She hadn't done anything wrong; in fact it was her mom who had some explaining to do.

        Willow saw the resolve forming on her daughter's face and was instantly glad that Tara had eased her into the notion of Sabrina and LJ otherwise this might have been ugly, it still could be if you aren't careful, she reminded herself. She tried to look calm as she asked, "I guess you found something at the apartment?"

        "Couple of things; bunch of stuff on Kristina's computer and Sabrina was there snooping for Paul DeAngelo." LJ offered casually.

        Willow did her best not to grit her teeth, "Oh was she?"

        "Yes she was and she doesn't seem to hold a grudge about someone using her for telekinetic target practice."

        Tara could see this was about to go downhill, "There was a reason for that dear."

        Willow nodded, "That doesn't excuse it I know but the last time I saw her we were having a blazing row."

        That didn't exactly cool LJ down but it did distract her, "Then you have met her in a ‘different time and place’."

        "Twice actually," Willow corrected her, "really met her once; had a vision of her the second time." Seeing she had her daughter’s interest Willow went on, "The first time we ran in to her we were in the Circle of the Glade, on our way to find Dawn."

        "I remember you telling me about that, you never mentioned anything about her." LJ wasn't trying to be accusatory; she was starting to feel bewildered.

        "It just seemed too bizarre and too trivial. These two men just burst out of the trees with this girl in pursuit. They ran across the clearing and the two men vanished, the girl yelled and cursed before she spotted us. Sabrina just stood there doing a double take, then she sort of threw up her hands and vanished."

        LJ mulled it over, "She recognized you but she took a moment because she expected you to be older."

        Willow didn't want to go into that, "The second time in the vision was when we were arguing."

        "About what?" LJ asked.

        Willow fixed her with a curious gaze, "What do you think?

        LJ didn't need two guesses, "Me and her."

        "More or less." Willow confirmed.

        LJ looked unhappy, "So I guess any hopes of you and her getting along are pretty much out of the window."

        Again Tara intervened, "Not necessarily, maybe it was just an isolated incident," she found her partner and her daughter both staring at her, "it could have been."

        Since she couldn't think of a sensible reply LJ turned her attention back to the tablet still resting in her hand, "Like I said I found a bunch of stuff on Kristina's computer. Whatever she was mixed up in has been going on for a while."

        Willow was equally willing to move on from the thorny subject of Sabrina, "How long a while?"

        "About six hundred years."



        Even blown up on the big screen the writing was difficult to decipher. Being in Latin didn't make it easy to start with and the atrocious handwriting and appalling spelling wasn't helping much, "If this was a term paper it would definitely get an 'F'." Willow muttered.

        "I thought they had scribes or monks to do all their writing back then." LJ commented.

        "I don't think neatness was a big priority, probably more worried about not getting lynched." Tara was looking at the translation Willow was painstakingly putting together. Even in the Renaissance people who were mixed up with magic were apt to find themselves on the wrong side of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

        "I told you the DeAngelo's probably had Mafia connections." LJ said smugly.

        Willow burst her bubble instantly, "The Mafia come from Sicily, the DeAngelo's are from Venice originally."

        "A very romantic city." Tara practically sighed.

        Willow smiled, "Certainly is now. Back in the Renaissance it was a huge trading centre, not to mention a hot bed of intrigue and politicking."

        "And the DeAngelo's were right in the middle of it." Tara guessed.

        "Right, and buying and selling exactly the same sort of merchandise as they do now." Willow picked up the tablet and made a few last alterations, "I think that's about right," she ran her finger over the screen and the tangled Latin on the big display was replaced by neat electronic English.

        Tara's eyes were drawn to the end of the document and the translated name and date, Vittorio DeAngelo, 18 July 1464, "You were right about the six hundred years dear."

        LJ nodded absently in acknowledgment, she was scanning the body of the text, trying to make sense of the document. The first part was mostly a description of the rivalry between the DeAngelo's and other Venetian families over the covert trade in magic. It was pretty dull until she got to the part about how the DeAngelo's got the upper hand over their rivals.

        Trade in Venice relied on the flow of goods from merchant ships. Profit and loss came down to the fastest ship, getting in to port ahead of the competition was key. Vittorio had come up with a beautifully simple solution; control the wind and the waves. Simple in principle but with two big problems. The lesser problem was that if the wrong person found out about it the whole family might find itself facing the executioner’s axe. The solution Vittorio adopted was simple and practically air tight, no more than one member of the family would know the secret at any time; the right hand would never know what the left hand was doing.

        The greater problem with Vittorio's plan was where would he find the kind of power to make his plan work.

        "And I guess that part was only passed on by word of mouth because I couldn't find anything about it in any of the other documents." Willow concluded.

        Tara tried to take a positive view, "At least we know what Kristina meant, and that the other DeAngelo's weren't involved."

        Willow hated to bring her down but there was one point that she had to mention, "Unfortunately baby that means there's no one else we can ask about this whoever or whatever it is, Kristina DeAngelo was the last left hand and the thing that bugs me is we can't ask her why this scheme has fallen apart after six hundred years."

        There was an awkward silence, until LJ frowned and picked up the tablet. She had been concerned about Sabrina and her past/future meetings with the moms; which was why one particular heading in Kristina's personal files had caught her attention, "Futures," she announced, "that's some sort stocks and shares thing right?"

        Willow took the tablet and opened the folder, "More like a kind of high stakes gambling."

        Tara nodded, "Even Anya wouldn't touch them, and she was a money magnet."

        LJ was becoming a little annoyed with the exchange, "Is anyone going to tell me what they actually are?"

        Willow went into professor mode, "Futures are basically a bet; there’s a whole range of basic commodities, foodstuffs, minerals, and some manufactured goods, where the prices swing up and down. A futures trade is where you figure out which way the price is going to go and agree a trade based on that. If the price does what you expect you can make a lot of money, if it doesn't you can lose your shirt."

        "Not such a risk though if you know what's going to happen," Tara was running her finger down the list of Kristina's transactions, "look at all her transactions, wheat, Soya, cocoa, coffee, all crops, no minerals. All things vulnerable to sudden expected bursts of bad weather."

        Willow promptly embarrassed LJ by hugging Tara passionately. When she finally released Tara Willow turned back to the tablet, "Ever since ships moved from wood and sails to steel and propellers the DeAngelo's have been using this power less and less."

        LJ saw where she was going; "Now Kristina comes up with a way to use the power and its expected to work overtime; that's going to pi...upset anyone."

        Willow and Tara both pretended not to notice LJ's hasty correction, besides there was one obvious small problem, or two actually, which Willow articulated "So we know what it does and why it's mad, we just have no idea what it is or where it's hidden."

        The trio pondered that for a moment, then LJ had a thought, "If there was anything that powerful around Kristina's place I'd have felt it, if its somewhere else she must have gone to use it or visit, can't we figure out where Kristina's been traveling to?"

        Tara smiled, "I think that's a job for someone with a talent for snooping,"

        Willow adopted a pose of exaggerated dignity, "I'll have you know I don't snoop, I investigate."



8."Amore"




Pinpoint was reputed to be the worlds most powerful GPS tracking system; capable of pinpointing any suitably equipped device within millimeters and since practically every phone, tablet, car, boat and plane came equipped with a transponder Pinpoint could locate practically anyone anywhere. That was comforting if you were stranded on a desert island or lost in a strange town but unsettling if you were just going about your day to day business knowing a satellite could be watching you, "Have you ever used this stuff to track me?"

        "That would be telling dear." Willow responded mischievously.

        Tara intervened before LJ could get hot under the collar, "Actually dear these things rather gave up on us years ago."

        "Why?" LJ asked suspiciously.

        "Well dear after we teleported a few times in the middle of call or accessing the medianet their computers practically had a nervous breakdown. The engineers were very apologetic but they had to exclude us from the system."

        LJ thought about that and felt a little sympathy for the poor technicians, doomed to search for a nonexistent fault. Still, "I think I'll leave my phone at home in future, just in case."

        Willow ignored the veiled accusation and concentrated on the map. She had finally hacked past the security and entered the various codes. Turning back to the tablet Willow looked at the dates of Kristina's futures transactions and added that to the information she had put into Pinpoint and started her search, a mass of bright red ribbons of light crossed the display rendering it almost incomprehensible, "Stop," Willow commanded, "erase any trips repeated more than twice."

        That order reduced the mess to a manageable half a dozen trails, and since Willow didn't imagine Kristina's contact was lurking in an high class couturier or a car show room she soon had it thinned down further and one stood clearly, a line that hit the coast and kept on going.

        "It looks like empty ocean." LJ commented uncertainly.

        "Except that this map only shows areas where are some sort of electronic signals." Tara wasn't wholly sure she was right but it seemed likely.

        Much to Tara's relief Willow nodded, "Let's check with a topographical map."

        Initially the change didn't seem to make much difference, it still looked like a blank patch of ocean. Willow zoomed it in and a tiny speck expanded into a rocky outcrop, barely large enough to qualify for a name, "Fulton Island nature reserve, I can't see Kristina DeAngelo as a nature lover."

        "And doesn't exactly look like it has miles of unspoiled golden beaches." LJ was letting her eyes trace the outline of the island, it really was just a chunk of rock, "Good spot though for some big bad to turn into a lair."

        Willow closed the display, "So we better go find out."

        "Maybe I should go find out." LJ corrected her.

        "Dear we got involved in this together, we're all involved." Tara wasn't totally surprised by LJ's response, her daughter clearly hadn't entirely let go of her anger about Willow's earlier treatment of Sabrina, and of course if she went off on her own the odds of running into the Athenai went up sharply.

        "And we're still all involved," LJ countered, "While I check out the island someone needs to be watching over the DeAngelo's, right?"

        Willow looked to Tara, and guessed that it wouldn't be worth arguing, especially as LJ had a point, "Alright dear, just call us if you need us.

        LJ was taken aback by Willow's casual acceptance of her plan; all she could do was nod and retreat with her dignity intact.



        It was clear why Fulton Island had been left to the birds and the lizards; no one else would want it. Even though it was in the same warm latitudes as Miami it was a singularly unattractive piece of landscape with steep rocky sides and a top scoured by Atlantic winds.

        There was only one sign of human presence and that was a weathered concrete jetty used by the fish and wildlife people who occasionally turned up to count the lizards or the even more occasional bird spotters, it wasn't the sort of place LJ could imagine Kristina DeAngelo visiting voluntarily, but then it probably wasn't her idea. Forcing Kristina to come here may have been her associates first attempt to apply pressure to the woman but with the money Kristina was making it would take a lot more than that to put her off; in fact now no one would ever know what would make her capitulate.

        Not wanting to think about Kristina's fate LJ scouted around the jetty and the rocks beyond; there was no sign of anyone climbing the crude steps to the top of the island lately. That pulled LJ's attention towards the half submerged cave entrance at the back of the tiny harbor that protected the jetty. It was a practical certainty that she was going to get soaked exploring so LJ began stripping down.

        It was just as well her parents had agreed to let her come here alone because one of them would have wanted to know why she had chosen to wear a bikini rather than the perfectly good one piece she had in a drawer, just the first thing that came to hand, she couldn't help rehearsing the excuse despite being here alone. As she finished peeling down to her little green swimsuit LJ couldn't suppress a spasm of disappointment, Sabrina was nowhere to be seen. LJ knew it was irrational to expect her to be here but given the Athenai's talent for popping up LJ had entertained a fugitive hope, and I look good in this suit damn it. Sighing LJ stuffed her clothes into her bag and pulled out her sword, she was aware of how incongruous it looked but it was a little late to go back and find a wetsuit. Pulling her hair back into a ponytail with a scrunchy LJ gingerly entered the entrance to the cave.

        Inside the cave the daylight soon faded out and LJ hesitated before she called up a witch light, whatever was lurking here probably preferred the gloom and the chances it didn't know she was here was probably slim anyway so she decided she would rather see where she was going than slip and go swimming; the water splashing against her was none too warm, let's just find the thing teleport out, get dressed, and teleport back, so long as whatever it is doesn't live in the water.

        Just as she was reaching the point where she was going to turn back and give up LJ realized her light wasn't the only one in the vicinity. She damped down the witch light and saw the glow was coming from a branch off the cave she was standing in. Raising her sword in front of her LJ moved towards the source; and came to a grinding halt as she walked into the chamber and saw Sabrina standing before her.

        LJ stood staring in astonishment for a moment, then lowered the point of her sword to aim it straight at the girl, "Nice try but you're not fooling anyone."

        "What makes you so certain I'm not her?" The girl's curious tone didn't seem very much like Sabrina.

        "The stance, the eyes, the whole attitude I guess." LJ explained calmly; while watching for any sudden moves on the fake Sabrina's part.

        The girl shrugged, "I didn't really expect the image of the lover to deceive you, simply ensure that you wouldn't try and kill me before we had a chance to speak."

        Lover? We haven't even been to first base. LJ decided that this wasn't a conversation she was going to have with this whatever it was, "Well you can drop it now, it's not winning you any points."

        The entity complied and LJ sort of wished she hadn't. In all the old paintings and woodcuts nymphs and sprites were clothed in some sort of diaphanous gown. In reality of course a creature that lived in the water was hardly going to bother with clothes, even if there was anywhere to go shopping.

        The entity before LJ had a faint green tinge, from her skin to her long pale hair, and deep green eyes. There was an iridescent glitter of scales at the shoulders and thighs and also translucent webbing between her fingers. That aside though, or even with all that, she would have made a great playboy centerfold. LJ became uncomfortably aware that she was standing in front of this curvaceous sprite wearing an extremely tiny swimsuit, maybe I won't mention this part when I get home, or to Sabrina either; actually she might be 'interested' in hearing this.

        Realizing that she was staring and losing track of the job at hand, "I'm guessing, you’re some sort of sea sprite right?"

        "Indeed, and the less than willing collaborator of the deceased Kristina DeAngelo." The sprite conceded, "I can foresee somethings but that was not one of them, tracing the lines of individuals is not one of my talents. I cannot however say that I'm greatly grieved by it."

        LJ gave the sprite a hard look, "That's pretty cold."

        "Save your sympathy for someone deserving. The woman forced me to use my powers over the wind and waves to lay waste to crops heedless of the price paid by the people whose livelihoods and lives she destroyed. Even when her family was threatened she still held tight to my power. Her death was her own doing, and if you still feel badly about her end consider the spell she prepared against your mothers magic, and who she intended to use that gun against."

        "You may not be great with the future but your certainly hot on current events," LJ commented, "And now you’re stuck because she didn't nominate a new left hand."

        "And if she did what guarantee would I have that the successor would be less greedy? No I will have my freedom now, and you will give it to me."

        LJ didn't much like the commanding tone. She pointed her sword at the sprite again, "Why exactly would I do that?"

        "You do have three options," the sprite admitted, "you could slay me but I'm not the only one of my kind and while my sisters may not see fit to aid me in gaining my freedom they will not let my death go unavenged."

        LJ considered that, "Ok we'll let that slide for the moment."

        The sprite took that as a cue to continue, "You could pass my power to the surviving DeAngelo's or keep it to yourselves. That though would bring others into the picture, and you know who I am referring to."

        "The Athenai." LJ supplied.

        "Indeed, I suspect your lover would die before she would betray you but will you ask her to do so for this?"

        If the sprite was trying to play with LJ's emotions then she was succeeding beautifully. Even if Paul DeAngelo didn't try to grab the power the Athenai might just come after it on their own, and that would put Sabrina right in the middle, die rather than betray you, the sprite might be lying but LJ wasn't inclined to test the theory, "That leaves the last options, wild guess but that would be setting you free."

        "Precisely, all I desire is to return to the deeps with my sisters. There is a dark time coming to your world and I would rather be elsewhere when that time comes." The sprite's tone was ominous as it finished.

        Again LJ decided not to go for the creature’s efforts to distract her, "So how exactly would we set you free?"

        "There is pact, contained in a casket held closed with magical seals. Return it to me and I will be free to go where I wish."

        LJ thought it over, "I'm not promising anything but I'll think about it. Just out of curiosity how did you get yourself in this mess in the first place?"

        The sprite looked pained, " I was placed under a curse by a sorcerer and only another mortal magician could break it."

        "Why did this sorcerer curse you?"

        The sprite smiled, "He looked at me the way you did a few minutes ago but he was not as fair as you, if he had been perhaps I would not be in this predicament."

        LJ decided this would be an excellent moment to go, definitely a wetsuit next time.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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 Post subject: RC 2018: 2019-2: A Fine Line Pt V
PostPosted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 3:16 pm 
9. "Love and War"




Tara was sat next to Willow on the sofa and listened intently as LJ laid out the story for them. Her description of the sprite was suspiciously vague but the rest was perfectly clear, "So we've got a few choices but I'm not thrilled about any of them." LJ concluded.

        Now she wants our opinion, Willow grumbled silently. Tara suppressed a smile and concentrated on the problem LJ had given them, "I think we should set the sprite free."

        Willow looked uncertain, "I'm not so sure, maybe we should keep it under control, just in case."

        "I really hate that idea." LJ announced firmly if a little hastily.

        Willow looked at her daughter, "It's less nasty than killing it, and the rest of the sprites won't come looking for us."

        LJ remained firm, "But we'll get chased by everyone who wants the power of the sprite, that doesn't sound a lot better."

        Tara now had a shrewd suspicion why LJ was objecting so vehemently, "By everyone you mean the Athenai."

        "They'd be top of the list," LJ admitted, "but I don't think they would be the only ones."

        Even if she thought LJ's motives were suspect the underlying argument seemed sound, "Ok so we can live without the millstone but will this sprite really just go away if we set it free?"

        Tara thought about that, "It's a force of nature basically, like the wind and the waves it can control, I don't think we can destroy it, or control it."

        LJ nodded, "And it can apparently sort of see the future, I'm pretty sure it knows what will happen if it doesn't go away. Besides Kristina DeAngelo is dead, the sprite is pretty much even I'd say."

        Willow drummed her fingers on the coffee table for a moment, "Alright I think you're right but I'm not the only one who needs convincing."



        "Are you out of your damned minds?" Paul DeAngelo screamed in Willow's face.

        She was tempted to move him backwards the hard way but restrained herself and looked over at Tara, "You're the professional have we gone crazy?"

        "Fairly sure honey." Tara assured her.

        Willow turned back to Paul, "There you go, trained psychiatric opinion, we're still in full possession of our minds."

        Before Paul could explode his brother laid a hand on his shoulder, "Sit down Paul, we need to talk this out, regardless of how we feel."

        Francis' might be willing to listen but his tone made it clear he wasn't happy about the direction the conversation was taking. Willow squared her shoulders to explain the reasons for her proposal, "What it comes down to is this; your ancestor got the sprite to serve him and his descendents. This arrangement worked pretty well, until your sister inherited control over the sprite."

        At that point Willow hesitated and Francis DeAngelo reluctantly filled in the gap, "And she came up with a new way to make money from it."

        "Money for herself, not for the family." Willow looked at Paul DeAngelo as she emphasized that point, the man appeared to value family loyalty; Kristina's blatant lack of it might make him easier to persuade.

        Francis had already followed her logic, "And when this sprite decided enough was enough and try to force her to end the deal she stood here and kept silent when she knew why my children were being targeted.

        "Pretty much," Willow was quietly relieved that the man had said it rather forcing her to continue with her blunt explanation, "and honestly I think its time to put an end to this, make sure no one elsesuccumbs to the same temptation."

        Francis looked at his brother, Paul still looked unhappy and angry but he gave a curt nod. Francis turned back to Willow, "Alright what do you want from us?"

        "We'll check Kristina's apartment but she may have put the pact somewhere else, especially if she expected someone to come looking for it." Willow kept it business like in an attempt to defuse the tense emotional atmosphere.

        Francis thought it over, "Certainly possible, there are a couple of places she might have used. I'll let you know as soon as we can check them out."

        Willow and Tara knew a dismissal when they heard one but decided to take it with good grace, especially as it prevented either of the brothers asking the awkward question; what will you do if we say no?

        "What if they think of it later?" Tara wondered.

        "Then we think of a really good excuse, and we don't mention that LJ is already ransacking Kristina's apartment." Willow responded sweetly.



        Sabrina Harrington was an extremely unhappy young lady. The one positive about this assignment, not counting the totally unforeseen Lydia bonus, had been that she could work it on her own; now here she was standing in front of Phoebe's desk and to cap it off Nigel was stood beside the leader of the Athenai with a distinctly superior look on his face, "Look I realize this whole business hasn't gone as well as we might have hoped but Paul DeAngelo didn't want me talking to the rest of his family, which since his sister was right in the middle of it made it kind of impossible to get to the truth." Sabrina knew she sounded whiny and she wasn't really interested in the outcome of the assignment; all she wanted was to spin it out to find a further opportunity to run into Lydia.

        Phoebe waved her hand dismissively, "That's irrelevant, and frankly what Paul DeAngelo wants no longer concerns us either."

        Sabrina didn't like the sound of that, "So what exactly does concern us?"

        "Obtaining control of the pact, and hence the sprite." Phoebe explained casually.

        Sabrina looked from Phoebe to Nigel, just to be sure they were serious, "I was thinking that the Slayer," Sabrina was careful not to use her name, "and her family pretty much had this covered, they send the sprite packing back to wherever it came from, crisis over."

        Phoebe shook her head in a pitying manner, "While she may be the Slayer the girl is inexperienced and her parents amateurish efforts can hardly be regarded as helpful. Their willingness to trust this creature could be fatal to others, this creature must be contained, and we are the ones to do it."

        There were several argument that immediately sprang to Sabrina's mind; she had speed-read some of the Demon Hunter books and if half of it was true you could hardly term Willow and Tara 'amateurs'. She didn't bring it up partly because Lydia had made it clear it was a secret but mostly because Sabrina strongly suspected Phoebe already knew it wasn’t true; she wants the power of the sprite and she'll do or say anything to get it. Despite wanting to throw the accusation in Phoebe's face she instead kept her voice even, "You want me to get the pact for you I take it?"

        Now Nigel spoke up, "Assuming you're prepared to face the Slayer one on one, there's no shame in asking for assistance."

        Something in Nigel's tone suggested an innuendo in the suggestion, regardless of that she wasn't letting anyone else get between her and Lydia, "I'm perfectly capable of taking on the Slayer myself, in fact I've already been planning exactly what I'm going to do with her the next time we meet."

        Nigel turned an odd colour but kept silent. Phoebe on the other hand seemed satisfied, "Very well then, I'll leave this in your hands Sabrina, I trust you'll achieve a satisfactory result."

       

        Kristina's apartment looked like a small tornado had swept through it, which in a manner of speaking it had. LJ had started out simply scrying for some sign of the pact without coming up with any hint of its presence. That could mean that it was elsewhere or that Kristina DeAngelo had taken extra measures to hide the thing. Without any word from the other DeAngelo's LJ had adopted a more aggressive approach to searching.

        Opening every drawer, every cupboard and searching under the bed didn't get her much further, so she started working her way over the walls inch by inch until she came to an almost invisible seam. Pressing on it a panel sprang open to reveal a small chamber marked with warding runes, she really did mean to let this thing go over her dead body. Reaching in LJ extracted an ornate wooden box and undid the catch. There was a folded piece of parchment inside, which LJ resisted the temptation to inspect since it looked rather fragile. Instead she closed the box and stuck it under her arm.

        Hey moms you can call off the search I've got the thing.

        LJ's thought was cheery, Tara's response was somewhat distracted, that's good news dear but we seem to have run into a little problem here.



        After getting home and grabbing a quick bite to eat Willow turned to her tablet, "Maybe there's another clue in Kristina's records.”

        Tara could see the logic but one thing concerned her, "Shouldn't we go help LJ?"

        Willow smiled, "Baby you've seen her bedroom, she's more than capable of trashing a house on her own."

        "She isn't that bad." Tara's defence of their daughter was somewhat undermined by the giggling that accompanied it.

        "Of course not." Willow's response was rendered equally unconvincing by her broad smile.

        "Well I guess she can get by on her own for a while." Tara conceded.

        Willow was about to study the financial records again when the house computer interrupted her, "A call for you from mister Francis DeAngelo.”

        "Well that was quick," Tara checked her watch, they had left the DeAngelo's barely thirty minutes ago, "Put it through."

        Francis' worried face appeared on the screen, "I'm glad you're there, we may have a problem here."

        Willow immediately visualized another row between the brothers but decided Francis wouldn't have bothered them with that, "What sort of problem?"

        "After all the trouble we had I beefed up the security system around the house; one of the cameras picked up something prowling around the fence."

        "Some thing
?" Tara queried.

        "Not a person, not an animal, definitely a thing, doesn't seem to be trying to get in but it's checking the place out." Francis confirmed her conclusion.

        Willow dropped her tablet back on table, "We'll be right over, just keep an eye on it."

        Francis cut the link without further comment and Tara grabbed her jacket, "Do you think the sprite is trying a double-cross?

        Willow frowned, "Why trust the pact to a bunch of demons when she must know we're going to turn it over?"

        "I guess we'll just have to ask this thing then." Tara concluded, and Willow wasn't inclined to disagree.



        The creature lurking around the fence looked disconcertingly like a dolphin, a mean dolphin but a dolphin, Willow thought to herself. Where a dolphin would have had fins this demonic thing had human looking legs and arms, though somewhat more than seemed absolutely necessary to support the beast. The thing was so intent on its own snooping that it was oblivious as Willow and Tara snuck up behind it. That condition changed when the creature rose up in the air, rolled on to its back, and was dropped unceremoniously in the dirt.

        The creature recovered its senses to find the two witches standing over it, "Hey there," Willow greeted it cheerfully, "mind telling us what you're doing here?"

        The demon looked sullenly from one to the other, which was a good trick for a dolphin faced creature. Tara decided to try a different tack, "If you're trying to win the reward from the sprite that's over. We've got the pact and the deal is done." That wasn't quite true but they would have the pact shortly and there was no point encouraging the creature.

        "I am not going to take your word for that," the demon's voice was surprisingly guttural, "and if you do have it you will trade it if we take the other humans."

        Willow gestured at the creature and it was yanked back into the air, "You see that's the flaw in your plan, you're never going to get near the other humans, tell your friends that." With that she dropped the creature to the ground again and let it scuttle off.



        So I'm guessing you don't think it's going to take your advice, LJ made it sound like a practical certainty.

        I'll be amazed if it does, Willow admitted.

        So do you want me to come and help?

        No dear
, Willow thought firmly, you better deliver the pact, to get it out of the way.

        Ok but yell if you need me
.

        Willow's reply was slightly peeved; I think we can handle one little band of demons.

        Of course you can
, LJ's reply was less than wholly sincere, she just had to hope her parents could stay out of trouble; this time.



10. "Kiss"




The jetty was as barren as the last time LJ had been here, and she hadn't been anticipating seeing it again. Her plan had been to teleport straight into the sprites cave; fully clothed this time. She was puzzled why it hadn't worked until she looked at her feet. There was a complex runic pattern painted on the rock.

        "Sorry but I figured it would be better to meet outdoors than in some dank cave."

        LJ looked at Sabrina suspiciously for a moment but in the same way she had spotted the disguised sprite she could tell this was the real thing, "I'm glad to see you but I'm sort of on a mission," she gestured with the box.

        Sabrina looked a little embarrassed, "I know that, Paul DeAngelo went running to the higher ups and they want me to get that pact thing for them."

        LJ felt a knot forming in her stomach, "And you've come to get it?"

        Sabrina's smile was disarming; "Actually I'm more interested in finishing our competition, have you figured out what you want as a prize if you win?"

        Even knowing that her parents wouldn't approve of her time wasting she couldn't resist playing along, "Pretty much but haven't I already won? I've got the pact."

        "Ah but you haven't got it to the sprite, that means there's still one last round by my reckoning." There was a bag lying next to Sabrina's feet. She reached into it and extracted a pair of rapiers, "I saw you with that sword earlier, are you any good Lydia?"

        LJ hesitated for a moment, "Not bad but you know I am the Slayer, I have a natural advantage."

        Sabrina looked pensive for a moment, and then threw a sword to LJ, "Actually I thought of that."

        Sabrina's attack was lightning fast, or Slayer fast at any rate. LJ barely managed to dodge and dance away, "I'd say you looked up an enhancement spell."

        Sabrina was a little taken aback by LJ's calm, well this isn't the first fight she's been in, "I thought it was only fair to even things up."

        LJ had recovered her poise, "Couple of problems though."

        Seeing the wicked grin on LJ's face Sabrina had a sinking sensation, "What exactly?"

        "First I do this as a sport," LJ dropped into a proper fencing stance.

        Sabrina guessed LJ was more than 'not bad' at fencing, "And the other thing?"

        LJ's smile became positively predatory, "I can read your moves before you make them."

        Before Sabrina could answer that LJ made her move. Sabrina might have matched her Slayer strength and speed courtesy of a spell but that couldn't compensate for LJ's skill with a blade, or the speed blur that betrayed Sabrina's every attack. With a deft series of feints LJ turned Sabrina around and got her backing towards the cliff face behind the jetty.

        Sabrina didn't even realize where she was heading until she bumped into the rock face. She was so startled that she dropped her guard. LJ had been ready for that and with a swirling stroke she sent the sword flying from Sabrina's hand. Pressed against the rock without a weapon the girl knew what she had to do. Sabrina raised her hands in submission not looking exactly upset, "You win, so have you figured out what prize you want Lydia?"

        LJ couldn't think of any snappy comeback, she was working on pure instinct as she pressed Sabrina into the rock and pinned the witches raised hands above her, molding their bodies against one another as she pressed her lips against Sabrina's.

        Sabrina kissed back hungrily and LJ could swear she was floating as their tongues darted around one another. Their mouths clung for the longest time before LJ reluctantly broke away. They stood staring at one another until LJ released Sabrina's hands and the girl let her right hand trace the outline of LJ's body until it came to rest on her hip, "Is that all you want?" Sabrina asked huskily.

        LJ found herself trying to catch her breath to answer, which gave her brain just long enough to kick in and inject some common sense, "No, but you need to go now." Sabrina opened her mouth to protest but LJ pressed a finger to her lips to prevent it, "When you go back to the Athenai you can tell them I beat you, slammed you against the rocks, and told you to get out of here; without one word of a lie."

        Sabrina thought that over, "Beautiful and smart," she seemed to be directing the comment at the universe in general. Peeling herself off the rock Sabrina walked over to her bag and pulled a talisman out of it. She looked back at LJ, "Later then."

        "Sooner." LJ corrected her. Sabrina smiled and twisted a gem on the talisman, which caused her to shimmer and fade away.

        LJ shook her head, "Got to teach that girl to teleport properly," she went back to where she had left the pact. Regardless of anything else she had to deliver this to the sprite; besides the delay would give her a chance to calm her emotions, and maybe I can sneak this by, the thought didn't sound very convincing; her parents would have to be pretty distracted not to spot she was in love.



        Willow was staring at a bank of monitors in what appeared to be a converted broom closet. Tara was stood behind her with her hands resting lightly on Willow's shoulders. The screens were showing the grounds around the house, and also several fishy looking demons clambering over the fences, one of them was really more squid like but Willow wasn't interested in morphology at the moment. Her attention was on the dolphinoid creature leading the attack. She concentrated her magic and jabbed her finger towards the screen the thing was on. The image on the display doubled up and tumbled to the ground, "I told it to stay away." She swept her hand across another screen and the squid thing went cartwheeling across the grass.

        Tara could see a sheen of sweat forming on Willow's face; as effortless as her gesture's and moves looked they required a lot of power and concentration to make them work, to connect the image on the screen to the reality outside. Tara was feeding her energy but even she was beginning to feel an ache in her muscles and a dull throb in her temples. Willow raised her hand to repulse the ninth or tenth demon to clear the fence and let it drop, it was just too much effort.

        Tara squeezed her shoulders, "I think it's time to go one on one honey, we have a few little surprises downstairs remember?"

        Willow perked up somewhat as she recalled that, "And you know I love surprises."



        The squid demon was covered in livid green marks, its version of bruises. Only the creatures basically squashy nature had spared it from the more permanent damage inflicted on a number of its comrades. It was though sufficiently dazed not to question the fact that the front door was lying open and simply stumbled into the front hallway. The sudden heaviness that afflicted it sent it tumbling to the floor. It tried to get back up but the weight simply grew and grew until the creature collapsed with a sound like tearing celery.

        The second demon through the door dodged around the squashed remains; and on to another of Willow and Tara's 'hot spots'. They had balanced increasing gravity in one spot by reversing it in another. The demon slammed into the high ceiling before the spell collapsed, letting it drop the ten feet to the floor. Yet a third creature nosed its way through the door, "You really can't take a hint can you?" Willow commented as she emerged hand in hand with Tara. Between them they had enough energy to launch a fireball that sent the thing flying back into the garden. The surviving demons proved Willow wrong as they scrambled for the fence and melted away into the surrounding countryside.

        Willow stuck her head out the door to verify that they were indeed gone, "Do you think we should go and catch up with LJ?"

        Tara looked around the hallway, "Actually honey I think we better do some tidying up first, I'm sure LJ is doing just fine."



        Shaking the water off her soaked sneakers LJ cursed; she had walked into the puddle of water oblivious to her surroundings; lost in the lingering sensation of Sabrina's lips. LJ did her best to focus on the here and now, she had no idea of the sort of tricks the sprite might pull; still she couldn't quite wipe the smile off her face.

        Luckily for LJ the sprite was simply sat dangling its feet in a pool of water at the far end of the cave, "You have brought it, despite the distractions."

        "You know snooping on other peoples private lives is a bad habit." LJ pointed out, not surprised that the sprite had been watching.

        "I simply wished to know why you were so long in coming."

        LJ made a face and weighed the box in her hands, there was no point in spinning this out. She walked over to the sprite and held the pact out, "Here, consider you're contract cancelled, just make sure you don't forget our new deal; you vanish back into oceans and leave the weather and the DeAngelo's alone."

        The sprite took the box and nodded. As it turned to go LJ thought of something that had bothered her in their last encounter, "Just before you go, you mentioned something about a disaster before, I don't suppose you'd like to give me a hint?"

        The sprite shrugged, "A great conflict is coming with you and yours at the centre, by the end millions of your kind will be no more."

        LJ struck a defiant pose, "Yeah? Well maybe I'll surprise you and win."

        The sprite gave her a pitying look, "I assumed you would, light of the earth." Before LJ could grab the creature and demand an explanation the sprite slid into the water and lost itself in the deeps of the ocean.



11. "Lovers Knot"




The second of the glade sat and stared at the map laid out on the ground before her. It resembled a subway map with lines criss crossing, converging, diverging, cutting off suddenly. To the untrained eye it was just a mess; only a trained eye could interpret it, understand the beginnings and endings, distinguish the significant from the trivial.

        At the moment she was interested in the changes wrought by their latest machinations. The abrupt termination of one line drew her attention first, Kristina DeAngelo. The second might brood over the price of their plan but she wasn't going to mourn the death of that one. The sprite would have tried to break free long since, if it had anyone it could trust to deliver up the pact. Once the second offered up a solution to that problem the outcome was inevitable.

        The second shifted her attention to a tangle of lines near the centre, the Athenai, again the second couldn't feel badly about their being thwarted once again, if anything it was long overdue. One line was veering away from their entwined branches, now intersecting with another completely separate line. The second couldn't help feeling somewhat pleased with herself, best birthday present they'll ever get.

        She followed LJ's line back until it merged with Willow and Tara's; ignoring the other line branching off from the older couples for now. The second didn't imagine a certain redheaded witch would be thrilled about the outcome but I'm sure she'll handle it in a calm reasonable manner; eventually.



        "She kissed you?" Willow demanded, aggrieved more by LJ's attitude than anything else.

        "I said we kissed; if you want to be technical I pinned her against a wall and kissed her." LJ was enjoying Willow's discomfort too much to be embarrassed.

        Tara decided that the two had sparred enough, "Can I ask you something dear?"

        LJ suspected this was going to be a lot less entertaining, "Sure mom," she agreed weakly.

        "Did anything change when you kissed Sabrina?"

        It sounded an odd question but it didn't feel odd, "Yeah everything changed," now LJ did look embarrassed, "I'm going upstairs, I need to shower and change."

        Once LJ was safely out of earshot Willow slid down onto the sofa next to Tara, "And?"

        Tara didn't answer immediately; instead she leaned in and kissed Willow. When she finally finished she leant back and stroked Willow's face, "A long time ago I looked across a street and saw a girl staring back at me, and I saw something in her, something wonderful, and it was all aimed at me. When I asked LJ about Sabrina I saw the same thing."

        Willow sat staring into Tara's eyes for a moment, "Then I suppose I'm going to have to get used to Sabrina being around for along time."

        "I suppose you will." Tara agreed sweetly.

        Willow snuggled in close and kissed Tara, she had spent enough time worrying about her daughter's love life; it was high time to concentrate on her own.

Willow: ...I have to tell you....

Tara: No, I understand you have to be with the person you l-love

Willow: I am



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