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

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 Post subject: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle & Second Chronicle
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:09 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
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EDIT - I've removed the old links used to get to the old board (we had capacity issues on what was the old board after moving from the old-old board... should all work here I think.) Let me know if there are parts missing.

Katharyn - May 2013

The Introductory Speech – Redux

A whole new, remodelled introduction to this fic as the original was quickly superseded by the actual writing of the story. Things weren’t what I thought they would be. The warning was… too strong in some ways, especially as I am about to start posting the sequel within the same thread and it has a much, much, lighter tone. I should have come back to this months ago. I decided it would be better to keep most of the old introduction as it shaped many replies in the thread – but my new comments are now in italics telling how the fic really is – rather than how I thought it would be then.

Here we go then and off I go on my holidays!

Katharyn – 30-May-03

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(Yup I know... "Chronicle" = pretentious. But it was that or make it sound like a dance. It's good to be back!)


Well here it is kittens. Long threatened. Teaser previewed during The Beginning Cycle – for those of you who can remember that far back (though some changes have been made since then)… dum dum dum… The Sidestep Chronicle. This has been a work in progress for months – the benefit of that for you the reader is that as I post this pretty quickly as most of it is complete. I anticipate a part posted every 2/3 days. For those who like to know these things.

And wow… it actually happened that way too

I strongly encourage you to read the below and not just skip to the fic.

A lot of words on the content. This is a much darker vision of the Buffyverse than most. It is based in “The Wish” revealed reality and is set in the main from the time that would have been pretty much from S4 “Hush” onwards (though there are prelude fics prior to that.) That reality is based on the foundations that:

1) Buffy never came to Sunnydale at the start of Season 1
2) The Master rose unopposed.
3) When Buffy did arrive (in “The Wish” S3) the Master successfully snapped her neck like a dry twig. Guess she was lucky he was not up to speed in “Prophecy Girl.” This resulted in no new slayer being called (Kendra or Faith) until that point.
4) Willow died in S1. She came back as a vamp and then she was destroyed. Twice-ish - in “The Wish”/“Dopplegangland”
5) Sunnydale is pretty much ruled by vampires – by night at least.

All of the above can be pretty much called canon as far as I can see. I have then chosen to play inside this reality. This kind of presents a problem for the Willow/Tara fic – which I assure you this is firmly one of. Willow no longer exists and Tara probably couldn’t see the benefit of a vampire-ruled Sunnydale education, so I had to use other methods to bring them together.

The solution to that is here. Some of it is perhaps a little forced. Some of it is a little “borrowed.” What it will definitely take is time (i.e. parts). Time to get Willow back after her death in “The Wish” though she does make appearances. Time to get Tara to Sunnydale (though only as long as it takes to explain the background.) Still more time to get them together in any way at all. And happy? Guess what… more time. I really am intending a lot of parts for this, it will not pay off in 6 or 8 parts, I and the reader will have to stick with it to get that payoff. Fair warning.

Even before the sequel this is 103 parts long and over 600,000 words. If you continue to the sequel… well I would say at least another 100 parts on top of that and more than a million by the end. This is the long haul Kittens.

Meanwhile as I said everything is darker. It is no secret, in the first part below I am going to kill Willow (as a mortal.) She became a vampire for The Wish so she has to die as a mortal. I’ll do it again shortly after (as a vampire also a la “The Wish.”) Poor gal! I anticipate that is not likely to be too popular on a W/T fic board(!) – though it is canon in an alternate reality sort of way. And I do bring her back too. Twice. Spoiler? No, really that is a no-brainer. Otherwise there would be no W/T fic here would there?

Some people may not like the version of Tara, a Tara shaped by different events and circumstances, which I present. She is not our Tara. But I hope that she is a Tara. A Tara which might have been in that nightmare world - a Tara that will still find her Willow... though that will take much of the fic.

That said this fic is not relentlessly dark. No one, least of all me, could survive reading or writing it if it was – but the basic premise is going to have to start in darkness and tell of both Tara and Willow’s journey towards and away from that darkness. That is the key here – this is a big long journey for both Willow and Tara – and as I have written the end I can tell you it concludes in a good place. That is another no-brainer. Have a little faith and this will pay off for anyone who sticks with it.

Finally a word about more general content. There are as yet and will be no “sex scenes” in this fic. However there will be a long running undercurrent of sex, sexuality and sensuality some of which is darker than the Willow/Tara sweetness we know and love - at least for a long time. This will be ‘Vamp Willow’ we are talking about here… As such I am slapping a blanket 15/R rating on this entire fic. Some parts will need that, others won’t but please bear it in mind. As for violence, there is nothing that you would not find in a standard Buffy episode though there is action.

Okay the sex scene thing was something I ultimately did despite this warning. But – my reason for this note was to stress there would never be a Tara/Vamp Willow sex scene in this fic. And there never was. Not one. The scene that did come into the story is late on and is… Well it is the sweetest and romantic one I ever wrote in my own opinion. Lets just say there is no “romance” in the VW character so you can figure out that when it occurs it must be later and absolutely what we want round here.

So why am I telling you all this and risking putting you off? Well I don’t want readers to go into this with false expectations of what they are going to receive. If in doubt give it a try sure, I may surprise you. But I am digging a huge dark hole for Willow and Tara here, and only together can they climb out of it. Slowly. Slowly because that is how I write… I explore stuff that isn’t necessary but I happen to think is fun. Most people who read Sidestep liked it – once they accepted the reality as it was and understood that I had only one thing in mind – bringing the girls together and making them happy forever. I happen to think this is an easier read when it is all there than when you were waiting a few days between each part and had too much time to worry about where I might go – rather than where I did.

I love feedback, I am addicted to it, and I have been missing it since the last cycle of fics ended, but please accept the reality as I describe it. If you don’t like the basic concept then just do not read it – your feedback cannot change that aspect of this fic. Everything else is fair game. I mention this only because when I ran the teaser I received a particularly nasty flame that seemed to be based on not liking this reality as much as anything else. Constructive criticism and feedback only please. I think I have warned you all enough. I can do no more to help you anticipate what you will find here.

And so to it.

Katharyn

Also I never used to say it… but no archiving of this fic except on Pens. I write it for Pens and here it belongs. I hope this modification of the introduction gives a more balanced view of how this fic actually ended up. At the start I knew where it was going but not quite how I would get there. Now I do. I hope a few people who might have been put off by my over cautious words get to enjoy this. But as I said in the thread many times – I would rather ten people who might have liked it didn’t read it than one person get offended by this in any way. Thanks for reading.

K


Last edited by Katharyn on Sun May 19, 2013 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Part 1
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:10 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5
---------------
Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – Backstep I (Part 1)

Author: Katharyn Rosser

Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com

Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities across all seasons.

Summary: A look back at Willow’s fate in the immediate aftermath of the rise of The Master in S1 and how it came to be. Just setting the groundwork out for the Chronicle. Approximately 3 months after the time of the episode “The Harvest” in S1 which was the point at which the Master would have risen - as there was no slayer interference in this reality.

Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.

Rating: 15 across all parts.

Couples:Spike and Dru, X/W in as much as they ever were in S1 (don’t worry about that!) That’s it. What do you expect? It’s season 1 – Tara is three years from Sunnydale! But she is in here, in this part.
Thanks To: Those that urged the writing of this chronicle based only upon the teasers that I ran in The Beginnings Cycle. I hope this does not disappoint. Xita, who at a crucial low point in writing this told me what I needed to here – that a fic including Vamp Willow could be on topic (hey Zahir did it to Tara!) Louise – that one who is my always - once more and Kerry who has done so much for this fic. She wrote some little snippets, and half a part. She has also endured hours of chat about this thing of mine which resulted in much of what is good in it. I wanted to get this going before you had to vanish dearie, hope you like. Also to Jo who stepped into the beta reading harness at short notice and handled the first few parts in record time. My errors are my own, their genius is theirs.



The Sidestep Chronicle

Backstep – Part 1

By

Katharyn Rosser


The black car, with its spray painted windows, thundered past the sign that marked the city limits of the half-assed town known as Sunnydale on the maps, but the driver was guessing the residents now referred to it as ‘this godforsaken town.’ He could have done with loud music to drown the monotony of the journey but the woman he accompanied would not hear of it. Matter of fact she probably would not even be aware of it anyway. She was off in her own little world once more and nothing was going to draw her out of it just yet. At least not until she was ready to come out.

Spike changed gear and accelerated through a red light, narrowly missing a blue van coming across the intersection. Not for want of trying to hit it though. It amused him sometimes to run into humans’ vehicles and then watch their anger fade into blind terror as he emerged from his car suited up. But the word was out. Sunnydale was a vampire town – though a tightly regulated one. The human fodder who remained here… they were just walking snacks and best of all they knew it. He took a slug of Jack D and failed to offer it to Drusilla. She didn’t drink anything but blood. Why should she? She didn’t need any help at all escaping reality… and Spike loved her for it. That was why he had let her talk him into coming here. Now.

He had been planning to pay a visit when he’d heard that the new slayer was due to be based here. Portents and all that guff. He’d never had very much faith in portents, prophecies and fate and he had even less now than he had before. Sodding entrail readers buggered it up again. Still the one who had told them about the Slayer – well Dru had tried reading her entrails too. Maybe she had strained her tea and had no leaves left to read. No Slayer here in ‘this godforsaken town.’ Just one incredibly narked off big bad vampire king who had made it very clear that only his own brethren were welcome here in this town. So the rest had run like frightened sheep. And with bloody good reason. That Order of Aurelius had a bad rep. They’d been quiet most of the time since Dru had blessed him with eternity back in London but now they were back in a big way. The biggest way in millennia. It amazed him that no modern vampire had thought of taking over a town so completely before.

Bloody brilliant idea. Maybe it would get boring after a while being stuck in one town with no freedom to come and go as you pleased, but still there were definite possibilities in a place like this. A fixer-upper maybe but it had potential.

Every vampire who could think beyond his own stomach was into getting some power – it usually took about a decade of snacking to get over the novelty of your nature and the hunger that came with it. Those that stayed intact that long, well they broke down into two basic categories. There were those with a vision who wanted to end whole show and send the world to hell. Not a plan that he was at all keen on. Then there were those who realised - like Spike – that the world was pretty sodding fine as it was thank you very much. More food than you could ever eat, enough so you could kill just for the hell of it, and earthly distractions aplenty. Whatever you fancied. Whatever your bag was the human world could provide. Humans were twisted enough to satisfy any vampire… and if they didn’t then you could still eat them. The world was set up to suit vampires. The best of everything happened at night. The tastiest morsels, the best sport, the concerts and pubs. Everything was available, bigger and better, in the darkness.

He glanced at Dru who was whispering to something he couldn’t see outside the car window. Three kinds of vampire. There were those, like Dru, who scared the hell out of you… or you loved with a fire that no one could ever touch.

What no one before the Master seemed to have realised was that you could rule an entire town. Maybe even a city. You could just move in and take over. As long as things looked reasonable enough from the outside then no one – no human - gave a damn. National capitals usually had the worst murder rates in that country. If that was true and the humans did nothing about seeing to that problem then who’d care about some town in the sticks? Not even the sodding Watcher’s Council and their pet slayer it seemed. Even if there was a Hellmouth. But if you’d seen one Hellmouth then you’d seen them all.

Not that he actually had.

Course the only slight problem with their visit was the very fact that this town belonged to the Master now. And he had made it as clear as sodding crystal that he was only interested in supporting – read providing meals for – his own brethren. Dru assured him that he was one of those. Because she was. Through Darla they had direct lineage to the Master himself. Okay fine. If Darla had told him that way back when then he might have accepted it as a given, but Dru… Dru thought she had lineage to the Queen of Sheba, which didn’t make it necessarily so. Course it didn’t make it a pork-pie either.

Still, thought Spike as he pulled up outside the warehouse they had been directed to, it would be a hell of a fight if Dru were wrong. Maybe even a fight worth having for it’s own sake. Not that it appeared that he would have needed the directions. The place which appeared to be a warehouse converted into some sort of club, probably by humans before the Master had risen, thronged with vampires. Some of them walking with humans. Some of them dragging or carrying their dinner with them. Others just making their way to the club, no doubt thinking of getting a take-out. At least you didn’t have to bring your own – that would be a hell of a faux-pas to turn up without providing for yourself.

“Dru… we made it my sweet.”

“Great-Grandfather’s?”

“He’ll be inside. You ready?” Spike asked, just a little concerned. He wanted Drusilla lucid and at her best for this. Just in case. Alone he could raise hell. But with Dru at his side they could drag the whole place down there with them. Then he saw who was at the door and waiting. So okay maybe they could drag the place to Cleveland. That was almost as hellish by all accounts.

He got out of the car and pointedly ignored the hulking vampire who waited for him at the door. Moving around the back of the stolen car he opened the door for Drusilla and held out his hand to her. The hulk guarding the door said his name, the voice full of contempt for it – and it’s owner. “‘Spike.”

Dru took his hand “I’m an elegant lady…” she told him as she rose.

“Nobody is more elegant than you my love,” Spike kissed her hand and she fluttered her eyelashes at him.

Dru let him close the door behind her and then slipped her arm through his and they walked back round the car to the doorway.

“Spike.” The hulking great vampire said again refusing to be ignored this time. “ You weren’t invited. Just your lady.” He nodded at Drusilla and she giggled like a nervous schoolgirl.

The only thing that stopped Spike dropping the big clod right then was his referral to Dru as a ‘Lady’ which always made her coo. That and his size. “Luke, great to see you.” Spike said with sarcastic enthusiasm. “What’s it been? Half a dozen generations?” Luke just rumbled in the back of his throat so Spike carried on. “Look mate, I don’t have to be invited. I’m one of the brethren. So… you get back to being the doorman and we’ll…” He let the argument hang. Threat or debate? Who cared? “Coming sweet?” Spike made to move past Luke and found a hand the size of a dinner plate placed on his chest holding him firmly back.

Okay fine, Spike thought. So we’ll fight. Maybe this time he won’t beat the crap out of me. After all I’ve taken two slayers since the last time. Course they didn’t hit quite as hard as old Luke does.

“You snubbed and ridiculed the opportunity to present yourself to the Master. You are not one of the brethren,” Luke told him firmly.

“Come along Spike. I want to go see Great-Grandfather,” she shivered as if cold although it was a warm night.

“Dru, Luke here doesn’t want to let me in. We need to have a discussion. Just let me deal with that first okay pet?” His lover grinned, perhaps in anticipation of the fight. He knew she loved to see him get beaten up… but usually just when she was doing the beating.

Luke contorted his face into what might have been intended to be a smirk. Which was hard to tell being as he was never out of costume. The teeth gave the lumbering burke a lisp too. Some blokes’ palates just weren’t built for being a vampire. But then Luke wasn't big on words, as Spike recalled, except of course for fawning before his all powerful Master.

Drusilla looked up as if seeing Luke for the first time. “Ohhh. Hello,” was all she said and as Luke turned to look her hand flashed and was at the giants’ throat holding him inches off the floor, at full stretch herself to do so. She tilted her head and then tilted Luke’s to match, examining him. “That’s not nice Uncle. There’ll be no tea for you tonight.”

Luke, for his part, was scrabbling to get his throat released. Vampires didn’t need to breath, but it was instinct – even after several centuries without needing to draw breath. When someone grabbed your throat you tried to get free, and all his efforts made not the slightest bit of difference to Drusilla who eventually tired of her examination and tossed him like a bag of rubbish against the sign that named the place.

‘The Bronze.’

Third place kinda suited this fleapit town, Spike thought as he smirked at Luke who was stumbling trying to get up from the floor, but slipping on some inconveniently spilled blood. No need to worry… his dark-princess was well and truly with him tonight.

So only the Master to worry about then.

Sodding great.

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

“Huh! Chickens… pecking at my feet…” Willow jerked into consciousness and realised that the chickens wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all. She’d been out on a farm… wandering around, looking through a window and seeing… someone.

A girl, beckoning to her through the window. But she couldn’t get there. There were bars and all.

It had been a much, much better place than the real world was turning out to be. Exhaustion must have taken her again because there was no way she could ever just fall asleep here.

“You’re just dreaming Will,” he stroked her dirty hair back from her face. It still looked nice though. A reminder of better times.

“So what do you think is going to happen to us?” Willow asked Xander, shaking off the dream. Anywhere But Here… anywhere was so appealing. They’d played it a dozen times… Xander had even moved on beyond the whole Amy Yip thing.

They had asked the same question a thousand times in the last five days. At least. Five days since they had been just a little too late getting home from school. Starting out optimistic, believing that maybe someone could come and rescue them. Everyone had heard of people who had been rescued from here. It was just that no one knew any of them. Or how it was done. Optimism was fine, but that had quickly fallen by the wayside. Then pessimism seemed to have failed too. They were still here. Just hanging around.

Darkness had fallen much faster that disastrous night. Heavy cloud had let the vampires come out much earlier. What were the odds in a town called Sunnydale? They had been picked up in a sweep with several others that had been caught out and here they were. They had been together since they were tiny and they were way past finding hard to believe that they were not going... end… together too.

Vampires. Xander cursed them. Though not out loud as they had managed to avoid being a meal so far - perhaps by keeping quiet. That had to be it. They hadn’t forgotten about them. They were regularly taunted but they could handle that. These guys didn’t have a thing on Cordelia and her devastating put-downs. Though Cordelia Chase hadn’t been telling them they were about to get eaten. So they hadn’t been forgotten but for some reason they, the vampires, kept picking on other, fresher, meals.

Fresher, maybe that was it. Maybe it was BO. He sniffed at his armpit. Pretty rank. Between fear, lack of bathing and the general smell in this place – which had been there even before the murder and mayhem he had to admit – it was hardly surprising. They were given a chance, a couple of times a day, to use the filthy facilities. Not a bath, a shower or a wash. At least they were getting fed though, seemingly on whatever the vampires own meals had on them when they were captured.

Vampires. Three months ago vampires had just been something in a horror film. Often badly dubbed and involving topless ladies with heaving bosoms – which, on a scale of one to imminent death rated about a zero. Three months ago the world had seemed a damn sight simpler than it was today. Then all he had to worry about was whether someone would help you through geometry… French… English… IT… History… Someone, of course, being Willow.

Now all they had to worry about was just when they were going to become the dish of the day. And then to hope that it was quick and clean. Five days in a cage hung over the centre of the Bronze had taught them a lot about vampire feeding habits and some of them weren’t too pretty. Some were quick, clean – which if he had a vote was how Xander wanted to go. Both hands in the air for that option. Some were long drawn out with communal nibbling. Some were kinda interesting in a perversely erotic sort of way – at least for the onlookers. And they had to look. It was impossible not to. At least it would have been “interesting” if it had been on film instead of a couple of metres below them where every bite was like a roll of thunder and every whimper was a scream of agony. If it had been on VHS there were bits he might even have rewound. A lot.

“We’re going to die Will.” It had been a long time since ‘We’ll be okay, you’ll see.’

They had started out thinking someone might rescue them. That the miracle would occur and that they would be released. That all the vampires would forget about them. That they would have a chance to escape somehow at the next bathroom run – which he still considered them fortunate to have received at all. Guess that really they don’t want us stinkier than we have to be.

Then they had just started to hope it would be quick.

They were off limits. Some bald dude with a freaky face – an even freakier face - had come over to the cage. Looked at them. Looked at Willow actually and declared them off limits. Which had seemed like a good thing right then, with the vampire queuing up to have them for dinner. Better than the death of a thousand bites that some suffered as the buffet or slung in a harness from the ceiling… legs and arms hanging at a convenient height. It gave finger food a whole new meaning. It hadn’t taken that long to figure out that freaky guy was some high muckety muck. Big and bad. Every vampire here was terrified of him. Xander was terrified of him too and it wasn't just the face. So that was ok. Of course right now he was just generally terrified rather than specifically terrified. But if he were to be specifically terrified of one thing then that guy would be it.

Something bad was going to happen. That had to be it.

Something worse than being eaten. Something way worse. Why else would they be kept here? They could have been eaten any time. His freakiness had eaten too, so they weren’t just being saved for him.

When the two new ones entered The Bronze, the blond haired guy in the long leather coat with the longhaired brunette in the scarlet dress, he had taken them for human. They had normal faces anyway. Help maybe… Everyone he didn’t recognise – and he had learnt a lot of their faces – was help – until they started to eat. But what were these two doing here? That they were together was as clear as day. They were affectionate, they were together. He had never seen a vampire show affection for anything but the next meal. But they were vampires. The way that the crowds parted before the woman as she strode imperiously onwards told him that. Vampires or worse.

Nope… right now he couldn’t think of anything worse than vampires.

And that really helped a lot didn’t it? Knowing that they were affectionate, that vampires could be? I can be a post-coital snack. Just wonderful, not only do I get eaten but I get to watch vamp lovers at play first. Okay so that was not the worst part of it at all. He shuddered at the resilience of his own hormones in the face of death. His own maybe this time.

And Willow’s. He didn’t want her left here alone – they might do things and he had to defend her. Thinking about it… he didn’t want to be left alone either. They might do things to him. Better together.

“Xander,” she chided him, “ you have to think happy thoughts. Were not going to die. We’re going to get out of this and one day we’ll laugh about it.”

“Will your perpetual optimism never ceases to amaze me. Even if actually it comes and goes. Here we are swaying gently in the breeze above a load of vampires in a feeding frenzy – and if we’re lucky then we’re just next on the menu – and you still manage to find the bright side.” He smiled at her. “That’s why I love you Will.” It could have been said very differently. A hint of sarcasm would have made it a devastating put down to his oldest friend, but that hint wasn't there. He actually meant it all.

“Be my deputy,” she said weakly, wondering if they were beyond even that raising a chuckle. He just shook his head with a sad smile. Then she realised just what he had said – and more importantly how he had said it. “Do you love me?” Willow asked really, really wanting to know but never having dared ask what he felt for her before – because she had thought that she had known. Perhaps it was just blind hope though. All she had seen in the past few days though… she wanted to open her eyes to him.

“Course I do. We’ve always been there for each other. Bestest buds as ever there was. Like the first day of junior high when Billy Franks pulled my trousers off you gave me your gym skirt.” Actually that wasn't the best example of support that he could come up with but at the time – before the three years of taunting and trying to pretend it was a kilt that had faded and shrunk in the wash – it had meant a hell of a lot back then.

“No Xander, I mean really love me?” she pressed as the blonde haired man passed into the backstage area where the head vampire resided without even looking up at them. His brunette paramour though… her eyes were fixed on the cage every step, craning her neck backwards like some dog pulled away from something it really wanted to sniff. A slight smile on her lips.

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

“Great-grandfather,” Drusilla cooed excitedly on seeing him.

The big bad baldy bat faced one, as Spike liked to refer to him. God he hoped Dru didn’t let that slip. Bat head actually seemed to be pleased to see them though. Well Dru at least, as it was pretty unlikely that he had forgotten what Spike had said the last time they had met. And well… Spike was no more impressed than he had been that last time Dru had tried to present him to The Master. A little more respectful perhaps, a nasty beating would do that to a guy, but no more impressed. Big on respect these Brethren types. Pretty cool name too. Summed it all right up.

“Drusilla… and… William…”

“Spike…” the named vampire murmured in reply.

Perhaps it was the bat like ears that accounted for him actually hearing that. “You spoke William?”

“It’s Spike. Just Spike.”

“Oh yes, I must have forgotten. How kind of you to remind me.” The rancour dripping from his lips spoilt any pretence of actual thanks. Not many would dare to remind him… let alone correct him.

Well two could play at that game. “My pleasure.” Spike thought that a reference to The Master’s age and no doubt impending senility would go down badly and he still wasn't at all sure that Dru would actually back him up if trouble started. She had got all obsessive when she had received the message two days ago requesting – sodding demanding no less – their presence in Sunnydale of all places. And though he was no coward Spike had no illusions about being able to take on Luke and The Master at the same time – let alone the small army that remained in the club. Word had it The Master was trickier than old Drac – and a damn sight less patient.

Not exactly low profile anymore either. Still it had to wear on you being stuck underground for a few decades reliant on brutish fools like Luke just to eat. Maybe he should give the old guy a break. He thought about that for all of a second.

Nah.

The Master turned to Drusilla again and Spike just moved back into the shadows, against a wall – where at least his back was covered and he could watch out for Dru. Though Dru wouldn’t hear of it he was not yet convinced that this summons was intended as anything other than a death sentence for some real or imagined slight against this Order that their heritage supposedly made them a part of.

“‘I have a gift for you Drusilla. One that befits your own special qualities.”

That wasn't the first time Spike had heard that in the last two weeks… everyone seemed real interested in giving Dru gifts right now. It was going to make her next anniversary a real tricky one to buy for. Though he had got a line on two arms and a foot from the Judge which ought to keep her happy if he could track down the rest. At least for as long as it took to destroy the world.

That was the obvious downside… but anything for Dru, when she got her heart set on something who was he to refuse her? Anything for his deadly mistress of darkness.

“Oooh, can I see? Can I?” Dru was excited and as with all her emotions never afraid to show it, no matter the circumstances.

“Of course my dear.” The Master motioned at one of his attendants and the one scurried off to fetch the gift.

With a screech of metal on metal the ‘gift’ started to be moved through on the overhead runner that might once have been intended for a lighting rig.

----------

The kiss seemed to have taken a lifetime… and in terms of what they had left together it might be just that. “Right now doesn’t seem to be the time to say we are just friends again,” Xander finally replied after a minute or so of lip to lip contemplation- which was rudely interrupted by their entire cage moving. Towards the back stage area rather than the filthy toilets which were the other way. “So I won’t tell you that lie again. Yeah I love you Will. If I didn’t before then after what we have been though – together - then I surely do now.”

Despite the move towards the curtains that marked the borders of the Master’s lair and what seemed to be the imminent meeting of their fates, Willow still managed a little nervous smile. The sort of brave little trooper smile that Xander had learned to appreciate more and more in the past days.

It had been the only thing holding him together.

It still was.

He just wished that she had told him that she loved him too but she had asked the question. He had answered it with a kiss and she hadn’t said a word.

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

The cage was met on the upper level by more of the Master’s attendants. Must be nice, Spike thought, to have someone to do everything for you. But a tiny bit impersonal for his tastes. So much better to throw the monkey boy down the steps yourself. It was a class thing. Despite his origins he liked to think that he had never been too proud to do things for himself. More fun that way too. He noticed though that far more care was taken of the red-headed girl. They looked a state. Probably stank too and not just of fear.

So, a tempting morsel Spike had to conclude, if a little dishevelled, but one look at Drusilla convinced him that she was more than that. Much, much more. The girl had something… something that pulled Dru to her. So close that she would be able to smell the fear, that she would be able to hear the pounding heartbeat. God he was hungry, lets get this show on the road mate. He didn’t say that though. Dru hovered around the girl, circling. Not suited up – so it wasn't hunger. Yet. But there was definitely something going on in his princess.

“Yes!” The Master cried. “You feel it Drusilla? Do you feel it?”

“Mmmmmm.” Dru stroked the girls cheek to bring the big frightened eyes around and then stared deep into them, her deadly hands grasping the chin to hold the head in place so tightly that the girl whimpered.

“Hey!” Xander called, reluctant to draw attention to himself but what else was he to do for the girl he had just admitted he loved. Just great Xander, you couldn’t realise that before you were about to die? Typical Harris luck. No actually typical Xander luck. There were lucky members of his family. Distant relations… and the more distance from this place the better.

“Be silent boy,” the big vampire told Xander throwing him down and pinning his face to the floor with a heavy boot.

“She reeks…” Drusilla told the Master, releasing the girl’s cheek where droplets of blood now gathered from the impressions of her razor sharp talons. “… Of hidden power.”

“Yes she does doesn’t she?”

“She’s one who’ll fly high up amongst all the twinkling stars until the rooster calls her home for tea and honey,” Dru continued lost in the moment and the big eyes of the red-haired girl.

“Yes…” The Master sounded a little more uncertain now and, after a century or more with Dru, Spike was no more certain what exactly his dark princess meant than the bat-faced freak was. But Dru sensed something that was certain.

“‘She’ll sing when the day comes and all the walls will come tumbling down. Just like humpty-dumpty.” She spoke to the girl directly, “I know your secret,” she whispered.

The Master stayed quiet this time, observing Dru, obviously fascinated by her. Spike could understand that at least.

“My secret?” Willow asked shakily, pretty sure that she didn’t actually have one.

“You’ll love to lick them… Just like a sweetie,” the vampire woman said to her looking right into her. “I can see it now. Can I have one of your eyes?” she asked.

“No.”

Drusilla pouted but didn’t take what she had asked for.

As much as he loved to see it, that fascination with the girl worried Spike. The Master was not renowned for his patience. Or for giving gifts beyond the requirements of hospitality. He moved in and grasped Dru’s shoulders feeling her relax into his embrace as she released the girl entirely. He looked at the girl and saw… a nice snack to be sure, posh even in her slightly mucky fuzzy pinkness, but nothing special at all. The rivers of blood called to him, the scent was captivating, the motion of the descending droplets of blood a dance that enthralled him.

He reached out and turned the girl’s head to examine her neck and found both The Master and Drusilla grasping his arm. Firmly. “Owww! Watch the coat.”

“She isn’t for you Spike. Bad dog. She’s for me.” Dru told him and Spike realised, looking at the Master and Luke, that she might just have saved him from imminent pain. “She is for me isn’t she? She's my gift Great Grandfather?”

“Yes, my dear. She is for you. I sensed her even from the other room and I thought instantly of you and your special abilities… and here you are to take her for me.”

“Oooooh!” Drusilla clapped her hands. “We will have to have cucumber sandwiches tonight for tea.”

“Hey, your masterfulness…” Spike felt Luke bristle behind him but was past caring. Dru was needed and that meant he was safe – ish too. “What about me?”

“You dare to ask?” Luke bellowed.

Spike didn’t even turn around. “It’s just good manners mate.” The Master had a rep as one of the old school. The very old school. Back when the identity of your sire carried some meaning and status. Back when you gave your guests something to keep the grumbling stomach at bay.

The Master it seemed must have been in a good mood. “Take the boy… but I want him back… after. The prophecy talks of two… lovers. He might be the other one.”

“Him?! Monkeyman – heck monkeyboy! You have got to be kidding,” Spike shouted.

“Hey! What’s wrong with me?” Xander grunted from beneath Luke’s foot.

“Hello, lovers?” That was the fuzzy pink girls concern. “We only just kissed the once.”

Spike saw the look on The Masters face and realised it was probably a very long time since he had been kidding – about anything. “Okay. Thanks. Very hospitable of you.” He turned back to Luke even as Dru took possession of the girl. “Your standing on my dinner… shift it.”

Luke growled but released his hold. His Master had given the boy over to the Spike and that was that.

“Dinner?” Xander asked, as he struggled to stand, and would have protested further but saw Willow being led into a dark corner by Drusilla. “Willow!” he even threatened to fight, but the one that wanted to be called Spike smacked him on the nose and he went down. Hard. Still he couldn’t even say “ow.” All he could think to say even as he felt the teeth rip his throat out was Willow’s name. But by then it was far too late for her as well.

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

Somewhere, nearly half a continent away from those murders another young woman awoke from her slumber with a start. She’d been dreaming of someone looking at her… some red haired girl. She’d been encouraging the scared girl to come in, into the warm, into the safe place. But it was safe because of the bars. She couldn’t get through the bars. She had the feeling that when she had awoken she might have shouted the girl’s name, but she couldn’t remember it. She awoken knowing that something was terribly wrong but having no idea what. Nothing was amiss where she had lain - in her room. She got out of her bed and went to the window. The darkness remained outside as she looked out – there were no bars on these windows.

She padded quietly out of her room in her pyjamas, out to the backdoor in the kitchen. The house was quiet. She stepped out the door and listened, in case there was an animal somewhere in distress that she should go help. Was that what had awoken her…? No.

She turned back to the door but as she did her foot brushed against something… her feet would be filthy. It was piece of a chopped log but the shape… something just struck her about it. Without knowing why she picked it up and carried it back inside with her. It was too big to put it in the pocket of her dressing gown but when she plonked it down on her dresser and promptly forgot about it despite its size.

Could it be her mother that had woken her… was something wrong? No… she was recovering, a little, in hospital. Getting better now. They said she might even be home soon. It must just have been a dream, just a lingering feeling from a dream. When that concrete concern had faded she slipped back into bed and was soon close to sleep again. Before she nodded off she had forgotten all about it and drifted into a sleep filled with more dreams that she would not remember.

It would be weeks before she even found that lump of wood again…

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

“Very posh,” Spike commented as he stepped into the conference room a few days after their excursion to Sunnydale.

“Thank you Spike,” the middle-aged human said with genuine sounding cheer in his voice. “Drusilla, a pleasure as always.”

Dru hadn’t said much since they had left The Master, just told him to bring her here and now Spike wasn’t even interested in why. He’d heard of this lot before. Sodding lawyers. Legend gave vampires a bad rep, and mostly they deserved it but lawyers were just plain old fashioned bloody evil without the excuse of being demons. Though round here that was a topic that was open to discussion from what he had heard. Even if they started out human… things happened, that either got them dead… or promoted.

“Drusilla, Spike,” Holland said, “may I introduce Lilah Morgan. Lilah is one of our most promising new talents and will be managing this project from now on,” Holland told them.

The expression on the young woman’s face was a picture, but she recovered well and quickly. Guess she might have a future here. If something didn’t eat her first, Spike thought. Which, it was rumoured, was a major route to promotion hereabouts.

“A pleasure,” Lilah said, still controlling herself well as Drusilla went over and sniffed at her, then started to play with her hair, plaiting it for her as Holland watched – amused and indulgent. But not fearful. “I have to thank you for getting us off to such a good start. Exactly what we wanted, thank you.”

Sometimes, Spike admitted, he wasn't sure just how much of Dru’s behaviour was for show and how much was her – eccentricities. And what exactly had they done? Dru hadn’t told him anything much… and everything they had done had been at the instruction, request or gift of the Master.

“Was it as you foresaw Drusilla?” Holland asked trying to distract her from the slightly skittish Lilah.

“She was soooo hungry when she woke up… she got through eight little doggies before she was all full up,” Drusilla replied.

Spike had to admit it was impressive. He hadn’t seen anything quite like that since Paris in 1926 and the mad bastard Dru had turned then hadn’t lasted two weeks before a mob took him apart. Red certainly had appetite and that monkey he had turned seemed to have gained an attitude to match his little friend too. Maybe there was something to the theory… maybe the sire did have an influence. Perhaps the monkey man had picked up some of his cool, because the girl sure as hell picked up some of Dru’s eccentricities. Which had seemed to please The Master no end when she had calmed from the post-rebirth frenzy.

Spike wasn't sure what this lot wanted though. Obviously the girl… and as a vampire to boot, but why?

Actually who cared? She was a vampire now, The Master had her and just so long as he and Dru didn’t have to drag her round the world with them - fine. One eccentric was more than enough perfection for him and monkey boy would definitely have pissed him off within twenty miles of town. And now, now he was off to the islands with Dru where – as part of their payment – they had been told there was a part of the Judge, guarded by nuns no less. Dru had always been partial to the occasional nun or ten since, he theorised, taking her own vows. Most of which he loved to help and watch her violate them very single night.

“Excellent. The firm is very appreciative of your efforts Drusilla. Very appreciative indeed. You too Spike. Anything you ever need you have only to ask.”

Dru sniffed at the young woman again and left her hair tied with a string made of human gut, flashed Holland what could only be described as a killer smile and without another word she swept out of the room with a twirl of her long dress. Leaving Spike to make the pleasant good-byes for her. Cheers love.

“Yeah, well, thanks mate. We’ll let you know if we do ever need anything,” Spike said as he tried to match Dru’s majesty with a sweep of his coat and followed after her. What she saw in these lawyers he would never know but she just kept coming back to them. It had been twenty years since they had seen young, now old, Holland. Besides Holland’s bosses were a little more… influential… than he usually liked to deal with. Everyone knew that. Once you started getting involved in other realms… that was just too far.

Holland crossed the room and closed the door behind the two vampires before Lilah spoke up. He was pleased though to see that she made no move to undo her platted hair. Despite what tied it up.

“I want to thank you sir, for your faith in me. I know that I am still quite new here, but I will really work to make this project a success,” she promised him.

“I know you will Lilah. And you won’t always be the new one in the office, in fact you may have noticed that young Lindsey Macdonald started in the department today as well – but this was always going to be for you. It needs your delicate touch. And if you do well then you will be an old hand long before this comes to fruition. This is only the beginning, actually a beginning. There is another beginning that is still to come before the project is really on track.” Holland handed her a folder, opened at a photograph of an ancient piece of what appeared to be parchment.

Attached to the photo was a hand written translation. She scanned it, applied this to what she knew already and realised what he meant. What was to come and what the whole point of this project was.

“He, this Master I mean, he has the wrong part?” she asked, fairly certain of the answer from the interpretation.

“He has one piece certainly, he only thinks he has the other. We know better don’t we Lilah?” Holland was grinning – genuinely pleased both at the news and that Lilah was already better at translating the meaning of the prophecy than that ancient vampire was. Law school still taught you better than anything how to read between the lines and spot the loopholes. It would be Wolfram and Hart that made use of this. Not some two-bit, small town vampire king.

“Yes sir.”

“You will do very well at this Lilah, I can just tell.” As a matter of fact it was crucial, but there was no telling her that. Not at this early stage.

Lilah recognised that as a promise, a reassurance, a demand and a threat. When Wolfram and Hart made any of those then it was going to be followed through. She’d already learnt that. All four… Great opportunity. It was one of the things that made the job so worthwhile… not to mention dangerous. A little danger was a good thing.

Just a little.

For now.

*******************

To be continued... and continued... don't say I didn't warn you.

Katharyn


------------------
You hear that baby?


Edited by: xitaImage at: 6/1/03 11:35:43 am


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 Post subject: Part 2
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:12 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5
Yay - 1000 posts... only fitting that I save it for my own fic. One landmark that ZAhir can't take from me! (Just kidding Z.)

Here is part 2 kittens... nothing more until Wednesday at the earliest, just so my dear beta reader has a chance to have a life beside this!

Enjoy,

K
---------
Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – Backstep II (Part 2)

Author: Katharyn Rosser

Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities. Limited material from “The Body” is used strictly as background for this fic though these cannot be considered spoilers since I changed the reality – plus it aired ages ago.

Summary: The second Backstep, this time to take us to the defining moment in Tara’s life. The thing that drives her – at least until she gets another purpose later on – but we will get to that. This occurs a few months after Backstep Part One. For the sake of argument say around the time of “Out of Sight Out of Mind” though that is not significant other than that time has passed.

Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.

Rating: 15

Couples: None – still some time to go yet.

Notes: Just to stress here, Tara is 16 and a bit here… which is why she sounds young… At least I hope she does.
Finally when I wrote The Beginning Cycle I operated under the belief that Tara may have had some younger brothers. The canon source allowed for that – a matter of interpretation. I changed my mind and went with the general consensus. There is just Donny in this fic.

Thanks To: The board moderators and their helpers who recently, even more than usual, have been proving why Pens and Kitten are absolutely the best place to be on the Net… W/T, Buffy or not. They don’t get thanked enough – and they deserve to. Louise, Kerry – be well hun – and Jo Wizpup.




The Sidestep Chronicle

Backstep Part II

By

Katharyn Rosser





“D-Daddy?”

There was no response from inside the dark house. There was not a light, not a candle. No fire in the hearth. No television or radio on. No music. Nothing. The house was completely dead. She took one of the dinner plates she had fixed up before she went to the hospital from the fridge and started to pick at the food with a fork as she walked around, turning some lights on as she went so that the house was just a little less spooky. She hated being alone out here.

The other plates were still there though. The roast meat, the potatoes. Everything was untouched. On every plate. No one had eaten a thing. They always sat down and ate. And even when they didn’t Donny couldn’t resist the rumblings of his stomach for more than few hours at a time.

Had they all gone out, perhaps to the hospital? Grabbed something in town maybe? Unless it was an urgent visit… and they wouldn’t have stooped to wait. That would be one of the only things to interrupt dinner together. That and her own absence.

But he, Daddy, had said that they were not going there today, that her mother needed her rest and that she should not go to the hospital either. Mommy was doing better but not well enough. And for the first time she could remember in a lot of years she had disobeyed him. If she thought back she could still remember the sting from the last time she had done that. But he shouldn’t mind this time. Not for that, surely. And she was a little too old for… No. ‘You’re never too old.’ That was one of favourite sayings. But usually to Donny. She didn’t give him much cause these days.

Had they gone looking for her? Worried she might have had an accident or run into some bad people? She had left a note, telling them where their dinner was and she wasn't that late anyway. She walked back to the kitchen and checked. The note was gone from the message pad. They couldn’t have missed it, everyone knew to check there. It was a big part of how they communicated in this house. She had gone straight from school, and Donny knew she was going anyway. She had made sure to tell him. He wouldn’t have pleaded ignorance and hidden that note just to get her in trouble again? Not when she had been going to the hospital surely…

But he might have. He was getting more and more out of control. Unless he shaped up soon then he was going to be the one to get in trouble – and not just with Daddy. Already the police had been here twice asking where he had been certain nights when there had been trouble in town. And Daddy had told them. He was here officer, with Tara.

And she had nodded because what choice did he give her?

She had lied to the police. And she was sure that they knew it but they didn’t seem to hold it against her. Officer Reynolds had even given her a lift this evening to the hospital. Not a word had been said about Donny, she was just a genuinely nice lady.

Tara absently picked a slice of meat from a plate with her fingers, she’d put the fork down and who was there to tell her off for eating with her fingers? She chewed on it nervously. Was she going to be in trouble? She was home. It wasn't late, it was dark sure but she wasn't past curfew. But then she had disobeyed Daddy. She had gone to the hospital when he had told her not to do that. Her mother though, her mother had been pleased to see her. She had seemed stronger. Better. Maybe it had helped her. That was why she went.

Maybe just a little to feel better herself. It was hard here alone with Daddy and Donny. Sometimes you just needed to give some love and feel some in return. She didn’t get that with them. Daddy was aloof with everyone but her Mom… and Donny he was what her grandfather would have called a bad seed. And he was her older brother. They weren’t supposed to get on.

She made her way through the house again, looking in rooms, even in the special room which would one day, she was promised, be hers. But not yet. It was as empty as the rest of the house. The restraints hanging loose, moving in the slight draft. Had she left the back door open? He wouldn’t be happy if she had, letting the cold in. Though the house was already freezing cold. She hadn’t noticed with her coat on until she had touched the doorknob here.

The house was cold. The house was never cold. Her mother couldn’t abide the cold and even when she wasn't here Daddy kept the house warm and toasty. Ready for her to come back he said. Just in case. ‘What if the hospital send her home and there is a cold house waiting for her?’ She and Donny had learnt to keep the house warm.

The house was cold. That wouldn’t do. He would be angry when he got back and if she didn’t do anything about it then it would be even worse. Even if it wasn't her fault. Failure to act to correct the problem was the sin, not the error that had caused it in the first place. Anyone could make a mistake but if you failed to act to correct it – that was just bone idleness. No excuses.

No sir.

She hurried through the house, wondering just how warm she could get it before they got back. She kinda hoped for a little time… just so it could warm up a bit. Even if she had to be all alone during that time. What they called the front door, which was actually to the rear of the house, was - as she had suspected - wide open. The state had changed their plans and moved the road whilst the house was being built, decades ago. That was why they had an open ‘front’ door at the rear. Which no one ever really used because it went virtually nowhere. It was probably Donny that had left it. He was always doing that. And she was always closing it after him. Correcting the error. Yes sir.

Not only was the door open but the fire had burnt right down in the front room. All the way down to ashes. There was nothing left at all. Wood, she needed wood. She just hoped that Donny had done his chores this morning. If there was no chopped wood then she was going to have to do it and she wasn't very good with an axe – not beyond the first swing anyway. It kept getting stuck. But she would try her best and she could certainly get enough wood to get the fire going, probably just from scraps. She should be okay with those. That was the important thing. Get the house warmed up before they came back. Do your duty for the family Tara and correct the error.

She went out of the front door and over to the shed. There was some already chopped wood thank goodness. At least she wouldn’t have to deal with that. But the barn door was open too. And that was a real no-no. That was where they stabled the horses and if one of the horses got out then Daddy would really get mad. They had to look after the horses. If they couldn’t look after them then they wouldn’t be allowed to have them anymore. Donny… if he had left the door open then… she’d do what? She’d correct the error. Yes sir. What else was she going to do?

But if Marmalade, her horse, or Duke, which was Donny’s had gotten out then there would be nothing she could do. Not until morning and tomorrow was a school day too. Donny would have to go himself to find the horse – or horses. Hopefully before Daddy found out. She didn’t want to be punished for Donny’s mistake. He would be so mad if he found out. She’d shut the doors and even if a horse was gone Daddy might not notice. He had nothing much to do with the barn on a normal day. It was theirs, her’s and Donny’s since their mother’s horse had died two summers ago – but Mommy hadn’t ridden Holst for a long time before that. Neither of them had really been up to it. She was already sick and just went out there to feed and groom the elderly horse. She’d cried for so long when he finally faded away. It hadn’t helped her illness any either. They had never replaced Holst. Maybe if they had and if she had been able to go out… would that have helped her? No she would probably have got a chill. Her chest was weaker even then.

Tara was getting mad, whispering to herself as she crossed the yard towards the barn. Helplessness about her mother’s illness compounded with Donny’s stupidity. There was a faint glow from inside, maybe a lamp somewhere hidden from view. Were they in there? Was that where they were? But doing what? Maybe one of the horses was sick. Please don’t let it be Marmalade. Please.

“Daddy? Donny?” she called out to them, hoping that they were in there, that none of this was her fault and that she really wasn’t all alone out here. She didn’t like to be alone; she just couldn’t help imagining that there were things out in the night waiting for her. Knowing that there were things wasn't any comfort to her at all. Her mother made sure that she knew what was out there – and how you could deal with them. Daddy hadn’t objected to that when she had told Tara. What would work against what, so many things to remember – but she could never do any of that. She was too much of a coward. Donny and Daddy. They would deal with anything that came out of the night to threaten them. That was their role.

She rounded the big barn door and could see that the light was coming from above. The stable doors though, at least they were closed. She picked up a torch from where it hung beside the door and went to check on Marmalade who was moving around a lot. She could hear her in the stall.

The horse had dried saliva all around her mouth and her eyes were still wide, alert. If she had been human Tara would have thought she was shocked. Something… something had upset the horse.

Horses.

Duke in the stall next to her was in the same condition, but with a quick glance they both seemed otherwise all right, thank the goddess.

She stuck her arm over the door towards her horse, expecting her hand to be nuzzled but Marmalade shied away from the hand as if it was holding a burning flame. Violently, back so far that her hindquarters banged into the back of the stable.

Which had not been mucked out.

Neither of them had.

One thing Donny never missed. Never failed to do, even if it was a chore. He never forgot to care for the horses. Never. She did his household chores and he would muck out the horses. He had never complained. He loved it. He taunted her with it whilst she was washing up in the morning – which she did not love quite so much. He wouldn’t forget that job – he valued the horses too much.

Something must have happened, early, to stop that being done. But what? There was no reason for them both to go out… She had just come from the hospital and the chores had not been done all day so they hadn’t been called out to her mother, thank goodness. The house was stone cold. So it wasn't recently they had left either. What were they doing? Where were they?

Looking back on it later she was never sure what it was that drew her up into the hayloft. She couldn’t remember going up there since she had been hiding from Donny when she was seven, spiked her hand on a rusty nail and needed a tetanus shot. Which had really hurt. And then Daddy had punished them both for playing in dangerous places. But something had pulled her to the ladder nonetheless. She just, she thought much later, knew…

Something had drawn her up that ladder and to stick her head through the trapdoor to see… just a bale of hay. What else would it be? It was where they kept the fodder for the horses. Another reason why she let Donny care for the horses. She could barely move a bale, let alone throw it around the hayloft. All she could see shining the torch around. Hay, hay and more hay. Oh look some more hay. But not neat and orderly as Daddy insisted that everything should be. Correct the errors. She couldn’t lift a bale but she could make them a bit neater and tell Donny to sort them out later. When she caught up with him.

When she found them both.

She climbed up through the trapdoor and straightened up. Look around at the mess.

She wouldn’t be telling Donny anything again.

Or Daddy either.

She had found them and sooner than she expected to.

She didn’t have to shine the torch to see them in the dim light. The pale waxy flesh showed very clearly in the murk. So did the tears at their necks which had been ripped open by some sort of animal… or…

Tara screamed.

She kept screaming until she couldn’t anymore because of the pain in her throat then she just groaned and cried.

But no one came because there was no one to hear her and she really was all alone out here.

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

They had taken her to the hospital when they came and found her. Not in the ambulance with her Daddy and her brother but in the police car. She had stayed slumped in the hayloft all through the night. Not daring to get up and make the telephone call. Not because of what might be out there but because she couldn’t help thinking that Daddy would be annoyed if she had left him there in the dark. It wasn't until the dawn light had filtered through the dusty glass in the window above the bodies that she had been able to move at all. And after she had seen exactly what had been done to them. It wasn't any animal… not any wild animal anyway.

She had stumbled to the house, found the phone and dialled 911, for some reason she even asked for an ambulance. It had seemed right. She knew that there was no point in asking for an ambulance. None at all. But she had anyway. Then she had told them to send the police too. The police station was much nearer, just on this side of town. The ambulance had to come from further away as the hospital had no emergency room. Then with the police on the fifteen-minute drive out to the farm she had started to get the house in order. When they had finally pulled up she had lit the fire as she intended to do last night, chopped some more wood and started to prepare breakfast for four. What else could she have done? There has to be a routine, Tara. Otherwise how will you know what to do and when. Flights of fancy don’t get things done. Nor does just reacting.

Yes sir.

It hadn’t taken much for one officer that she had never met before, Durkin, to accept a plateful whilst they had waited for the ambulance and the coroner that they called, though she had been aware of Clare Reynolds prodding him and trying to tell him that he shouldn’t. But then even she had accepted a plate when the wait started to drag on and they had no idea what to say to her. Something like this they just had to secure the crime scene. Some other officers would do the investigating and there were no witnesses out here. That meant they just had to eat their breakfast whilst Tara flitted around doing her chores. Eventually they sat her down, fearing she was in shock.

Tara though didn’t need any investigation by the coroner. She knew what had done it. Something, a vampire from what she had always been taught, had come out of the darkness and ripped her Daddy’s and brother’s throats out.

She hadn’t said that to the police of course. They might have known something of the family reputation. Everyone in town knew about the Maclay family. They would have said that she was crazy for saying it. They might have thought that she was anyway. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t answer their questions properly. She just asked them if they wanted more eggs, because wasting good food was a something you should not do. No sir. Somebody is going to eat it, she had found herself saying, and when they refused she did so herself.

Then the sick feeling hit her again and she went and threw up.

Sorry sir.

Vampires. She had never seen one but everyone knew the rules. Out here you had to know the rules. Different creatures, different rules. What was it for vampires? Sunlight, staking, beheading and fire. Silver? She didn’t think so.

No, that was what killed them. Those weren’t the rules. Never invite them in. But they didn’t have to be invited into a barn. It wasn’t a home except to the horses – and that wasn’t the same. Had they been invited in the house? There was no mess. Maybe they couldn’t get in. They had looted the barn but not the house. Why?

They couldn’t get in. She was still alive. Her mother was still alive. It was their home too. So whilst the two of them were still alive they couldn’t get in. So they had to go somewhere else… they were still close by. The police hadn’t found any tyre tracks other than Daddy’s truck – which was still parked up. She could… maybe…

No she couldn’t. Even though the police would never catch them and never be able to do anything about it she could do even less, she was just a Maclay woman and she knew her place. But that place was empty of direction now. There was just the Maclay women left.

And beyond the brain-numbing pain all that she could think as they put her to bed was that if they killed her then it was still alright as they couldn’t get in whilst her mother was alive – and she was getting better. They couldn’t be allowed into the house. That was the family’s place

But who would look after the horses?

And who would tell Mommy?

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

Tara saw her third dead body little more than three hours after reaching the hospital and for the next three hours after that she sat talking to it, holding the cooling and stiffening hand. Talking, begging, apologising, even cursing. For some reason the doctors and nurses couldn’t get through the mortuary door, even though it was not locked. Tara didn’t even notice that she was doing it. Eventually they gave up and let her stay in there with her Mother.

Now she really was alone. Who did she have left in the entire world now?

They said it was ‘just’ a complication of the treatment. One doctor had confided however that it might have been the stress of the news of the death of her husband and son. Delivered not by Tara who had begged to leave her own bed to do the deed but instead by some police officer no doubt spouting the same false standardised and trained condolences that he had delivered to her back at the house. She just hoped that it had been Officer Reynolds if it had been anyone.

They just couldn’t wait for her? They just couldn’t have let her deal with it? It was a family matter. There was no bigger family matter. They were still family. They had been anyway… Now she was her own family.

There is just me, she thought.

Your family loves you Tara.

Well who was there left to love her now?

They had killed her mother. Even though she had been safe here. Her presence in the hospital had saved her from Daddy and Donny’s fate, it might even have saved Tara – stopped her from getting home as she normally would have done, before sunset, and ending up there with Daddy and Donny. Dead.

Right now death did not seem too bad at all. It would be some relief from the tight pain that constricted her lungs and ripped into her heart.

They had killed her mother.

The so-very-strong woman enfeebled by an illness. Who had fought the enemy within herself so hard, so bravely even though it must have been easier to just give up, so that she could come back to them. She had never given up on loving them enough to come back, no matter how great the pain that Tara knew she was suffering. It had been getting better. A little better. But not enough.

She had been getting better and now they had killed her anyway. Just as if she had been in that barn too.

They, the police and her doctors, had just made a mistake in telling her.

It was the damned vampires… they had killed her. Just as surely as if they had come in here and ripped her throat out themselves. And now there was no one she could go to. No one she could ask what to do about it. She had to think for herself.

She had to grow up and stop waiting for instructions. There would be no more orders, firm suggestions and requests because there wasn't a single person she respected, loved or really even knew left. She had things to do.

She carefully placed her mother’s cold hand on the table and pulled the sheet tidily over it, bent and kissed her forehead and covered her again, smoothing out the creases in the white sheet, wondering just how they got the sheets so perfectly white, wash after wash.

There was a whole family who required justice and she had the chance to do that.

She hoped.

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

She finally tracked them down. They had stayed so close that it hurt her. They were so confident… so superior that they didn’t feel the need to flee the scene of their crime. They had not gone anywhere at all really. A couple of miles west, to the next farm. It had taken her nearly the whole night to find the spell in the volumes she had last seen months ago - those that had been passed down from mother to daughter in this family for nearly two centuries. Longer still to then anchor it in her mother’s pendant, slipping it on to hang at her throat. She didn’t even know that it had worked until she found them and the burning sensation started.

The spell books, the ingredients had never been passed to her. She had just taken them now as her own.

There was no one to pass them to her. Quite likely there never would be anyone for her to pass them to either. There was a plus point at least. And Daddy was not there to stop the passing. Donny was not there to tell tales on her about it. But everyone knew that her mother had been showing her things…

By the Goddess she wished that they were here. That it could all be as it had been. But there was no way for that to happen. No way that she could ever contemplate at least. There were ways of course. But she had learnt her lessons well. There were certain things in magic that you should not do… she was about to try one of them, but that was one thing. There were also things that you should never do. Raisings for one.

The thought had crossed her mind… after.

It had not been too hard to dismiss it. Horrible as it was to have lost her family, it was the way things were and you could not mess around with the forces of life and death. In one way it was even the natural order. Predator and prey. But that cut both ways. And she had seen the illustrations if just what might come back if she had tried that. She had read of what could happen. She had been told what had happened. Before.

Quite likely she would not survive to see another sun set so she had made sure that she had enjoyed last night’s. She had sat with her mother’s books and a lamp on the porch reading as day faded though into dusk and into night. She’d even taken some time to look up at the stars, wondering at the constellations. Were any of them worse places than this world? That would be a bad place indeed. If she had only found the spell more quickly and Thespia had shown her the way to the demons whilst it was still dark then she might not even have made it this long. The delay had, at least, brought her daylight. Daylight was her friend now, along with sharp pieces of wood and fire. The sun not just a giver of life, but for some things certain death. It marked them out as unnatural. She had no reason to fear using her talents, her gifts – or her curse as Daddy would call it – against the unnatural. Against vampires.

If they were darkness and she was opposing them then that made her the shining light of justice. Maybe she wasn't totally convincing herself with that. But what choice did she have? Who else was there to do this round here? If she did not do this thing then no one would and others would die as certain as night follows day.

It would have been more of her family as it turned out.

The vampires were, Thespia had graciously revealed, on the farm of her Uncle Brett. Her father’s brother and she didn’t even know if they knew what had happened. She had never thought to warn them because she had never seen them too much – considering they lived so close and all. Cousin Beth was a regular visitor to their house, though she didn’t get on too well with Donny which made things tricky, but her father’s family seemed to dislike the Maclay’s whose family name he had taken on marrying her mother.

She could guess why and she couldn’t totally blame them. But the petty family differences were irrelevant now. The vampires were on their farm and if the sun set once more, or if they ventured into their own barn then... More death. She couldn’t allow that, not again.

Tara had approached with as much care as she could, years of playing hide and seek with Donny serving her well to move through the long, tall, stalks in the fields with a minimum of disturbance. She could see, from the fence, that her Aunt and Uncle were both in the kitchen. Thank Thespia once more for that. The vampires, she was sure, were in the barn – after all it had worked so far. Carefully she opened her senses up, as she had been taught, and the wave of blackness rolled over her. They were there… but they were not alone.

Beth.

Beth was in there with them and she was very scared.

What could she do? She had planned so many things. She had intended to deliver face to face justice whilst having them tell her why. Why they were here. Why they had chosen that barn. Why they had to kill them… But all of that had depended upon the time, being able to do this as she wanted to… not being driven to try and save another life – and taking the responsibility for that.

How she was going to achieve all of that? She’d never done anything like that. She’d never felt anything like this. She’d never truly hated before, but the hatred of the beasts that they were was feeding off the raw wounds of her bereavement. She had come out here with a couple of sharpened pieces of wood. And there were more than four of them. If she could have had time to think, to plan properly – knowing that – she might have got her Aunt and Uncle out of the farm and then thought about separating the vampires, trying something sensible… having a plan.

A sensible plan. That would have got her killed.

But in the best possible cause. What else did she have left to live for? Her family? Not anyone. All of her friends perhaps. Drawing a blank there too.

Now though there was Beth to think about. No more wondering. No more impractical plans to make them tell her what she wanted to know. She had to act… She could see them now through the barn door. They were about to bite. To feed. To kill. That was what they did.

Her cry distracted them, and probably alerted the people in the house. But there was no time. They just grinned a fang filled grin at her. Help me, mouthed Beth, though she was probably shouting it. The world seemed silent around her as she focussed on other things. The vampires were unconcerned. They could not come out and she could not go in there. They moved towards Beth, moved to bite her.

As Tara looked at Beth all she could see was the face of her mother – they had always looked alike - calling to her, reminding her. Words. Incantations. That was what the image was saying. It sprang to her mind almost unbidden. Certainly, she realised later, she would never have attempted it if she had been anything less than desperate particularly lacking the spell ingredients that would shift the focus from her mind and body to something more… disposable. She completed the phrase and the spell ripped through her mind and crippled her body. She staggered and fell by the fence, the vampires grinning even wider.

Until they realised that they had moved, without taking a step, victim and all, from the safe sun-proof barn and reappeared out in the yard.

Under direct sunlight where it took only a fraction of a second for them to burst into flames.

Tara struggled to lift her head, but it felt as if someone had hammered a spike though it, nailing it to the ground. She forced herself to raise it, her skull and her brain up along that spike. Taking the pain to see them burn as they deserved to burn, screaming in pain before they vanished in a poof of ash… and even that burnt up in the daylight. Evil consumed by the light of justice. She collapsed again, exhausted and hurting in every part of her being.

To see that her cry had indeed alerted the remaining members of her family.

Beth ran back to her parents, Tara could see that from where her head had fallen now next to immobile. Tara could see her shouting, pointing at Tara frantically. They all hurried over to where she lay on the ground. But they seemed reluctant to touch her. They probably thought that she would burn them up too. She almost wanted to laugh, except there was nothing funny. Nothing at all. She heard a female voice hiss “demon.”
“Shut up,” a man said. That must have been Uncle Brett.

She thought she heard Beth say “Look at her eyes. Her eyes.” What was wrong with her eyes apart from the fact, that like every other sense in her body the burned? After I saved their daughter… that? They call me a demon now? Just because I will be… but not yet! She wanted to scream that. Not yet!

But she couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak in her own defence, if there even was one, to explain what she had done but never to tell them how... She knew that she’d been to a dark place. And that she hadn’t yet come back from there. The pain was good… it was the penalty for her actions, her choices. This time, to save Beth and the rest of them… to get her justice… she would pay that price. But look what it had done to her, leaving her writhing, out of control of her body, in the dirt. She couldn’t even trust herself to cry properly. It hurt, the pain in her head. All over… but most of all in her head. But that was not the worst of it.

Eventually Uncle Brett stopped the debate with a “We can’t leave her there. Whatever she is, she’s only sixteen,” and picked her up and carrying her inside their house, placing her on Beth’s bed. Teen boy-band posters grinned down at her from the walls from the ceiling, bare and shiny chested. By the Goddess could this possibly get any worse? Oh yeah… here came the pain and the grief again. She started to cry.

Uncle Brett handed her a handkerchief, and it seemed like a grand gesture. Tara tried to blow her nose, but the pain exploded in her head as she strained. He took it from her and wiped her eyes, her runny nose for her. “You can stay here until your family, well until they are in the ground. I’ll help you with the arrangements. Then you better scoot. Get out of town. This isn’t the place for you. We’ll watch the farm until you can sell it,” he told her. Between what he and Beth had seen he must know what she had done for them all – especially his daughter. He just didn’t want to admit it, even to himself and his superstitious wife… Aunt Marie had never got on with Tara or her mother. Uncle Brett wasn't going to fight that just for her. And she was too weak to do anything but nod. She would leave. There was nothing here for her now. Nothing but three burials.

But where would she go? What could she do? If she couldn’t stay then she couldn’t finish school. She had liked the learning but hated the people… besides there was still her demon heritage to contend with. Two, three years and she would be just like those vampires anyway. Perhaps it was time to try and redress the balance. To make things a little better, before they got so much worse.

Justice. The idea was a bright spot in the blackness that threatened to consume her. Unwanted, unloved, cast out and hurting inside and out… it was all that she had to cling to.

And somewhere there was something responsible for all this. Something she could seek out.

Justice. She must have said it aloud as Uncle Brett turned back to her and asked what she had said. “Nothing,” she replied to him. Nothing you need to know.

All that she had in the world now was a need for ongoing justice. To know why it had happened and to stop it from happening to anyone else. And her answers were not here. He was right. This wasn't her place. Perhaps it never had been. She had always wanted things that she was not supposed to have.

Happiness.

A life.

Love.

And now all of that was lost to the need for justice. But knowing that couldn’t help her stop crying.

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

“The second part of our puzzle Lilah?” Holland asked as Lilah entered the conference room carrying the rarely used project folder. Not that he could read it from that distance. He was just on top of everything that happened in Special Projects. “I believe the appointed day was reached sometime last week, for whatever that is worth.”

“You know prophecy.” Lilah confirmed, agreeing more than just because he was her boss. He had actually taught her about the nature of that predictive force. And showed her what happened when you ignored the proverbial ‘small print.’ As The Master in Sunnydale appeared to have done. Prophecy was, generally speaking, the most unreliable thing that she had come across in this job. That and juries. Of course you could influence a jury – one way or another. And here at Wolfram and Hart they also believed that you could influence prophecy – or at least tinker with the variables.

“Yes. We think so,” Lilah told him as she reviewed the file on this, one of the first projects she had been assigned at the firm. And potentially one of the most important she had been involved with until quite recently. To be given something like this so early… trusting that she would advance far enough to do the project justice, that was a sign of the faith that the practice had in her future. She had no intention of disappointing. The results of disappointment could be… painful.

“We Lilah?” Holland was always keen to test her responses, tighten up her grammar and to gauge her sense of responsibility. It was critical in fact. She had a very responsible role – that would only get more so. He knew she was going to go far.

“Sorry,” she smiled, “I think so. We – I have had reports of a family being killed, by vampires. The only survivor was the daughter who notified the police. The mother who was already in hospital died shortly after being given the news,” she told him, summarising the twenty-page report that had been sent to her office half an hour earlier. She hoped that she had not missed anything critical in scanning it through, but Holland had no more windows available today and he had to know.

“‘And the one shall be left alone by the hand of those who stalk the night,’ very good, very good.” Holland recited from memory.

“Exactly sir,” Lilah replied, impressed at his precise knowledge of the wording of a prophecy they had not even discussed in a several months. Though the mother had not been killed by vampires which the prophecy seemed to indicate. Which was a slight worry. Unless the girl blamed the vampires anyway. Some sort of cancer the medical report had said, but the mother was supposed to be improving. Hopefully the girl would lay the responsibility for the shock at the feet of the undead.

“No reports of any other incidents?” he asked wanting to be certain that this was the one. There could be no doubts allowed.

“None that even remotely fit the profile sir. Random killings and only a few of those.” It had been Halloween after all.

“And is it the one who we expected it to be?” Holland asked.

“Yes sir. That would appear to give us confirmation of the prophecy. It was the girl that you were told to expect it to be. Though I am not sure just how you knew.” That was puzzling Lilah and there was no harm in a little fishing expedition. He would stop her cold if she were going places that she shouldn’t.

Holland had left a note for in the project file, sealed, which she had been instructed to open only on the occurrence of this event. On it was name. The right name.

Holland smiled, clearly not about to give the answer to the question she had asked regarding his methods. It wasn't that he didn’t trust her; it was just that Lilah, especially Lilah, had no need to know about some of the other sources available to Wolfram and Hart. Sources who only ‘talked’ to those in more senior positions. “Excellent. Prophecy can be a tricky thing. What about the reaction?”

“Untrained but effective and extreme,” Lilah told him. “The reports are unclear, our monitors couldn’t get near enough to see much – there was only a day between the event being reported and the reaction. It wasn’t their fault.” He nodded, noting the fact. “But dark magics may well have been involved. That indicates a high degree of control, power. I think that she might be a suitable candidate for our own special projects op-”

“No Lilah. You can’t recruit her. Not yet at least. Maybe. One day.”

“But she is all alone, recently bereaved - this is the ideal time.” This was the optimum moment for recruitment, there might never be a better one. After all what did the girl have left to lose? Allowing her to recover from that – as she eventually would – would only make the recruitment a trickier proposition.

“Yes it is. But so it is written etcetera,” Holland commented with disdain for prophecy that you could only feel dealing with dozens everyday. “Besides she won’t use those magics again. If she does… there will be nothing left - very, very quickly. I would assume it was the bereavement, an extreme situation. We know that she will be in a certain place at a certain time. The strains of that sort of spell casting on such a young mind and body. She’d be dead, or certifiable inside a year.” He examined a fingernail then looked up. “You know that Lilah.”

“Yes sir.” Fair enough. He seemed to think that she would have another chance, and it was not essential to the project anyway. Simply a bonus, and he was definitely right about the magic. They had to hope for a long, slow burn rather than a brief star bright explosion.

“You have the monitors still on her of course?”

“A permanent team is on their way now sir. They will be in place very shortly.” Lilah had been impressed by her choices. Two teams to start with who would observe the girl twenty four hours a day until they were absolutely sure that she was the one. And that she could be of use to the firm.

However long that might take and in whatever form? Best case, she might not even know it until I recruit her, Lilah thought to herself, keeping a tight lid on the speculation

“‘Excellent Lilah, well done. There is to be no interference by the monitors. Whatever happens. Understood? If the girl is in danger of being injured or even killed they are not try to be helpful and interfere…” The way he said helpful showed just what he felt about the sort of help they might provide.

“I have already given them personal instructions.”’ It hadn’t taken much persuasion at all. All the monitors were experienced and more particularly Wolfram and Hart veterans. It would have been more extraordinary to ask them to ensure the girl came to no harm. Besides the order would be in the files – and they knew it. It wouldn’t be her fault and they knew that too. They knew where the blame would fall. They would obey.

“Excellent.” Holland turned back to his work and Lilah knew she was dismissed. As she turned to go however he spoke again. “Oh Lilah?”

“Yes sir?”

“What was that name on the paper again?”

“Maclay sir, Tara Maclay.”

Edited by: xitaImage at: 6/1/03 11:37:56 am


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 Post subject: Part 3
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 5:23 am 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5
Part 3 Kittens... a little shorter than the others but it comes to a natural break and the next part is a biggie.

By the end of this part you should be able to see where things are starting to head. The next will be the last of the "Prelude" pieces and will let us get to the heart of the matter...

Enjoy

K

-----------
Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – The Dreamers (Part 3)
Author: Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.
Summary: Intrusions in consciousness. Set soon after the previous part.
Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.
Rating: 15
Couples: None – VW/VX some might argue but I don’t think so and that is not how I choose to interpret their relationship.
Notes: This was slotted into the Backstep mini-cycle… it is intended to prove a few points. I am sure that you can figure them out for yourselves, though there is one I want to stress here – Vamp Willow is not a comedy character. She is a vampire… with all that entails - and then some.
Thanks To:The Kittens… last time I thanked the mods for all of their work, but it is the Kittens that make this a community and not just a wonderfully well-run posting board. Here’s to you all. Louise, Kerry, Jo… What would I do without you all?


The Sidestep Chronicle

The Dreamers

By

Katharyn Rosser



This would be the last night that she could stay here. Her family had been buried the previous afternoon and Aunt Marie was already working to get her out. Uncle Brett had resisted her so far, but Tara had no intention of being responsible for more grief than already existed in their marriage.

And Beth really wanted her room back. Almost as much as Tara wanted to be free of it. To be free of the false sympathy that Aunt Marie showed her, nice as pie to her face, then overheard arguing about ‘kicking the devil child out.’

She’d been back to the house just once. Gone inside, found a bag and picked up the stuff that she absolutely couldn’t leave behind. There was remarkably little of it. Not much for a life. A few pictures and her clothes mainly. As much cash as she could find, though Uncle Brett had already secretly passed her his savings. And in return she had given him Donny’s horse. And her own to look after – but she doubted that she would ever be back.

And for some reason she had picked up that lump of wood that she had found in the yard, how many weeks ago? Months maybe. Why? She had no idea at all. It just called to her and having so little else, even for someone living the rest of their life out of a bag, she had taken it – thinking perhaps she could turn it into a stake or two.

Which was what she was doing now. There was no way that she could do any more magic here, if they caught her she didn’t know what they might do, but she could whittle. Whittle pointy sticks. She needed some. She had no idea when she might find herself needing something to kill a vampire, when the sun wasn't around. And she wasn't sure that an axe, or a sword would go with her ensemble. She smiled grimly to herself.

Even if I could lift one fast enough, or at all. So I whittle. It’s more natural after all.

She’d thought about testing her control, trying to use the knife without touching it, but that wouldn’t go down too well if she had been caught, so she just sat, shavings blowing round her toes in the breeze, swaying on the suspended chair out on the porch. It looked out over land that her father had worked, and her grandfather. There would be no more Maclays. One way or another. No one to work that land. She was abandoning it. Looking at the stars, though it was sad, it was hard to care.

She carved another stake to deadly pointyness and glancing around to ensure that no one was there, placed it in her hand. She focused on it and was pleased to see it fly straight and true to stick in the fence post she had been aiming at with a oddly satisfying twang. Simple magic… but it worked. All she had to do now was figure out how to hit a smaller area of a moving target that wanted to drain her heart’s blood.

All she had to do now was leave all this behind and find that target.

She would try her best for justice to be done. It was her duty now. Getting up to go and get the stake she found that it had embedded itself so deeply that she had to snap it off. The secret must be sharp, but not too fine. Vampire flesh would be easier to pierce. She went back to the swinging chair, swishing the wood shavings off it and into her hand carefully picking up those that were around where her feet had been. Waste not want not Tara, you could use those to light the fire.

Yes sir. Waste not want not.

It was with that last conscious thought, thinking of when Daddy had last said those words to her, years ago now, that she drifted into sleep, lulled by the motion of the chair. He hadn’t needed to repeat it… she always learnt her lessons well.

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

She dreamed of the horses. They were outside her window, running free, playing in a field that had never really been out there. It was a lovely sunny day too, but she wasn’t outside to enjoy it. Perhaps she was ill or maybe Mommy was keeping her in.

But she could still watch the horsies.

By the fence there was someone else. It was the girl that she had seen before. And never had. She knew her though; she had waved to her before, through a window. Inviting her inside… but there had been bars and she couldn’t get in. She couldn’t see anything but the back of her now. But she recognised the hair. How could she not? It was vivid and striking, glistening in the sunlight. Moving in the gentle breeze as the girl watched the horsies too.

When they came towards her though, running towards the fence, the girl backed away, seemed frightened by them coming towards her at a gallop, and even though they turned away at the last minute, heading back out into the field, the girl didn’t go back to her place resting on the fence.

I can’t keep calling her ‘the girl’ though. If she is going to keep coming into my dreams then she has to have a name. She has to give me one to call her. It seemed stupid. It seemed she should know it anyway. But she didn’t. She’ll have to tell me. It’s only polite after all.

It never hurts to be polite Tara.

No sir, it doesn’t.

The girl turned from the horses and looked at her and just for a second she thought she saw something… horrible there. But she blinked and it was gone. There was just the girl, trick of the light and the shadows cast by the hand she held above her eyes to stop herself being dazzled.

Tara blinked again and all at once the girl was right outside at the window and she could see her clearly now. Maybe they could talk through the window. This time though the girl was beckoning to her and there were no bars. She still couldn’t go outside though.

“What’s your name?” she asked the girl, but she couldn’t hear the answer. She could see the lips move, but she couldn’t hear… and she couldn’t tell what the lips were saying.

“Please tell me your name…”

Nothing.

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

It was cold when Tara woke. She was shivering and as she pulled her coat tighter around herself something fell out of her lap. The whittling knife… and a piece of wood. The piece of wood she had picked up when… when she had last dreamt about that girl.

Who was that girl? She didn’t know the name… and she couldn’t quite get a mental image of the face. In the dream she’d known that she had been a in a dream before… but was that just her brain playing tricks? Dream certainty?

She was just a dream though… whoever she was she was just a dream so compared to everything else it didn’t even matter.

There were shavings in her lap too though – as if she had collected them all together. She had been whittling? In her sleep? Carving that piece of wood? She picked it up and it was a new shape… she had removed edges, smoothed it off a little… and it was, even more than it had been before, vaguely head shaped.

She looked at it in wonder, and with not a little fear. She could have cut herself… and it might have been worse than that. What if she was channelling some spirit in her sleep and that hurt her… But perhaps it was just like sleepwalking… without the walk… and with a knife instead. People did strange things when they were sleepwalking. She’d read that… somewhere.

She turned the piece of wood over in her hands, looking at it from every angle and found that she had done something to every side, except the natural ‘bottom.’

There was no way that she was turning this into stakes. This was coming with her.

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

Willow breathed in. Some things just smelt so good that you had to breathe – put the effort in. The world would be a more boring place without the scent of fear to pep it up. And she could smell that fear now as she lingered behind the young woman that Xander had loped off after on the hunt.

Still not exactly graceful… not like she was, she looked down at her leather clad legs. She didn’t like to run. But she did like to chase. She breathed deeply again. Xander had just shown the girl what he was… and she was terrified. Willow could smell it. She could close her eyes and just savour the scent. And Xander… The girl was not the only one who had a scent about them. His wasn't fear though.

The boy had some interesting… well interests. Not as focused and appealing as her own but he did like to play and that was why she allowed him to stick with her – why they hunted together. Playtime was the highlight of her nights… and they did get to play a lot. She liked to watch sometimes as Xander took full advantage of their kills then step in when they thought that it couldn’t hurt anymore… just to show them that they were so very wrong.

She moved to the woman’s other shoulder. She was quivering, the woman, and Willow could empathise… if not sympathise. What was about to happen made her quiver sometimes too… if for different reasons. She closed her eyes again.

Uhhhh horses!

She snapped her eyes open, glaring at Xander.

“What?” he asked.

She said nothing. He couldn’t put horses in her head. Nasty arm biting creatures of the day. It was like a species memory… the hunters of her kind had used to come on horses. Now they were the only hunters… and the humans, like this one, were the only prey. She ran an exquisitely sharp fingernail around from the woman’s shoulder slicing through the strap of her top, drawing blood and baring the upper swell of her chest as gravity did it’s work and savouring the sound of the woman’s first pained yelp and the longer groan as Willow’s nail parted her skin.

She swung the slice around the shoulder blade and back down to that pale flesh, watching the blood spring to the wound seconds after she made the incision… following her. A delayed reaction. Then she brought the bloody nail to her mouth and tasted the woman. “Taste now,” she told Xander and saw him dip his head to drink from the cut. And it would only be a taste. He knew better than to bite. She had taught him that. She breathed again, her chest constrained by her outfit but she wasn't breathing to live. She was breathing to savour the kill and because it made her look so bad.

She closed her eyes and listened to the uncouth slurping that Xander made at the cut. He ate like a pig and she had made him scream like one too. More than once. She’d had to do something… he was hanging around like a vicious puppy dog… thinking that now that they had eternity she would fall into his cold arms and surrender herself to him. But not for love anymore… now he was interested in the more physical her. Old Willow… she might have loved him… but she hadn’t admitted the simple truth to herself. They were friends back then… now she knew that she had… other interests too. She let her hand fall to the still covered part of the woman’s chest, weighing her options and listened on.

The young woman cried again… but she couldn’t do anything. She wouldn’t even try to escape them… they could let her go… but she wouldn’t leave. This was the best kind of play… They had the woman’s child… over in the corner. And in exchange for her – cooperation – the spawn would be released unharmed. Xander had promised… and he never kept his promises. The child would make a nice snack for the Master, it had been a long time since anyone brought him a baby. And she might even be allowed to have a little more fun with the puppy for that.

Xander was getting carried away… in danger of draining the mother if he wasn't careful. So be it… Willow had already eaten. She was just here to take part in the show. That was what made her and Xander such a good team. They knew how to play. With the woman in her hand and the sounds of the pain, pleasure and feeding in her ears she drifted off again.

“What’s your name?”

“Judy” the woman replied.

Willow’s eyes opened. “Shhh. Quiet. I’m listening to you die,” she told the woman tightening her grip.

Xander lifted his head, wiped a little blood from his lips. “Will, you asked her,” he told her. The woman nodded furiously, new tears in her eyes as Willow’s fingers tore her skin anew, gripping the flesh. No delicate cut this time.

“Did not,” she didn’t remember that. She remembered being asked that.

Xander sighed, knowing better than to argue, pulled the top down a little further and went back to what he had been doing… revelling in the cry as he actually bit.

“Not.” Willow said again closing her eyes once more, wanting to hear the symphony.

“Please tell me your name?”

“I-I told you… Judy,” the woman said again causing Willow to look up… again.

“Shhh,” she gripped Judy’s head and spun it though over 270 degrees.

“Well great. I was just getting into that – now it’s all dead and flat. Thanks a lot.”

She glared at him, growled and he subsided, backing away from both Willow and the dead body she still held in her arms. “Always talking,” Willow told him. She had wanted to listen and the woman, Judy, just kept talking.

“You asked her name. Twice,” Xander reaffirmed.

“No.”

“Yes,” he said slowly, “You did.” He was looking at her, searching for signs of weakness. She was much too strong for him… but if there was something wrong then maybe he might get what he wanted from her; and what she refused to give him… All she gave him was delicious pain and a whole load of fun on the hunt. Her imagination was boundless… she had taught him a lot. It was hard to reconcile this with the Willow he had known when they were human.

Hidden depths. The demon had definitely brought out the best in her.

Willow thought about what he had said. It was like a waking dream, and she didn’t like that at all. It took her out of the moment and she had wanted to have fun in the moment. She released the body, let it fall and then squatted next to it, pulled the upper torso up from the floor and looked Judy in the face… that was looking the wrong way. Willow grinned. Judy would never have to ask if her ass looked big in anything again. She could have seen for herself. But she was dead and the blood was flat now. “Sorry,” she said to that face. “My mistake.” She planted a kiss on Judy’s forehead, enjoying the taste of fear as much as she had the smell of it.

Then she dropped the woman once more. “Bring that,” she pointed to the stirring child in the carrycot, “to the Master.” She was pleased to see Xander obey her. She had taught him that. With a lot more stick – which she was always willing to apply – than carrot… that she wasn’t. But he remained undead in hope…

She didn’t like this thing being in her head… asking her questions. That was it though. It was asking her questions, she was just repeating them out loud… She stalked off as Xander got the cot, disgusted with herself for spoiling playtime. But she couldn’t kill whatever it was that was asking her things. All she could do was answer. Out in the dark deserted streets she shouted “Willow!”

“Yeah that’s you baby,” Xander said quietly as the child, woken by the shout started to cry.

“Do we have to give it to the Master?” she asked, not sure if she could take the mewling all the way back to the Bronze.

“What he doesn’t know…”


------------------
You hear that baby?


Edited by: xitaImage at: 6/1/03 11:39:54 am


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 Post subject: comment
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 6:57 am 
New board. Update tomorrow. The weekend's filled with all sorts of fun. And with April Fool's day on Monday, it's one big ole romp o fun or something. Figured I might try and be the first to comment on this amazing story. Loving everything you're doing and anxiously waiting for more.

Oh! Oh, it's not a, a gay thing, you know, I mean, well...she's gay, but, but we don't ... gay. Not that there's anything - You know, I know what that
looks like, but I, I swear, it's not ... what it looks like. It's magic weed. It's not mine.



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 9:18 am 
Ah Part 9. I guess I missed it the first time when I went on a little trip. If Kendra is dead by this point, why wouldn't Faith have been called? Although, it usually takes about 5 months between death and calling. Please tell me we're gonna get some Faithy action? And what about the mayor? Did he ever ascend? So confused 8o .



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 Post subject: Part 4
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 2:31 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
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Part 4 Kittens... thanks for all the feedback so far.

-------
Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – Backstep Part III (Somehow Part 4 overall – just to confuse things.)
Author: Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.
Summary: What Tara was doing during the time of “The Wish” in this reality – to move the story along – a gap of nearly two years from the last part. Last of the Backstep’s showing how the variant realities of this alternate universe came together to affect those involved. This is set at the time of the conclusion of the BTVS episode “The Wish.” This is of course (in that reality) also the time of the very end of “Dopplegangland” when Vamp Willow is sent back to that point in time and space. Just don’t me to explain all the inconsistencies in the causality.
Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.
Rating: 15
Couples: None at this point but time is moving on... Dreams are still occurring.
Notes: The transcripts of “The Wish” and “Dopplegangland” were used for a scene in this fic. This helped me get the sequence of events in that scene in order and integrated between the two episodes. All credit in this respect is due to the transcribers and the original writers of the episodes.
Thanks To: The spoiler free… all of us trying to figure out how to wear a badge whilst naked, bouncing and covered in oil. With cheesecake. Kerry, Jo and Louise.


The Sidestep Chronicle

Backstep Part III

By

Katharyn Rosser



Chicago – Illinois

Chicago. Still Chicago. She still hadn’t managed to find her way out of this city nearly four months after realising it was time to go. Time to move on. It was as easy, of course, as getting on a bus – yet every time she resolved to do just that something else happened that stopped her from making it to the station. Maybe she was forced to invest in some expensive spell ingredients. Maybe her shoes fell apart and she needed to spend her hard won money on new ones. Sometimes it was a chance to learn something, new spells, new skills. New methods of finding and killing the vampires. Maybe it was other things. But there was always something that stopped her. It was always the same. She knew the danger of staying still too long, but she got comfortable in a place. It started to seem like home – even though she didn’t have much of one anymore. Just an empty farmhouse that no one wanted to buy. At least last time she had checked.

This time it was vampires that had held her here and her conscience refused to let her go. It threatened her, telling her that if she left then every death after that would be on her hands. Her conscience didn’t need to get a new threat… that one was enough. It always worked. There was a nest of them. Well organised, well defended. Security conscious too. A real prize winning set-up. As good as she had ever seen used by vampires. They were organised. They were careful. They were damn near civilized. As civilized as the beasts could be anyway. At heart they were all monsters and as such she had to kill them all. The monsters always died at the end of the story. Civilized or not.

And if you defined the test of “civilized” as the use of human apparatus against itself then they were definitely so. Some humans could be monsters too. Some even as bad as the real ones. The vampires were laired on a whole floor of an apartment complex. Living in individual apartments, nicely decorated and maintained as far as she could tell. She’d never seen anything quite like it. Human security guards patrolled the out-of-town site, protecting all the residents. Guards of the sort who were not above some random physical brutality to young, rain bedraggled, women who they caught within the complex grounds by using some very hi-tech equipment that should have been far beyond a small company’s means.

Nothing serious, she had suffered much worse by accident, but bad enough to bruise and still ache, enough for her to gauge their professionalism and their dedication. More than enough to for her to acquire a few personal items in the scuffle. Just in case she needed an edge. That wasn’t a place she wanted to go again. The dark place. The dark magics called to her, whispered really and she knew its effects only too well. Effects that she didn’t want to risk again. But if it was that or her life? She didn’t know which she would choose.

Maybe a long hot bath would have eased her pains but she hadn’t seen a bath in weeks. She slept inside her old Pink Ranger sleeping bag on a discarded mattress hidden in the basement of a building now inhabited at night by the city’s homeless. She had cleaned out the vampires that preyed upon them and they ensured that she could sleep safely during the day. It was an arrangement that suited both sides and she found herself liking some of those men, women and even children. Found herself trying to help them more when she could. And in return they let her sleep.

When she could sleep a full night. The dreams were still coming to her. Sometimes the guilty dreams, sometimes the weird… but oh so much more often featuring that woman she had come to regard as her red haired goddess. They had been building recently in both intensity and number and her carving… it was taking on a definite shape. Since that night two years ago on her uncle’s porch she had not laid a finger or a blade on it other than to carry it around. Yet it was being honed, shaped and worked as if by a craftsman. She would awake and there would be a few more little changes if she had dreamed of the red haired woman. Sometimes, if she had forgotten her dreams she would know their contents just by the fact that there would be wood shavings at the base of the piece of wood, where it rested by her mattress. It worried her. But carved pieces of wood… there were scarier things to worry about than that. The real world had to come first.

The human guards were easiest to bypass at night, of course, when their senses were less attuned to their surroundings. But then other, less natural senses, were at work in the complex. The vampires did not rely on human security alone. They too were out there. She had dusted two already just to get to here, to observe them and plan her movements. Young and foolish if she was any judge. And she liked to think she was by now. Probably residents here who were drained a little too far to survive – so they had been turned and now were used as security. Strong and fast as all vampires were, but inexperienced and definitely foolish. They should recognise that no matter how young and innocent she might look, especially soaked to the skin in her long skirts; if she had a stake with her then she was a threat. They actually thought they could feed on her.

She’d checked the stats at the library – and it was a good library in this city. This area had the lowest crime rate of any borough outside the city. That was always a pointer. Random street crime fell away when vamps were around. It was how they always operated. Street crime kept fresh blood out of the neighbourhood which wouldn’t do from them. Actually here crime had fallen in all categories - including missing persons and violent crimes. Murder too. They were all low but something had told her when she saw those figures that she had not made a mistake. It wasn't just good policing. At least not by the actual police force anyway. It had confused her for a little while. Until she had got inside the complex. The residents, the human residents, knew exactly what they were living with. They even welcomed it. They willingly fed it and eventually either by accident or design they were turned.

It was, Tara had to admit, a wonderful set up for the blood suckers. Ready, willing, meals on tap. Reinforcements as required. Those humans she had observed seemed to take some perverse pleasure from the act of sating the vampires blood lust and in return they received absolute security for themselves and their possessions as well as the promise – as they saw it – of eternal life.

As she saw it though - eternal damnation. She had been tempted to burn the whole place to the ground. The temptation didn’t last long though. It never really did. That sort of bad thing just flashed in her mind then was dismissed quickly – but not as quickly as it would have been once.

It was not who she was. It was not something that she could seriously contemplate. Even though a human that could submit to something like that with vampires – well that person was no longer human as far as she was concerned – but she still had an absolute determination never to kill anyone that was human. Perhaps in this sort of case though, the dark whispered to her, that should not apply so strictly. She could ignore the whispers, but they were still there. Once she had been absolutely certain she would never violate the promise she had made to herself. Now she was getting more and more afraid that she would. That was not what magic was for. She might have done it… if she had cared less, she might. It was definitely less important to her now than it had been. She knew that she could have done it. She would have regretted it later, asked herself what she had done, perhaps fallen into a guilty depression that could have got her killed. She could have… But she hadn’t done it. Wouldn’t. After all there were children in there too. Total innocents.

And even if she could have found a way to save the children from her righteous flames of justice, then she would not have taken their parents from them. There had always to be some other way than that. They could end up growing up like her, as she had been forced to, being left alone – that she did not wish on anyone. So instead, and as usual, she was being far more surgical and putting herself at far more risk. She always was. Every time it was like this. She thought about doing it the easy way, burning a vampire nest to the ground and knew that it would be easy. And yet every time there was some reason not to do it like that. There were people inside, nearby. The fire might spread. The buildings were old. There were artworks inside that people should be able to see. Pets. Once she even caught herself being concerned about a stick-insect collection. Dogs, cats yeah… but that. That was just an excuse. That wasn’t why.

As much as she wanted to avoid killing anyone who was human, what she really wanted was to deliver her justice in person. To see their faces before they collapsed in a pile of dust at her feet - to be scattered to the four winds. There was that instant between the stake piercing their hearts and their desiccation. It was an instant in which they saw her as she really was and she liked to think they knew why she was killing them. Not just that they were evil things, or that she was saving her own life. She liked to think they knew how she had been hurt and what part their destruction had in making that better. It was the only thing that made it all worthwhile. The only thing that made it feel as if she was really accomplishing something. Anything at all. It didn’t reduce the pain, the loss and the injustice but it did numb it. Just for a little while. About as long as it took her to realise that it was helping. Then it all came back and she needed to do more. And more…

But she wouldn’t hurry… she wouldn’t risk herself through impatience.

Two nights of visual observation and a further one where she had tested her ability to get into the complex had shown her what she was up against. Last night she had allowed herself to be caught on her way out, pretending to be a student from the local college on a dare. Just to get the last touches – but ready in case they tried to deliver her to the bloodsuckers. She had long since learnt not to go in “half-cocked” as Daddy would have put it. The human guards relied on their technology and not-at-all random patrols. Knowing that they were easy enough to avoid. Pressure pads held no fear for one who would need not touch the floor after sensing the electrical disturbance of their power source.

Cameras had been harder to fool until, some time ago, she had realised that you didn’t have to fool the camera or even get around it – just fool the person who was watching it. Anyone who spent long enough staring at static images got them ingrained in their minds. And once there, it was easy enough to ensure that was all that they saw. In fact it was just human nature – knowing and understanding that nature was a valuable tool. One she hadn’t possessed for a long time after leaving home for this life. Until it had come to her… a lot of humans are as bad as the vampires. That was what human nature was.

And here she was outside the last of the vampire’s apartments on the ground floor of the block. She’d wondered at that location at first, these vampires seemed to value the veneer of civilization and appearing to live as rich, well to do humans, why not the top floor, the penthouses? Some of their art was probably worth more than her family’s whole farm.

Art. She had been interested once. How long had it been since she had looked at artwork for it’s own sake? As a thing of beauty rather than just an indication of her targets lifestyle? Far too long. Maybe she should head to some of the galleries before she got out of Chicago. Try to find something to interest her aside from her whittling and sometimes cartoons if there was a TV she could watch.

The funny thing was that she knew that she was sinking… and it did scare her, but it was just that she had no idea what it was that she was lacking. Apart from family, friends. An education. Interests. Anything besides the justice and survival it required in fact. What else was missing from her life?

They were thinking, these vampires, as she had been forced to do. By taking the ground floor they were maximising their options for escape, minimising their risks. Whilst she could get to them more easily they had, in theory, guards to protect them. The advantages far outweighed that risk. Less direct sunlight in the seemingly less desirable apartments – just in case the curtains should be opened. Less distance to fall should a window escape be necessary. Near instant access to the pool in case of immolation. And control of the food supply’s methods of exit. Well thought out. And of course that left the humans to occupy the more expensive apartments, so there was no envy or jealousy to interfere with the arrangement – the humans might even believe that they were in charge. Who cared what they thought? Not her, likely not the vampires either.

All they cared about was the blood.

All she cared about was wiping them out. All of them. But not at any price.

You had to have a focus as precise and pure as theirs to fight them properly. She really believed that. But there were things she would not do… unlike them.

All the vampires’ careful planning had not helped them though. The four she had already surprised in their apartments were destroyed, each without a struggle.’ Three had not even known she was there, the fourth had seen her but was quickly and effectively immobilised by a couple of inches of levitation, staked before it could even realise why it could not launch itself at her. Before it could think to raise any alarm. Simplicity was the way to go. Always simplicity and not just because it was more effective. Simplicity was crucial in magic. The magic was not intended for this life of hers and she couldn’t afford to go near the more powerful spells… or to use it casually – only when she really had to do so. There had to be control. There had to be limits.

This last one would be trickier. There was a human in there with it, she had seen the man go in there earlier when she was preparing her own entry to the apartments. That was why she had left this one for last. Humans complicated things. Obviously the man knew what the female vampire was so she didn’t need to protect him from that knowledge. Equally as obvious, from the sounds emerging from the room, was that he didn’t care, and was, in fact was enamoured of the beast. She didn’t want to have to hurt him – though she was always tempted when she came across this sort of perversion... but it took all sorts. People had desires. She didn’t have to like them and she wouldn’t tolerate the vampire. But the human… he didn’t deserve to be hurt just for expressing those desires. She was more and more tempted every time she came across ‘humans’ collaborating with her enemy. Or worse. But temptation was pushed aside in the clarity of justice.

She moved soundlessly through the vampire’s hallway, the door having surrendered to her recently acquired skills with a lock pick. She was impressed that she had managed that. Her first time trying alone… on the hunt too. Guess that kid, Tanya, had been a good teacher. It was a terrible thing that had happened to her shortly afterwards… but Tara had warned her about the deserted factory and what lurked in there. Only a few days now since she had cleared that ground in memory of her young teacher and left a few flowers.

The lack of sound was not because she light footed, but rather because her feet were not even touching the ground. Generating a slight “thickened” cushion beneath herself was less of a strain than the waste of outright levitation would have been and to any observer or recording device it would appear that she was still walking but it was absolutely silent. She even held her breath. If she could have stopped her heart then she would have done that too. They had terrifically attuned senses in the main. But it was not necessary here. Even the vampire’s senses must have been drowned out… the pounding of another, closer, heartbeat. The breathing. The noises of their indecent passion. The distraction worked in her favour and it disgusted her. How…? With a vampire?

The sounds grew louder as she approached the bedroom. Their occupation was clear enough. She remained still in the doorway, a stake in her hand. Unnoticed by the vampire bitch rutting with the human male. Aesthetically Tara had to admit that the vampire stunning… most vampires struck humans that way. Unless they had been truly pitiful specimens even as a human. They gained something in their deaths – even as they lost everything else. Or perhaps it was on their return. A charisma. An aura of eternity. They believed that they would live forever. That nothing could touch them. It gave them confidence, sexual magnetism… maybe it was the same thing though. Either way she could only see truth behind the lies. And knew that she lacked those qualities herself.

It was also irrelevant. She was about to snatch back eternity from this vampire. This was what they did to her… they made her think bad things. Intolerant things… insults. Her hatred was overwhelming her desire to see justice done. When had she ever called anyone a bitch? Other than a vampire? They had changed her. The years hunting them had.

She was forced to wait a few moments there as she could not get at the vampire yet without risking injury to the man, unwilling to close with them and simply drive the stake into the vampire. She wasn't good at the whole physical fighting thing and the risks in confined quarters were too great. Nor could she stop watching… she needed to be ready when the chance came.

That opportunity did not present itself for several more disgusting minutes. Minutes that she could have well done without. Knowing what it was… how could he? It couldn’t be love… it must simply be the power of his lusts. She shuddered.

Though she remained ready to act if she was noticed, they did not sense her; they were too wrapped up in their transaction – until the vampire was ready to be paid. As the female bloodsucker reared up, now revealing her vampire visage and baring her fangs Tara let fly the stake that she had carved in the bushes outside two nights ago as she had watched them. She had been waiting for them all to return to their lair so she could get an accurate count and the whittling action, as always, soothed her. Now the weapon flew from her outstretched palm unerringly towards its target – but they shifted and the stake buried itself in the headboard, diverted from the man’s skull only by a last desperate thrust of Tara’s mind.

The vampire’s head swung around, eyes yellow and shining in the dim light and uncaring of its nudity it flung itself off the bed and pounced in one bound from landing on all fours towards the intruder, flying towards Tara with unnatural strength in a long, low arc. There was nowhere to go, the hallway was narrow, and she couldn’t dodge. Nor was there time to use mystical effects to divert the enraged bloodsucker. Tara stood ready, braced herself as the vampire, all teeth and talon like nails, impacted her stomach. She tried to absorb the blow, rolling backwards, but was winded and gasping for breath as she found the naked harpy atop her, laughing and preparing itself for a different meal… one that it would not have to release before it was fully drained.

If it had bitten her then – it might have been that way. She might have died. But the confidence that suffused all vampires was this one’s undoing too. It didn’t know what she was – but it should have guessed just from her being here and trying to kill it.

The vampire twisted its head to look at the human who was coming up behind them, smiling obscenely and Tara was disgusted to see that he returned her leer and was still clearly aroused as the vampire fumbled with Tara’s skirt. This might be the first time that they had “enjoyed company.” But if they thought that they would have their fun with her then it would be the last mistake they ever made. If their positions had been reversed Tara would have made the kill immediately. No hesitation. No thoughts of fun. But the vampire was just… typical. It thought it was immortal. She was going to show it that it was wrong. They did not know what she was capable of, they probably assumed that she had thrown the stake. There was an animal in both of them though. The instant, though, that the vampire had given her allowed her to prepare her mind, to focus and with the slightest mumble under her breath to thrust the vampire from her back against the man, both of them falling to the floor in a tangled heap.

The push drained her, working at such close quarters, that level of power and in desperation it always did. It was always much better to prepare for that sort of power. Her head would hurt a little later perhaps. But at least it would still be her head and she had avoided using any of the dark power once more. The intention… the intention was pure and the spells were not wrong in and of themselves. The line was so very fine.

“Thicken” Tara commanded the element of air to prevent their escape or further attack and reached into her jacket pocket for her second stake. She knelt above the sprawling, naked pair and prepared to plunge the stake into the immobilised vampire’s heart. The stake descended and just as it pierced the flesh of the vampire… stopped. Dead. Maybe a millimetre from the heart as… something exploded in her inner vision. Like a world unravelling and revealing itself.

--------------
Sunnydale – California

The Master was not going to be pleased and that might mean no playtime for a while. But then the puppy was dust anyway and that made her mad. Such delicious playtimes with that puppy and someone else had staked him instead of her. Someone that would pay, when the time came. As a new puppy perhaps. Not so much fun without a soul to torture, but pure physical pain… that could be fun too. Maybe not for as long. She wasn't sure if anyone could take it for as long as the puppy had.

Obviously it was a slayer. The Slayer. There was bound to be a capital letter on there. Scary oooh… young girl perhaps as old as she would have been had she not been preserved… with a pointy stick. There would soon be a new one though. A new Slayer. Between herself, Xander and the Master, who was still holding himself aloof from the battle, Willow knew that there was no chance that the Slayer would escape. Or even live. That might have been fun too; to have her chained for playtime. They said that the Slayer’s blood was a powerful aphrodisiac... Not that Willow needed any help expressing her desires… but to keep her alive and to take a sip or two every night. No they would have to kill her. She sighed. But for the scar she looked… yummy. Would the new one be as delightfully powerful? Would she come here?

Will I get a chance to play with her too? Maybe we should get some stronger chains… just in case.

She batted aside the suddenly bold human who was interfering with her view of the unfolding conflict, contemptuous of them all. The Master had spent years whittling away at the humans’ spirit and all of a sudden the food had found a backbone? She would have to rip that spine from them. Mmmmn… Xander was going after the Slayer or the other way round. This would be worth seeing… Xander was a marvellous killer. Artistic and stronger than she was though perhaps a little less original. Not as quick and graceful as Willow herself either though.

But she realised that this didn’t call for artistry. Xander seemed to have grasped that too. He went for brute force, gambling on knocking that slayer bitch down in one blow. The swing at the great mortal hope was a world away from connecting and Willow knew that he was outclassed even at that early moment. He’d never fought anything like her. In Sunnydale you didn’t have to. He was wide-open and unguarded and Willow could see what was coming. The swing of the stake before it even started in its arc. She could sense where it was going to connect with him. She knew that he was going to be destroyed by that bitch. But strangely it was fascinating to see it coming. Exciting even… and she didn’t attempt to interfere then. Too far away anyway. Oh well.

And it did connect. Just as she had foreseen and Xander was gone in flurry of ashes. Nothing left. And the Slayer… the oh-so-professional Slayer. She just moved on ready to kill again. But she had riled the Master now. Willow could see him looking. Felt his command to action. She could have the Slayer and if she failed to avenge Xander’s death then he would deal with it personally and that was just fine with her. That was the lovely thing about humans, they were not just undead or history as was the case with vampires – which she knew you could beat down but would soon recover. Humans, you could get them into all sorts of fun and long-lasting states in between. Crippled, begging… desperate for your sweet mercies. And the Slayer… well she would beg and not for mercy but to be allowed to die. And maybe I’ll grant her that. Willow set off towards the Slayer who was not even paying attention to her. More fool –

And some human grabbed her arm. A great lump of a… White Hat. One of the White Hats. Maybe she could make time for that one first, before the Slayer. It wasn't going to be fun… but it would be damn satisfying to scratch that terrible itch they had become over the years. And you just had to scratch itches. She was going to scratch until the White Hat’s head fell off. And there was another one… not strong but determined to help his fellow. Perhaps they were involved she had heard such lovely rumours about the big one and his tendencies. She hoped that they were together… they were going to die together too and watching the pain on the other ones face would be… as good as killing the Slayer. The second one was also a White Hat… slightly built but driving her back against the wall. He had momentum but no strength. Momentum that would do them no good at all, because when she regained her stability against that wall she was going to…

The pain was sharp in her back, driving forward into her chest…

Oh...

It was one of those moments that existed outside of time. The flare of brightness. Not light. Not colour. Just bright in her consciousness and so many things were apparent. So plain. So obvious that she had never noticed before. Suddenly the warehouse was empty, deserted. Then full of struggling figures once more.

She… she had been… somewhere…else. Other than here. She had memories that seemed out of phase with where she was at that moment. Of another place. Another else. One that… wasn’t. But was.

Another me…

Soft.

Alive.

Kinda pink and deliciously edible. Pink all over?

The words “Hands! Hands!” rang, echoing around her consciousness. Magic. There was magic there. And that brought her to something else… another image. Two women… struggling. And mmmn, one of them was naked… quite tasty too, but a vampire. Never mind. But the other. The… human… tinged, bathed in the aura of the living. That other… the blonde haired woman of her dreams holding a stake inside the naked vampire. Inside her. I can feel it. Tickling my heart. Such a delicious itch to scratch. Such dangerous playtime. Lovely.

She had seen the blonde though before. In her dreams. Only in her dreams. Playful dreams. Mmmmmn. Lickable dreams. But she wasn't here in Sunnydale. She had looked. She knew she was not here. She had looked all over. Just in case. Want…

But something told her that she would be. One day she would be here and then they would play together.

She wanted to smile, but in this moment outside time she had no control over her body.

And suddenly it was like déjà vu. Perhaps it would be again. Perhaps her dreams would come true…

Déjà vu as she was suddenly back in the real world being propelled backwards once more by the White Hat. Been here done this. Boring. Want new things… Want to play with the blonde… Oh… she remembered where that shove had ended last time and the smile that was on her face faded as she felt that tickle against her heart once more.

Such a delicious itch even from behind.

‘Aw, f-’

--------------
Chicago – Illinois

Something ripped through her mind and she couldn’t move, frozen in place. The pain. She was not hurt bodily but there was pain. It wasn’t her head that hurt – not as if a spell had strained her. But there was pain. It was a pain she had not felt for so long. Not since that day in the hospital. It was her soul. She hadn’t even been sure she still had one, so little did she feel these days. For herself or anyone else, she had to doubt its survival.

And the strangest memories that were not hers.

Such a delicious tickle Her eyes briefly focussed on the vampire she was staking. Was it the thoughts of the vampire? No there was just terror in its face.

Good. It should be afraid…

She felt, though, as if something had been snatched away from her, something that she valued above everything else. Above revenge, above justice, above her mission. Or should. And it wasn't these two. They were nothing to do with her continued suffering. And though she had not seen the face this time all she could think of were her dreams. The face that had stared out of them at her. Contorted not in pain, but in surprise and then disappointment before it was gone.

Hands! Hands!

She felt alone, even though that was her normal state. More alone than before… as if some presence that had always been there before – even when her family were snatched from her – was… gone.

She looked at the vampire, who was also frozen, no doubt in fear of it’s imminent demise and shocked herself by pulling the stake back from the blood filled wound. Stolen blood. She stood up above them and let the thick air subside and disperse. “Leave,” she told them and though the human ‘ummed’ and ‘arrghed’ about his clothes and possessions the vampire soon dragged him out of the room, closing the door behind them and she watched them from the window get in a car and leave. Quickly. She had never considered before that she inspired fear in them. Why should she have considered it? Who cared if they were afraid, happy or anything else?

This was the first time she had failed to kill a vampire who was hers for the taking.

Not just failed.

Allowed to escape. Why?

She secured the room and stripped the bed of its soiled sheets. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept in a proper bed, but she was tired and hurting… and if they had gone then why not? And if they came back…? It was hard to care. She’d just deal with them then.

She couldn’t… what? What couldn’t she do? Move? Feel? Think? Live? All or none of the above? She slept, and when she woke to the tiny sounds that might have been the owner returning she realised that the dreams weren’t the same. The omnipresent carving that had been taking shape with her dreaming over such a long time… She had laid it with her knife on the table beside the bed. It remained had untouched in the night.

Now the dreams… they featured only the loss of something she had never known and never had. Her red haired goddess had departed from wherever it was that she had been. She knew that… somehow she knew. She knew that the girl had been very real, not just a dream. But she also knew that she was now past tense and feeling that in her bones she couldn’t care whether the security guards or something worse came for her that night. She just needed to huddle up and embrace the pain. Because at least it was a feeling.

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

Lilah knocked on Holland’s door only after getting the nod from his secretary, a deceptively nervous and slight man who Lilah knew to be an expert on four types of martial art and sometime bodyguard to his boss as well as having a devastating typing speed and photographic memory. That was the sort of exceptional individual that the company hired, and the Holland in particular was adept at locating. He’d recruited her hadn’t he? But she did not have good news for her mentor about her oldest project.

She barely had chance any more to give the file more than a cursory glance from month to month. Reports got filed, mostly they were hum-drum, routine, this one did this. That one did that. Nothing ever seemed to happen. The project had its beginnings but still seemed as far from even starting to come together as it had that first day when she had been introduced to Drusilla by Holland. Further still after what she had just heard from one of her monitors.

Damn it… This was not going to be a popular report. Lilah just hoped, as Holland asked her to step inside, that this could be dealt with at his level – that the report would not have to go to the senior partners. But that was ultimately a forlorn hope. Eventually everything found its way to the senior partners. How they had time to pay attention to every success and every failure she had no idea but even if it had to wait until Review they would find out.

Just my luck that not only am I actually working here when there would be one of the Reviews, but it was so soon.

Next year in fact. Most of her other projects were going well though – she ought to have nothing to worry about, if the averages were considered. But eventually everything went to them and eventually everything came right back down from them too. In spades.

However briefly she could expect to suffer the repercussions. Or long.

“Lilah,” Holland greeted her, expectation in his voice.

“Sir.”

“You have something for me? A report?”

Could he already know? Of course he could. Even if he wasn't just covering his own back with a little covert surveillance of her files then he could easily justify an investigation of them – or a direct report from the source. They were company assets that she was using rather than freelancers that would answer only to her. It seemed better to do that than risk her expenses being examined in audit. The auditors were only one step below the Reviewer in ferociousness.

“Yes sir.”

“Excellent. Project Two Roses I see,” he said, looking at the file she carried.

“Yes sir.” She hadn’t asked about the project name that had suddenly appeared on the file a couple of months ago. Sometimes it was better not to know. Besides it wasn't important in a firm that called it’s seventy-five yearly audit by a denizen of one hell or another a ‘Review.’

“How is that coming along then Lilah? I haven’t had an update in oh, it must be six months now.”

Implied criticism or small talk? If he had said he wanted a report then he would have received one. No question. But… maybe she was supposed to have been keeping him more closely appraised.

No. This was her project, he had made that clear. For better or for worse… though Holland had never said that. It was unfortunate what had happened to Lindsey but the one thing she had learnt from his example was the value of maintaining control and independence, to the greatest extent possible, in your own projects. Guarding them from the interference of others. Lindsey had got sucked into someone else’s project area and he had paid the price. A fatal one.

“‘Yes sir, about that. There has been little apparent progress over that period sir.”

He smiled. Maybe at her ignoring the implications of his earlier criticism. She figured that he was grooming her for bigger things and this project was itself an early indication of that faith. As well as a test. More a test of her patience than her skills… so far at least. And with Lindsey gone this project could carry her very high indeed.

“Until now.” It wasn't a question.

“Yes, until now.”

“Have a seat Lilah.” He directed her to the comfort of the easy chairs against the wall of his new office and she could certainly appreciate the luxury. There was after all an opening in his old role and that office had been pretty snazzy too. But there was a fat chance of being appointed to that role. Not after this little debacle. Average or not, what would be considered was the last thing that had happened. The appointment was due to be made next week and precisely one half of this project was now a small pile of ash blowing around an abandoned warehouse.

As for the other half… the trackers had lost her two months ago in Chicago and never picked up the trail again. The second rose was, they said, getting very good at spotting watchers and either dodging them – or eliminating them altogether. Two vampire teams dusted – somehow – whilst on watch on consecutive nights. She had banned further vampiric monitoring activity and that second part of the project had stopped killing her monitors. Now she just ditched them and failed to resurface.

Maybe though the vampire team’s success at finding her had been less to do with their skills and more to do with their nature – and Miss Maclay’s self proclaimed mission. Could she have been watching them? Could she know what was going on? It hadn’t seemed important at the time. Lilah had known that the two roses would eventually come together. At the Sunnydale Mystical Convergence. Knowing that... Well knowing that nothing else really mattered. Until they came together where was the problem if the watchers lost the second component of her project? The continued watching was an afterthought in itself – certainly not required by circumstances as long as it could be confirmed that they did actually connect in Sunnydale.

No problem, she had told herself at the time when reports had been filed. She’d just told them to track her down. Lilah hadn’t even stressed the urgency – because there was none. Point of fact she had even written in her monthly summary that she thought it was a good thing – that it showed the development necessary in Miss Maclay for her future uses to Wolfram and Hart. Which it did. But now all of her communications were on the file and the files would form the major part of next years Review… If everything worked out then there was no need to worry – results would be all that counted. But…

But now she had lost both of the component parts of this project. Both of her roses and ultimately she had no one to shift the blame onto. That was one of the first thing she had learned from her mentor, who had, even as he taught her, already shifted blame onto her. Shift the blame, and all the bad results; while hanging on to the good results. As far as possible. That was the whole point in forming project teams. But for this project there was no team. She was the team and the leader. It was kind of hard to find an up side here…

One of the roses was gone forever.

“Willow Rosenberg is dead.”

“She’s a vampire. Or rather was a vampire Lilah. She was already dead. I assume you mean that what you actually meant to say was that she has been destroyed?” Holland asked her without a flicker of emotion to give Lilah a hint what the penalty for this lapse of her supervision and monitoring was going to be. Not that she’d had a chance to intervene… But the chips would fall. They might even bury her.

“Yes sir, she’s been destroyed. Sorry.” For some reason Holland had a slight grin on his face.

Which expanded as he said “Excellent.”

That took her aback. “Sorry sir?” What was he saying? That the project was over anyway? That they no longer had a use for Rosenberg or that he had known…

“Excellent, everything is going just as the writings seemed to foretell,” Holland replied with a cheery smile to brighten her dour mood. “You do remember the prophecy don’t you Lilah?”

“Yes sir, of course… it just didn’t seem to state that Rosenberg would die.” Now Lilah was confused. She hated prophecies with a fiery passion. It seemed to her that the firm put an awful lot of effort into attempting to give prophecy a helping nudge.

But mine is not to reason why… mine is just to do and…

Best not to think the rest of that thought it could become close to the truth around here in a heartbeat.

“Remember Lilah, prophecy never does. It never states anything. That is what makes it prophecy. Open to interpretation. Able to go either way. And that is why the senior partners invest so much of our time into nudging it along.”

‘Nudging.’ Just what she had been thinking. Was Holland a mind reader? No…if he had been then most of the associates under his supervision would have been in a netherworld of trouble – herself included.

“Prophecy is a tricky thing Lilah,” he continued. “Always remember that. The slightest thing can disrupt it, make you realise that your interpretation was not quite right. That everything you have been working for was in error. Or that you are looking for results in the wrong place.”

“Then why do we rely on it?” she asked, realising as soon as the words left her mouth that, in some contexts, she was questioning firm policy. “I mean if it is so open to interpretation,” she explained carefully.

“We don’t,” Holland replied, the smile taking on another aspect on his face, like a adult speaking to a small child and explaining the fundamental principles of flight. “Not usually. Not without something to corroborate. We weigh the balance of probabilities before we act and then we weigh the impact of either action or inaction. It’s just like any other case in fact. You acquire the evidence and then…”

“You stack the deck,” Lilah completed the unofficial mantra. Another thing that was taught to every junior associate by his or her mentor.

“Exactly.”

“But Willow Rosenberg has been destroyed. She’s dust sir and Miss Maclay isn’t in Sunnydale either,” Lilah pointed out.

“Even for a vampire destruction is not necessarily the end. There are ways…” Expensive and ritualistic ways.

“Methods I need to implement sir?” Lilah asked trying to sound keen and proactive, still feeling that she might have something to answer for somewhere in this whole mess. Better to get her responsibilities confirmed at this point whilst he was making the choices than to wait. After all she had researched and prepared a list of possible contingencies to deal with this, and many other, situations.

“Not as yet. This is not the time. You will know when and if you have to bother at all. If Tara Maclay arrives at the mystical convergence and Miss Rosenberg is still… departed… then we will have to make arrangements. But there is a very good possibility that everything may proceed even without our intervention.”

But how? Lilah wondered. Rosenberg and Maclay were not even aware of each other. They’d had no contact. Maclay was destroying every vampire that she encountered. She had no reason to seek out something, someone that she had never known. Then Lilah got it. He knew something. The firm did. There was somewhere something other than prophecy. Something that confirmed it. “What is the corroboration here sir?”

“‘Why nothing less than fate Lilah. Nothing less than fate. They are fated to come together. It isn’t just foretold, if it was we would not have even bothered – too nebulous – the prophecy could have referred to anyone. But the senior partners have it on very good authority that it is fate. Nothing gets in the way of fate Lilah. Not time, not space, not distance, no person or creature. Not even death. Eventually fate will bring them together.” Holland smiled at Lilah’s sceptical face. “Willing to believe in prophecy but not in fate Lilah?”

It was a friendly question there was no harm in answering honestly. She didn’t even trust prophecy much. “I can’t honestly see the difference sir. Someone foretells to give a prophecy. Someone tells us our fate.” She shrugged.

“No. Those are both the same thing. The twentieth century has seen a sloppy attitude towards language. Those examples are both prophecies – though you’re right about that as far as it goes. It’s all down to interpretation. But fate….”’ He tailed off and then returned from his musing. “Real fate – True Fate if you will - is very different. Not everyone has a fate and even if they do then it often doesn’t offer anything to us. But sometimes, sometimes fate can produce a nexus. Where two fates link, then there is no interpretation, there is no ambiguity. Perhaps alone in their generation these two are fated to be together. Somehow.”

Holland stopped, looked at her. “If necessary all of reality will twist itself inside out to bring them together. It will be. That’s the wonderful thing about true fate, it’s a sure thing.” He grinned at her, pleased that her mood had lightened. “Go on get out of here, you deserve a day off, I think you have been worrying far too much and I’ve seen the hours that you have been logging recently.’ Holland was pleased with the progress and things were looking better and better.

Lilah smiled back at him, and actually meant it. It was as good as an order and she could live with that. She made for the door. “Oh sir,” she remembered something else. Peripheral but another prophecy.

He raised his eyebrows and looked at her.

“The vampire with the soul – he too has been destroyed according to our source. Same time and place.”

“Angelus?”

“Mmmn.” Lilah wasn’t stupid. Lindsey had been insisting that the Angelus, chained up by the Master was supposed to be some sort of big shot… a player according to prophecy, and for a time Holland seemed to have agreed with him. And now both Lindsey and the vampire were gone.

There was only her project.

There was only her and if there was no failure… then Holland’s old office looked a definite possibility.

“Thank you Lilah.” There was no reading that dismissal, but she fancied that he was satisfied to hear that news too. The mess that Lindsey had made when he attempted to interfere in this project and deal with the Master at the same time… A perfect example of what not to do. She couldn’t regret the report that had doomed him. All she could think about as she planned her evening at the pit fights were Holland’s words about fate.

‘If necessary all of reality will twist itself inside out to bring them together. It will be.’ That meant that she couldn’t lose. If it were true – and she had already seen far too much to doubt that fate might exist as a real force. ‘A sure thing.’ She could live with those odds.

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


To use the words... To be continued.


--------------
Anyone want to bet against me bringing Willow back?*S* And yes this was supposed to be the part that laid the future out as fate... but you clever kitties already guessed!

Katharyn


Edited by: xitaImage at: 6/1/03 11:41:05 am


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 Post subject: Re: The Future...
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 2:52 pm 
Katharyn, not to worry. I'm sure your thread will be filled with reply goodness soon enough, what with such an incredible fic.



I believe I commented on your fic early on but the loss of my relpy just gives me another opportunity to say how much I am enjoying this. I must admit that I have never been a huge fan of alternate reality fic but I think it's safe to say you have converted me.



Twitching with excitement in anticipation of the next part.



CK

"You wanna go out sometime, for coffee, food, kisses and gay love?" Willow- Normal Again.



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 Post subject: Part 5
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 3:11 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5
Part 5 Kittens... We are up to season 4 now and the real story can start to be told.

Enjoy
K
------------

Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – The Calling I (Part 5)
Author: Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.
Summary: Now the story can really get moving – the scene is set… time to play. The Return of Willow. Dead, twice-ish, but never quite forgotten. Set during the time that would have been the beginning of “Hush” in the prime Buffy reality – i.e. the night after Buffy’s dream about the girl with the box and the Wicca Group. I’m sure you all remember that episode right? I think it marked the start of a lot of people’s devotion to a certain couple.
Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.
Rating: 15
Couples: Not just yet – but hey give me chance – oh right you did that already…
Notes: The Wicca Group in this fic is the one that was shown in “Hush” though obviously without W & T. I have taken the liberty of naming some members and altering some situations. In this reality, four years into the Master’s reign in Sunnydale the Wicca Group is less about bake sales and more about survival.
Also remember that certain things have not occurred in this reality… Switcheroo…
Thanks To: All those readers who have managed to accept the darkness I present and are sticking with this. I’ll do my best to ensure that you keep enjoying it. Jo, Kerry, Louise… as always.


The Sidestep Chronicle

The Calling I

By

Katharyn Rosser




The circle was finally completed with the arrival of Carole and Anne. They all been kept waiting long enough. The collective impatient sigh was more than audible. It hung in the air.

“Sorry we’re late.” Carole apologised for them both, “The softball team memorial bake sale ran over and then we had to help tidy up…” Broken down bus and the whole softball team had been killed. She hated this town. She fell silent as she noticed the look on the faces of the rest of the group and most particularly the dark expression on the face of the one who had become the defacto leader. Carole still wasn't sure quite how that happened. Maybe it was magic. It sure wasn't charisma. Maybe it was fear. It made her slightly better to feel that her rightful organisational position had been usurped due to everyone being terrified. Sometimes that leader was scary… she just got this look and it was like looking right down into hell. But there was no way to argue with her power.

In fact nobody argued with her power because nobody wanted to spend the rest of the meeting doing something embarrassing at which the others could laugh – rats had been known. And sometimes… sometimes it might have been worse than that. Sometimes group members had disappeared. But no one wanted to think about that much… they just all took a collective, unspoken, decision to shut up and bear it, Carole thought. Because they needed her to keep themselves alive in Sunnydale.

“You know that curfew is just a couple of hours away,” one of the others protested as they sat down in their assigned spaces and picked up the spell ingredients that had been left in front of their mats. “What about the rest of us? We come here to try and make things better and all you can worry about is bake sales?”

“Yeah,” another agreed, irritated too but mainly picking up on the mood of the group – which was set by just one person… and that person wasn't either Carole or Anne.

“Sorry,” Carole apologised again.

“Sorry,” her fellow latecomer added, thoroughly cowed, and wishing that she were matriculating anywhere but Sunnydale. Anywhere where power was being popular, rather than being able to protect yourself from vampires and other beasts that killed you in the night.

“Enough now okay. Just enough,” the group’s unofficial leader instructed. No one had ever given her that role. She had just turned up one day and taken it from Carole and Anne. Turned them away from fundraising and towards the magic arts. No one who had any interest in actual Wicca had any protests… even Carole and Anne had sort of come around to the power that they were demonstrating nowadays. Even if it was only in the group… not individually. Doing the same thing alone… didn’t work. For any of them.

It was power that had definitely helped them though. They might be five miles away from town here, but the student mortality rate was still shocking – even before the Softball team. But now, thanks to the newcomer, they all had wards in their rooms, protection against some creatures and they had been working at a more general ward to protect the entire campus proper. No one was even sure if it was possible, but if they could pull that off...

Actually there was one person there who knew exactly what was possible and what was not – knew that those spells they all liked so much were insignificant if you could just make things happen. Now that was power. Unfortunately some spells kicked your ass – mentally and physically… And that was why she needed this shower of wannabe’s. Wiccan wannabe’s no less.

Just save me from goody, goody Wiccans and find me a real witch.

Actually this town wasn’t big enough for more than one witch… she thought. They would do what they were told and then they would die. It was a natural progression and nature was sooo important to them all. “Now, do we have the remaining spell ingredients?” she asked them, though she wouldn’t be shocked if they had forgotten or picked up the wrong sort of bat’s legs. Fruit bats weren’t going to cut it here.

“Yes,” one of the more talented members, Diane, waved a bunch of herbs in the air. Before her were arrayed a number of bottles.

It might even be a shame to see Diane die. Not enough of a shame to stop it from happening though. “Then lets get to it,” she instructed as their leader, the cowl pulled up over her head as usual, her face shrouded in the shadows it created. They all thought they knew her name. They all knew her face. But for some reason she insisted on hiding that during the working of their arts.

Carole raised her hand. “Er sorry… get on with what?”

The robed young woman looked at Carole, wondering why it was that she had been instructed to work with such… amateurs. Her employers could so easily have secured professional services to achieve their aims – she could have arranged it herself but her instructions had been very clear on the subject. On the appointed day, this day, she was perform a calling. Just not the calling that this bunch of… Wiccans had in mind. Play nice, she told herself adjusting the large cross that hung around her neck beneath the robe. Just for a few more minutes.

“The Spirit of the Tree” she lied to them. “After all wood kills the vampires, this will help us better manipulate the wood for our defence and the defence of others.” The idea was actually sound. It was always better to bury a lie in the truth. If they had known anything though they would have realised that such a spell would be so far beyond the power of this group that they wouldn’t have stood a chance. Not without her boosting them as she had been doing for weeks now. And if she was going to boost them again… it was for her own ends. What a bunch of ignorant fools. When she had found them they had been nothing.

And they still were nothing. She was quite proud of that. She’d given them enough of a taste of power to keep them coming back but stopped any of them from getting… too powerful. There might even be one or two who had a sniff of the talent. Just a sniff mind, but she’d kept them on ritual based magic. They couldn’t begin to touch her spontaneous use of magic. Just in case one of them proved to be more than a nothing. You never could tell…

But soon they would just be… what? Breakfast… for the thing that she was truly calling into their circle. All she had to do was prevent herself becoming part of that meal and live to collect her payment. Nothing tricky then…

“Which tree Amy?” Anne asked.

“The willow tree,” she replied finding the lie quickly and easily. Not that a Willow would provide the best quality stakes. The wood was not ideal. Didn’t they see that?

“Cool…” came the collected replies as she smiled encouragingly at them from beneath the cowl.

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

The destruction and death had been quite educational to watch. Educational and kinda fun. Drained by the severe demands of the spell many of the group had collapsed as the portal to places beyond closed once more. It was like the sucking air dragged the energy from them and back to that place they were bringing their objective from. A place of nothingness. But they soon found a very good reason to get up and move. Their leader couldn’t remember ever seeing anything quite like it. It, the creature they had summoned, had been confused at first, almost babbling as it was demanding answers from the corpses it had in its hands and scattered at its feet. Bodies soon lay strewn around the meeting room. Some were drained, others were just twisted and broken shells of the young women they had once been.

As the instigator – knowing what was likely to happen - she had remained calm and silent taking in the sights, the terrible sounds. The snarls, the screams, the sucking of blood from slashed arteries. The thing was very hungry and not just for blood. The stench of death was all around her and she felt blood spatter her robe, some on her face. But she did not move. If she did, if she presented a target, then she would join them in death. But remaining here, calm, silent, motionless… the vampire, as she had been promised, avoided her and went for the moving targets first.

And then at last with every one of the Wicca Group dead around her the vampire seemed to be sated. In its hunger at least. Just because it had filled itself up with the young women didn’t mean that she was any safer though. The questions it had been asking of their shattered and dying bodies still remained unanswered.

She had avoided the vampire’s fury. Expecting what had occurred she had deliberately chosen dark coloured clothing and given her fellows little magical pushes into the waiting vampire’s arms – keeping the red head occupied and, more importantly, away from her. She had been warned about this time… this most deadly time. Something recalled from nothingness… from that place in-between… was not going to react well to sensory overload back in the world. Let alone hunger. And once there was no one but her left… then the danger was still far from over.

There was just her and the vampire, which stood once more in the centre of what had been the circle, regarding her with curiosity. It was wondering why perhaps, like any sensible person, she hadn’t unlocked the meeting room door and fled. And there were those eyes… they burned into her like a yellow fire reading her soul until there was nothing left to hide. So she could not even be surprised when it calmly walked over to her and addressed her.

“You’re not what you say you are…” the red-headed vampire took and caressed her hand. That was actually the most worrying thing to Amy. After the initial blood lust had faded she had watched as the vampire toyed with some of her later victims. And it didn’t seem to be just killing play. But she was under instructions… She was not to do anything that might endanger that which they, she, had summoned. Besides the effort, though channelled through the now dead wiccans, had drained her a lot too.

“No I’m not,” she told it.

“You don’t belong where you are,” the vampire observed, not sounding sure of what it was saying, as if relying on instinct but wondering why it couldn’t believe its eyes.

“That’s a matter of opinion… mine is that I am right where I belong.” The fingers were at her neck now… fingers that she had seen tear open a throat before the still bloodstained lips drank from the gaping wound.

“You’re not afraid of me?” The vampire sounded surprised. Maybe disappointed. It dropped its hand from her and closed its eyes, head swaying gently as if listening to some tune.

“There are worse things than you”’ she finally replied and that was the truth. Besides she had backup, provided by a whole firm of things that were way worse than this vampire ever could be.

“You brought me back,” it said, figuring it out.

The vampire remembered dying then. That was crucial, they had been told, that it should know that it had died – that she couldn’t just lift it from one reality before that death occurred. That it should feel gratitude to her for her efforts. And if it asked she should tell it the truth. Always the truth. The truth, they had said, is your ally. She didn’t know about that. Lies had always served her pretty well too.

But it didn’t ask anything anyway. Amy simply nodded in response to the original question, not about to volunteer information that might be poorly received. That was all she had to keep her alive. She knew that her life hung in the balance, held there precariously by factors beyond her control. If the vampire decided to drain her, snap her neck or anything else there would be no time to defend herself or for her backup to come to her aid. Where was that backup anyway? But she was hoping that the vampire would realise… perhaps even feel some gratitude for what they had done. Of course it had to appreciate the world it was in to do that.

“Then you should be rewarded.” It looked down, saw her fingers making almost instinctive gestures, completing a spell that would carry this thing far away from her. But she didn’t have the juice left… she was too far-gone and needed to rest, recover. Maybe pay a visit and pay the price of a supercharge.

Was this what she was reduced to she wondered? Unable to complete a job because she was afraid… but the spell had not worked anyway… She looked into the vampire’s soul. Beyond the dangerous surface emotions, looking for something… a shred of lingering humanity. A morsel of mercy that might be dealt her way…. The soul itself. But there was nothing in this one. Nothing but…

“Your fingers aren’t working…? Awww… Mine are,” it told her.

The vampire interlaced its fingers with hers. The grip was incredibly strong between fingers that seemed so delicate. It held their hand up between them as if remembering… something. It was an almost gentle gesture, which had some meaning to the vampire. Or seemed to. The vampire started to squeeze, watching her carefully as she squeezed until the witch was sure the bones in her fingers would be snapped. The pain was so bad that she couldn’t even start to bring a spell to her mind. Even if she had could manage it… she was under specific instructions... ‘no magical damage.’ She had tried to violate that instruction – out of fear – but couldn’t. She remembered that that now. What they would do to her for breaking the terms of the contract was much, much worse than having her hand hurt.

But what if it killed her? She looked towards the door where she knew her backup should have been. Gave the tiniest nod. They had made allowances for this happening.

She contained her pain and managed to limit its expression to a soft whimper. That seemed to impress the vampire though it did not slacken the grip. But it didn’t get any stronger either. Constant pressure. Constant pain. It seemed to like it that way.

Then the vampires other hand shot out sideways, without looking and grabbed something that could not be seen. Her backup. Marcie. From the immediate sounds of choking it must have taken Marcie by the throat, squeezing her as tightly as it was squeezing her hand and tiny cuts opened up on that hand as Marcie must have struggled to free herself.

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

Willow had the other by the throat, had sensed her enemy’s approach after the witch had nodded. A strange witch this one. Not that she had met any others before. But she was strange all the same. She wasn’t who she should be. Displaced. Wrong.

But better for it. What was wrong was just sooo right.

She squeezed with both of her hands intending to pop the head from the invisible one – some thing she couldn’t see but human by the feel and smell of it. Not to mention the choking sounds. It really might have been fun to see if its blood or its innards were also invisible. She could hear it all though. The slight cracking of cartilage. The grind of bone against bone. Such sweet music. And the smell of fear… she’d missed that so much she hardly even noticed the half-moon cuts on her hand and fingers.

There had been no sound where she had been before but it wasn't silent. There had been no sight but it wasn't just black. No smell… She didn’t like where she had been even if it was for just a few days… or a thousand years… of dreams. And if these two had brought her back then… they still should die. That was who she was. She was a killer.

But she was also confused… so she did not squeeze either any harder. It was…right and it was wrong. This was her place. Now that she could sense once more she could feel that this was her place. Somewhere she should have been. She could smell it. The resigned terror amongst her waking meals was familiar. They knew what she was and they feared her for it. They knew their place.

Not like that other, soft, bad place full of fuzzy pink versions of herself. Living ones. Ugghh.

Holding this hand like that though? Why was she doing that? She was doing it now to cause pain… but why hold the hand like that in the first place. Because, something told her, that was what you did with a witch. That was how you did hold her hand. But she had never known a witch… never. So how did she know that and what sort of stupid truth was it anyway? ‘That was how you held a witches hand’?

It was going round and round in her head and she didn’t like it – it was just like the dreams… getting in the way of what she was. Had she dreamt about the hands? The hands, like that. Holding. The rush of power through her as she knew that she could… Could what? She didn’t know. The only thing that she knew was that she was safe.

Safe?

Why safe? No something… she was remembering things that she had never done. Never done. Not yet. Thinking? Remembering? Dreaming? What was going on?

A waking dream again. And that face in the dreams… overlaid on the face of this witch.

The face of something that was hers… just made it clearer that this one wasn’t.

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

“You’re not mine,” the vampire said to her.

Amy had to agree with that, whimpered again as the vampire squeezed once more, then released her hand and the relief that swept through her as fast as the blood into her hand was bliss. It released Marcie a second later and she must have collapsed to the floor. The witch hoped the young woman was not dead… her employers would not be impressed at the loss of that asset. Even to acquire this new one they obviously so valued.

Reduced to a whimper! The shame of it…but what the lawyers had paid her… with an oh-so-valuable ‘detayat’, the little trinket which would allow her to take and retain a body as required. Moving with ease to others, and back or keeping one indefinitely. When they had told her that they had one… she would have done this for just money, but for one of those rare treasures… That was definitely worth the effort and a little pain. Or even a lot. She would have taken much more for that reward. She could always vacate the ‘premises’ and allow someone else to do the recuperating for her.

But she was glad she didn’t have to. She had a hot date with a cute guy tomorrow and she knew this body so well now that she didn’t want to have leave it before that.

The vampire looked at her again, rejecting her mentally and then made for locked door of the room. Marcie had the key, she knew that. But it didn’t bother with the lock at all, just wrenching the door off its hinges and striding out into its world once more.

She just hoped that Wolfram and Hart regarded this as a success… otherwise she wasn't sure that either this, or the body of her birth, would be a safe place for her now.

A Madison reduced to a whimper…

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

“So the matter is concluded satisfactorily?” Lilah checked as Holland listened over the speakerphone. The report was nothing like that which she would have ordinarily required of personnel working for her, but that was what you got for sub-contracting. It was absolutely necessary in this to have a cut-out. There could be no clear route back to Wolfram and Hart. Not for this. Not so soon anyway. One day they would make their involvement clear – in fact she understood that it would be crucial. But not just yet.

“If satisfactory includes having no feeling in my hand and that invisible woman you sent me being unconscious for two hours then I would say so,” the witch was not impressed by that, having recovered from her previous relief at actually being alive at all.

“You were both notified of the risks. Marcie is going to be alright?” Lilah asked with a professional concern. They had invested a lot in that young woman after salvaging her from that government program. A lot of time, a lot of retraining. Though this case had been a little out of her area of expertise.

“She’s conscious and talking. I did what I could. Tricky when she is invisible. But yes the spell worked. Another vampire is loose in Sunnydale.”

“Excellent.” Holland smiled at her, nodding his own satisfaction. “We appreciate your consideration for Marcie, Ms Madison and there will be a bonus to your payment. We will have that payment delivered to you in the next few hours as agreed. Will that be satisfactory?”

There was just silence from the other end of the line – though the call had not been terminated. “Hello? Ms Madison?”

For her part, on the other end of the line she was trying to speak, but when she opened her mouth nothing emerged but air. Not even a croak. Her voice had not just gone it had disappeared entirely.

Lilah ended the call. The operation had been a success, payment had been arranged. She didn’t need to know anything else about the witch or her body swapping activities. Nor about her being cut off. Strange though. But hardly a problem. Perhaps the witch had been eaten. Shame but payment would still be sent. It was in the contract of course. She shrugged.

“Lost her?” Holland asked.

“So it seems. Oh well. Drink?” she offered. Things were starting to come together. One back in the game and on the board. The other never out of it but still not quite there yet.

“Thank you,” Holland accepted the offered beverage. “Here’s to you continuing to make such excellent progress.”

She tipped her glass to him.

**********

Katharyn

------------------
You hear that baby?

Edited by: xita  Image at: 6/1/03 11:42:40 am


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 Post subject: Part 6
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 3:53 pm 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
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Topics: 5
originally posted by Katharyn

Part 6 Kittens... earlier than planned but I amnot sure whether I will be around tonight to post it.



This one is all Willow, again not especially nice, a direct follow on to Part 5. Next we go back to Tara and find out what gets her to Sunnydale...



Enjoy



K



---------



Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – The Calling II (Currently Part 6)

Author: Katharyn Rosser

Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com

Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.

Summary: Willow is back… but this is “Hush,” remember? Not conditional on Buffy ever being in Sunnydale (as was pointed out to me,) so there are things a vampire has to do… And just because she’s back, don’t mean she’s at all nice…

Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.

Rating: 15

Couples: Wait until the next part… then you’ll be able to see it coming.

Notes: The three “Calling” parts, is not strictly in line with the canon timeline. Some things move faster, some slower. Live with it!

Thanks To: The usual suspects…. All the readers, the kittens, the mods, Jo, Kerry, Louise who all had their own parts to play in this fic.





The Sidestep Chronicle



The Calling II



By



Katharyn Rosser






As Willow made her way from the college campus into town she knew that she was truly home once more. The streets were still alive with the sounds of imminent death. The screams the lovely, lovely screams. Piercing, warbling, undulating. Cries of agony, simple pain. Terror. Whatever it was, she drank it all in. You’d think that the humans would learn to stay home…



But they never did.



Dumb.



It was good to be back home and out of the nothingness. No more freaky realities where the Slayers and the White Hats ruled…. Her old self, the weak little girl, the human… she would have liked to puzzle it out… about the realities. What sort of stupid place was it where she had never become? But, actually, she just couldn’t seem to care about that right now.



White Hats had killed her. Twice now – sort of. And she wasn't about to forget that either. She would have her fun with them. As she and Xander should have done long, long ago. They had played games for far too long when they should have been wiping the do-gooders from the face of the Master’s world. But you could have fun whilst being serious too.



‘Whistle while you work,’ she thought as a shrill cry rang out… Not quite a whistle but just what she wanted to hear. Close by…



Xander… he was all gone too. All gone. To find him there in that freak show, warm and breathing. It stirred those old memories that lived on inside of her of the time when she had been like her other self. The other self that had been sooo tempting. Now there was fun. It would have been better than any mirror could have been. She missed mirrors. She had never thought much about them when she was human… but there was something about them. Something special. It had been like looking in one meeting the fuzzy her… But having fun with yourself –and the mirror image still being another person as well. Maybe a little confusing but she could have concentrated. Kept track if she had to… definitely a unique opportunity for playing. Shame it had gone by unrealised – just a little teasing grope…



Shame. Still she was home now. In the world where every night was playtime. Where she and hers ruled that night. Where the world had fallen into the proper order of things. That was Darwinism wasn't it…? She remembered that too. Survival of the fittest. It was only right… why should the prey rule the predator? It was freaky and unnatural that other Sunnydale. Home again, home again… Good nights in Sunnydale…



But what was that home like now? It was similar, but things had also changed. And when was home now? How long had she been away… what had happened here? Where was the Master? The Slayer could not have gotten him… he was far too powerful to be killed by just a Slayer… he had seen dozen of them come for him and not one… not one had ever staked him… and she knew that if one had… there were ways. She was entrusted with that knowledge. She, Xander, Luke and Darla… alone amongst all his servants were his favourites.



Xander was gone… Darla had long ago disappeared. Which was a very good thing…



That just left her and dear Luke… who wasn't exactly the brightest orange in the apple tree.



When the day came… she would rule at the right hand of the Master. Funny though… it didn’t make her glad to know that.



Besides she had been gone. Things had moved on without her – they were bound to have - and it wasn't fair. There might even be another favourite in the Master’s court. And that… that did anger her. She’d have to do something about that…



She had missed things. She didn’t know just what yet, but there were bound to have been things. She caught a stray sheet of newspaper that was blowing across her path. It raged about the continued deaths in Sunnydale, demanding to know what the Mayor was doing about it. He was still here then. All she cared about though was that it showed that the world was more than a year older than when she had left it. In some ways it seemed like yesterday, and in others it was a thousand years. The great, much anticipated, day in the factory had been and gone and the cattle of Sunnydale were still here. The world was not yet a haven for vampires… with the humans rounded up in pens for blood and all the other needs they could help fulfil. The town though… it was still what it had been.



Hers.



But they had forgotten her. She had come across a vampire as he sucked at the neck of a sweet young woman. And he had looked up at her and not known who she was. He had challenged her when she tried to take the woman from him… just for a taste. He should have been glad to share… she was the Master’s favourite. So she had broken his extremities then drunk from the tender vessel. But the woman was… he had tainted her and so she just dropped the human still alive, if barely. Spoiled goods. Besides she was still all-full and warm from all that witchy goodness she had feaster on. He, the vampire, though knew who she was now and the word would spread. It would get back to the Master that his Willow was back. They would all know. The Master would welcome her… and the rest would hate and fear her. As it should be.



She would make sure of it. She had a lot of tension to work off. Dying so much had filled her with tension and a desire to… live out her desires.



Still sated from her culling of the herd of wannabe witches nothing appealed to her as she walked slowly into town from the campus, drinking in the atmosphere of fear and hatred. But she knew that she had to announce her presence in the best way possible. She had to let them all know that Willow was back to play. Back for good. And that she was still the same as she had been. That death had not changed her. That she was still worthy of sitting at the Master’s right hand come the ‘glorious’ day. Even though she wasn't sure just what made it so glorious. They already ruled Sunnydale… what point ruling a world you could never see and taste. Maybe a few more towns to play in… but the world? What was the point?



She didn’t know why that witch had recalled her. She had hinted that there was a purpose behind it. That there was some greater reason for it all... and she had sacrificed all those others for that reason. But Willow was way too bored with even thinking about it to care what that might be. She was back and she would not fulfil their purpose for her unless it was also her purpose. Just her own needs. That was what being dead was all about – you lived for others. Once you died it was all for yourself.



She needed a good, lingering kill, to motivate herself and bring her back to the old ways. Stop all this thinking and just get back to doing. It was like she had been tainted by her pink, fuzzy, other self. She shuddered and then she spied the victim she would bless, looking about herself nervously outside a store, waiting for something, and looking with even greater anxiety at the old church opposite. Who cared what concerned it exactly… The concerns of humans ended when the sun went down. After dark they were just cattle and playthings. Actually before dark that was kinda true too… you just had to be more careful.



But in general daylight sucked.



Boring…



Good job it was night time and that the hated sun would not rise behind her for many, many hours… hours she would spend teasing her new plaything. Working up an appetite.



Killing was all very well and blood… well she had more than enough of already, but just tasting the hint of the rich fear within her stolen victim had awakened a need. It had been so long since she had really played. They wouldn’t let her be long enough in that freaky world to do anything much… But she was home now. And who was there even to play with but the humans? The puppy was long since dust. Perhaps he had been called back too… No. Who would waste their energies of bringing that soul-riddled excuse for a vampire back into this wonderfully macabre world? No one would even notice he was gone… except for her. She had liked to pass the daylight hours causing him pain.



She trotted over to the young woman on the corner, looking about herself as if she too was a human fearing the attack of an undead fiend. A kindred spirit caught in the night with no one to protect her. The woman would cling to her out of fear… and Willow would drink it up. Perhaps being dead for so long would have its advantages. They wouldn’t know who she was. The human noticed her approach quickly and started to move away but then was convinced by her act and relaxed, waving her over with a sense of urgency.



“You too huh?” the human woman said to her. Small, blonde haired. Reminding Willow just a little of that Slayer that had killed Xander but looking older. Mid to late twenties. The resemblance though, that would make the kill all the sweeter. It was the least that she could do for him… playtime in his memory… after all she had no intention of doing anything more. Not for him anyway.



“Me? Yes. Me too.” She nodded fervently, remembering how she had used to be… once upon a time. Naïve… innocent and afraid.



“You saw them?” the woman asked. Actually she might have been thirty or so, but Sunnydale was hard on humans. They aged quickly. Perhaps it was all the undead that remained as young and pretty as the day they died. Perhaps they piled their aging on the humans that remained. Call it stress, anxiety. Who cared? Maybe the universe just wanted to balance the books.



Boring philosophy… moving on now.



“Them? Them. Yes. Definitely them,” Willow said. “Who are they?”



“I can see them moving. You see?” The blonde pointed over the street at the church, abandoned as long as Willow could remember even from her living days in the town. Willow moved behind her then followed the finger. The church was lit. Shadows moved within the boarded up windows. Perhaps only in Sunnydale could you discount the homeless as being the cause of that. This morsel was right something was in there… and it terrified the human.



The fear was nice enough but it wasn’t fair if it wasn't fear of her. It was definitely second best and Willow had never wanted to settle for second best. Not in anything… She grasped the pointing finger as if to draw it back and stop the revealing gesture from giving them away, but instead ran her own finger up the human woman’s bare arm, from finger to elbow and upwards.



But in her fear the woman did not even notice her touch. Or had more to worry about. No fair. “You’re cold,” Willow told her, “What are you doing out?”



“I- I’m waiting for, I mean I was waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up, then I saw them,” the woman whispered.



“What’s your name?” Willow asked twirling her finger along the upper arm, underneath it to the softer flesh.



“Sarah” the morsel replied. “What are you doing?” it finally asked her.



“Just saying hello Sarah.” Willow’s hand found the soft armpit and lingered there, provoking a reaction at last as Sarah clamped that arm down upon the fingers as they made for the edge of her top. “Hello.” But she still wasn’t even looking at Willow. She was still looking across the street. Willow’s attention though was firmly on the neck of Sarah which she bent to lick, thrusting her hand into the young woman’s top wondering whether she would finally object. It was hard to care what the morsel was so fixated on that would distract her from the attentions she was receiving.



Finally a real reaction. Sarah’s eyes left the church and as Willow heard a whispering sound the woman looked into her true demonic face. She smiled back knowing the effect it would have and Sarah opened her mouth to let out a scream.



But nothing came out.



Sarah tried again. There was nothing there.



But the screams, the pleas, they were the best bit, Willow thought to herself. Come on Sarah let me hear you scream. She said those words… and heard nothing from herself either.



She could still hear the sounds of the town… but not a shout. Not a word. Nor a scream. The humans. The vampires. All had fallen silent. Willow knew then that she could hear, but that she, like Sarah, had fallen silent.



It was no fun if they didn’t scream. You couldn’t play if you couldn’t take advantage of all your senses… that was why she had never much liked gags and blindfolds. Too limiting.



Across the street the church door opened. Securing her grip on Sarah who, if anything, was even more frantic at the movement of the door, she looked over at what emerged and Willow was immediately fascinated. New things were always fun and these were very new. Or they might be very old… Lifting the human woman off her feet with the arm that was hooked under her chin she moved her bodily forward towards the lurching figures that had emerged.



Straitjackets… she had never tried those. They fell into the whole blindfold and gag thing as being limiting… but she guessed that she could use them… And behind those lurching things… what?



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



Willow had never seen their like. The rattling of the straps on the straitjackets tinkled like music and the footfalls of the minions were heavy and flat. Moving like apes across the tarmac towards her. Some went by, others clustered around her, as she looked back to the far more interesting… floaty things. The lurchers seemed to be waiting for orders… they neither attacked nor ignored her.



The floaty things, human in shape but soooo obviously not human at all. Maybe they had been once. Just like her. And from their smiles they, like her, were glad to no longer be one of the throng of lowly cattle. Permanent smiles… and good teeth. Teeth any vampire would be proud have… They didn’t have to be pointed to rip our throats – just razor sharp.



Sarah was wild now, struggling, kicking and clawing at Willow’s arm. She would be all bruised by the time she went to bed in the morning – wherever that was, perhaps this Sarah’s house would do – just until she got back into the Master’s graces. Pretty patterns on her arms. They would be bloody where desperate fingernails scraped her cold, dead, flesh back. She would bear the scars of this night and it had been so long since that had happened that she had almost forgotten what it was like. Waking up with a reminder of what had gone on the night before.



That was strange. She knew that she had played shortly before her death…but she also was aware of the time that she had just not been. So long. She would bear the scars and Sarah wouldn’t. Sarah wouldn’t be anything by the time Willow bothered to notice them. The woman was right to feel fear but these things were not her problem. Willow was. But first she wanted to hear Sarah beg, cry and promise to be good for her. She wanted to hear Sarah scream and at the end as her teeth bit into that supple neck, or ripped open those wrists, she would want to hear Sarah moan. Till then Sarah was safe enough with her.



I’ll be like a White Hat and protect her. Just for a little while.



Being as she didn’t need to feed, she intended to enjoy herself. There was no need to hurry and she knew that these… whatever they were… were responsible for spoiling her playtime. Taking the screams away. Sun wouldn’t be up for a long while. She had time to find a place to shelter from its burning kiss. Sarah would never see that place though. Another heel struck her shins, stinging. Mmmmn.



She was totally surrounded now with the loping creatures. They too looked as if they might have been human once. What had brought them to what they were now she didn’t care. The floaty grinning things were what she was concerned about. Two pairs had already set off in different directions along the road. Two remained at the door of the church and two were facing her and Sarah. She loosened her grip on the human woman as they examined the two of them and allowed Sarah to stand on her own feet. The human seemed to understand that right now Willow was not the greatest immediate threat to her life. Though Willow was absolutely certain that she would be again. There was play to be had.



The grinning things looked at each other, tilting their heads as if silently communicating and asking each other for an opinion, then looked back at Willow once more. Tipped their heads once more then shook them and turned their attention to Sarah, terrified in her arms and if anything their grins widened and one gave an effete point at the human as the other nodded.



Willow might not be able to hear the human but she could certainly smell the increase in her fear. She could feel the heat of it on Sarah’s skin in the loose embrace that she still maintained. The sweat on the flesh making it clammy. Her reaction to the odour was something akin to how she had, as a human, reacted to the smell of freshly baked donuts. With jelly in the mix. It was delicious… as if she would let this go. They wanted Sarah. She could see it. The lurching things could see it and closed in their ring. And Sarah could see it, tried to break free and make for the tiny gap that remained in that circle. Willow’s arm though was like a steel bar over her throat. There was no pressure until Sarah tried to escape from it… and found it would not move at all.



Willow jerked her back against her so that Sarah fell off her feet and was supported only by resting against Willow’s body and by that taut arm. Willow started to stroke Sarah’s cheek, pleased to find that the gesture set off new tremors through Sarah. Fear was a beautiful thing, it would jump around from source to source. Perhaps the most beautiful thing she had ever sensed. She could smell it. She could taste it. She could feel it, see it and when things were working right she could hear it. She wanted to hear it. It wasn’t fair. She had been so long without playing and now one of her senses was being all deprived by these things.



Stroking Sarah’s cheek she allowed herself to revert to her vampiric visage and smiled as sweetly as she was able to with the impediments it put on her… right at the grinning things, which of course returned her smile. What choice did they have? It might have been centuries since their expressions had said anything else. Maybe they never had. Perhaps they had slipped into being like that from nothing? Created from the minds of the fearful. Who cared… bored with the whole thing now. She wanted to play now. Willow didn’t fear them. Sarah was hers and she wanted to hear her scream and moan before and during the kill. After was when silence was acceptable. Only after. She snarled at them.



It was a silent snarl of course but how could they miss her intent. She would rip them all apart if she had to. The human was hers. Not theirs. She had never given up a kill to anyone but the Master… and never, ever one of her little toys. She had no idea what they were but what did that matter compared to the kill and playtime? Let them have the rest of Sunnydale. They might even settle a few scores for her. This one was hers though. They looked at each other, then back at Willow and gave her the tiniest little nod before silently floating away from her. The lurching things rattling and slapping their feet as they ambled away before them and in their wake, and in seconds all was quiet.



And with them gone Willow stretched out with her own senses, ignoring Sarah’s panicked breathing and the wheezes that rang in her ears but still no words or cries. It wasn't the floaty things themselves that were making everything so quiet. She didn’t get that impression. There was something else. Willow started to listen. She had always been good at that… and some of the time she still had the patience for it. Listening for just where their voices had gone. Surely there was some trace… and to a vampire’s senses there was. The tiniest of whispers… in the old church. Where else but the place they had come from? And if Sarah’s voice was in there then she just had to get it back for her. Otherwise it would all be spoilt and no fun.



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



The entrance was empty, revealing just the disused state of the building. And oh look… no crosses to get in the way either. Someone had been so thoughtful in removing them. Maybe the floaty things didn’t like them either… any god certainly wouldn’t like those grins. At least the kind of god that had churches and synagogues and mosques built for them… Perhaps those evil hell gods the Master talked of? Maybe they would appreciate those grinning things a little more. The floorboards creaked though, betraying the presence of the lurchy thing upstairs. It must have been them – only they were touching the ground.



Now… Just the precise amount of pressure on dear Sarah’s throat… right there. The woman was unconscious and now the main course could commence before she was ready, she looked at the peaceful Sarah, for dessert. To all the proper audio accompaniments.



She supposed she might have triggered some silent alarm as she went up the stairs because as she emerged at the top they were there waiting for her. The workings of the clock were arrayed before her. On a table beneath it several jars and containers. Which they were trying no doubt to keep her from – despite all being empty. Important to them? Not important to Willow. She just wanted Sarah’s voice back. She dropped the woman to the floor beside her and the briefly the things in the straitjackets were distracted. Not her intention but Willow was nothing if not an opportunist. She prided herself at taking the best from every situation… and playing with it. She grabbed at the filthy skull of one of them, using the weight to spin her body off and launch into a kick at the other. But keeping her arms locked, the things neck cracking as her boot connected with the other one. Mmmmn she would have to remember that one, such a lovely productive move.



And I bet I looked so good doing it too…



The one that she kicked was propelled backwards even as its fellow collapsed limply to the ground and from where she landed she could see the hideously charming grin of one of the suited floaters. Coming round the side of the clock machinery, waving a scalpel. It looked so sharp. Catching the light on the blade. So precise, not clumsy like a big knife. She kicked out again at the minion and felt her boot connect with its groin.



Human enough for that to have an effect.



She had never really played with scalpels. Knives of all descriptions – she hadn’t much liked them. Once you started out with a knife there was nowhere else to go. But never a scalpel. She would be able to do such lovely things to flesh… to skin. Delicate things… Flaying would be so much easier. To peel it back so daintily and precisely. Willow wasn’t there to fight though. She just want the human’s voice back. She just wanted Sarah to scream for her. That was all.



Not so much to ask… Maybe her own voice too…



She kicked the minion again, this time in the head and it snapped back with what should have been vertebrae crushing force.



Dead? She didn’t particularly mind. Death held no pleasures for her except when done for the best of purposes. Artfully applied. Fulfilling some desire. Self-defence just left her feeling so empty and bored. There were better things to occupy her time.



The grinning monster stopped about a metre away from her, waving its raised finger in a parody of the teacher scolding a naughty child. Which she might seem to be to it, who knew how old it was? Willow knew that she would exist forever… now that she was back… but also that she was just starting out on that infinite time. As she plucked out its eyeballs and nibbled on them it might have been interesting to listen, to force it to tell its stories. But not a one of these creatures, or their minions, had said a word and if they wouldn’t talk to her then that was just too bad. For them.



They had created the silence and she didn’t like it at all. It was the sound of boredom. But the silence was not total… there was still the tiniest hint of a whisper. Less than a TV on just-above minimum volume. Less than you might hear of a conversation on the street below from the top of a tall building. But it was there. She could hear it. Murmurs, whispers. They were loudest. The talking was in the background and the faintest of all were the almost silent screams. A thousand sounds playing around her ears. But only in here. In this room.



There in fact, behind her.



She turned her back on the floating thing and focused her senses feeling her back being slashed with the scalpel. A deep wound that would weep the blood of many of the humans she had killed today. Another slash. The sensation… the almost subtle parting of the skin. A slash that felt more like a graze as there was so little immediate pain. The sting. The wet fabric of her clothes as the blood of the witches of UC Sunnydale soaked it.



There.



The box. A small, wooden, box. Unremarkable in every sense. She walked over to it, glancing over at Sarah who was already coming round. Excellent timing… it was almost time to play. She didn’t look back but felt the floating creature come closer to her, attempted to kick back at it, but failed to calculate that it was in the air and ended up stumbling… another slash striking her arms. Her top was going to be ruined. It better not do anything to her trousers though. Those would be tougher to replace…



The box. It had just confirmed what she already knew. It was the box that created the silence, or enforced it. She picked it up and turned back to the creature, which had stopped dead. Waving that finger at her once more. No it was saying – in it’s own silent way.



Yes she nodded.



I want to hear her scream she mouthed at it… meaning Sarah. After that she didn’t much care. It might be useful to have the town silent. No actually… it would be so boring that she wouldn’t have lasted a night like that. How to open the box though? It looked simple, but even when she lifted the catch nothing happened. The lid would not lift. A puzzle box?



Never mind… She wasn't big on the sanctity of the property of others or much for puzzles. If you could rip the blood from peoples’ still living bodies with a song in your heart then you didn’t tend to care about boxes and mysteries much.



She looked over at Sarah who was opening her mouth to try and scream once more at the sight of her proximity to things that she thought would kill her. The head of a dead minion in her lap. The body on its back, but the head face down. Sarah was going to scream and scream and scream. Willow promised herself that.



She shook the box… nothing in it but the whispers. No rattle but the whispers grew louder as she moved it closer to her head. More agitated perhaps. Wanting to be free as much as she wanted to hear them Willow smiled and the grinning thing… it couldn’t stop smiling but it was a smile that was filled with fear now. Laced with it. It was afraid of what she would do… perhaps it would scream for her too. Beg…



She liked it being afraid of her.



She closed fist around the box and squeezed, tighter and tighter, the loose catch digging into her flesh until someone’s blood dripped on the floor and she could hear the joints of the wood move against each other. Creaking, groaning and then starting to crack before shattering completely.



The box was empty… she dropped it and stood there, idly pulling the splinters of wood from her hand. Sarah was moaning. Willow could hear that. And that was all she wanted. They could go now and find somewhere for their fun. She crossed to the quivering woman and ignored the floating thing, which was looking at the ruins of the box and seemed distracted by it’s loss.



She knelt before Sarah and raised her bloody hand to her face, leaving a sticky trail of the stolen blood that she would happily lap up later – perhaps with Sarah’s own. “Isn’t that so much better Sarah?”



Sarah did nothing but moan in reply, scrabbling backwards towards the steps but was held by the weight of the minion across her legs. And her fear was redirected again… which was good.



“Now Willow can make you cry…” It was a promise. Sarah didn’t have to scream until the end. But she decided to start early shrieking, terrified. Willow didn’t object… fear was always so much fun.



The green goo that settled across them a moment later did nothing to shut the human woman up, nor did the collapse of another body across hers. Some part of Willow, deep down, thought the reaction to the scream it was very interesting. The sonic vibrations must have set off a resonance cascade inside the grinning things skull. That was why they wanted silence… Oh well…Willow was really just interested in the screamer though.



She turned back towards Sarah, which was where her real interest lay. “That was nice of you Sarah. Now we don’t have to go anywhere else at all.” She was going to feed right here, after the terror, and her hands but not the scalpel, had worked its way on Sarah. It would be a first… here in a church – but somewhere away from the goo… that would just be icky. All green and sticky.



Willow preferred sticky to be blood red.



************





Katharyn

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

You hear that baby?
Edited by: xita at: 6/1/03 11:45:38 am


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 Post subject: Re: The Future.
PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2002 10:15 pm 
Katharyn, I was behind on this fic since I spent half of this week away. This is so engrossing! I am completely sucked in - I felt so tense when Tara was in the club. And I loved the little nod to "The Lost Boys" - very clever. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when Tara gets to Sunnydale.



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 Post subject: Part 7
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 12:13 am 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
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Topics: 5
Part Seven Kittens... but first a few messages.

*Waves to Zahir* Been a long time since you first encouraged this Z! Glad you could stop by with your expectations... now where is Fusion?

Cicca... I saw your post after the edit, if you have a rant or concerns that you need to air feel free to e-mail me though I don't remember doing anything spoilery? (If that was what it was about??!)

To you all This is not ideal Kittens but I have had to break part 7 into two parts. What is posted as 7 below was originally linked to what will be part 8. They were the same fic and I would ask you to bear that in mind. The problem was that it was just too long to present intact - it was just too much. I intend to post 8 tomorrow night or early Saturday to get it out quicker for you though. What you have here in 7 then is the thought process that precedes both Part 8 and the decision that will conclude it. There was no natural break and no natural cliffhanger to use.... I try to avoid that and aim never to do it again. I hope that this way, at least, you get to analyse the thoughts of Tara more than you would reading "Kick Ass Tara" immediatly after.

Sorry bout that...

And now to the fic...

Enjoy Kittens...

Katharyn

-----------
Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – The Calling III – The Call of Silence I (Part 7)
Author: Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited for this entire series. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.
Summary: Over this and Part 8. Tara is “called” to Sunnydale. This story occurs in a time that is parallel with the BTVS Season 4 episode “Hush,” some of the events regarding “The Gentlemen” in which can be considered to have commenced without Initiative/Slayer interference. For reference the events in the previous 2 parts run concurrent with this and part 8 – which follows directly on from this. This is Tara’s thoughts before going on to Kiss Ass in Part 8.
Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the Production Company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.
Rating: 15
Couples: None as yet but the first necessary decision is made.
Notes: Part 8 was originally a big part with this one. It was just too big to be easy to read. The split is not ideal, but we couldn’t find a better place to do it.
Thanks To: Jo “Wizpup” for getting the beta done in the nick of time which is always the best way to go. Jo “Thistle” for all the good news. Kerry – Shhheeee’s BAAAACK. Louise – my always.


The Sidestep Chronicle

The Call of Silence

By

Katharyn Rosser



It was just a motel room. Anonymous and cheap because it had to be to appeal to those whose budget was more important than how they lived. That was not the case with its current occupant though. To her, this place was a treat.

It was barely equipped beyond the essentials because its occupant didn’t need it to be. If she had needed more… or could have made do with less then she would have gone elsewhere, or found some basement she could secure. Bed, door, window, walls and bathroom. That was all she needed, but she had indulged herself this time. It had been a good week in most ways – including money-wise. San Francisco was still doing a booming trade in New Age charms, spells and the like as it always had – and some of those shops, well they were receptive to the more authentic magicks too rather just selling orbs as paperweights. When they could get their hands on them they snapped them up.

It was still a seller’s market, and unless someone found a way to automate magical production then it always would be. If – at least - you were a buyer who wanted the product to actually work. She’d spent the best part of her days since arriving in the city carefully laying out ingredients for ointments and poultices, checking her books and binding the charms that she could construct to order. She didn’t ask where they were for. Or who. That wasn't her business - even if some of them were far beyond the standard good health or luck bindings that most genuine, but uninitiated, New Agers would purchase as fast as they would scented candles. Werewolf repellent for one thing - she’d used it herself when traversing certain rural areas so she knew it worked. Poultices for hiding the scarring kiss of a siren. Someone who had met, escaped but been scarred by a Siren must want that. It had taken her two days to locate a grimoire that included such a rarely used ointment. All sorts of weird stuff whose use she should have questioned... if she’d had a concern for anything but the payment.

But she didn’t. That wasn't her purpose. The concerns of others… well they weren’t hers. She couldn’t let them be. She knew that she should… but where would she be then? Constantly chasing around after people that she didn’t know – solving their problems instead of her own. She was happy to help those in need – when she knew them. When they asked. She couldn’t take it upon herself to put the world to rights though. Tara was very aware that time was starting to run out on her – soon, soon now she would have to go there and face her destiny. Complete her mission.

She had a mission and that did not include werewolves, sirens, zombies or even other witches except in as much as she could learn from them. It made her the money she needed to survive and that was all that mattered. Survival was always the first order of business. She couldn’t afford to have sentiments about what earned her that survival in terms of acquiring money, skills, protection or a safe place to sleep. There were things that she would not do of course, but providing limited magical services was not one of those things. As long as she did not know the purpose to be evil… and even then sometimes she had been forced to stretch the point. Just a little.

Her standards had slipped inexorably though. Once upon a time she had offered only healthy, good services. Or maybe something stronger for protection only. She would have made certain what they were for – asked questions if she suspected they were lying to her. Now she didn’t even ask anymore. Just so long as they don’t tell me. That was why it was so much easier to sell to shops rather than the end customer. Working for unnamed and faceless customers saved her both time and emotional investment. Even if it cost her a little money she didn’t have enough of either of those to spare.

The clock was always ticking… counting down…

But now it was almost time to go out and to do what needed to be done. One last thing before she checked out and moved on. Doing what had brought her here to this city in the first place. What took her to any of the towns, counties and cities she had visited. A story. A rumour. A piece of news about them. This time it had even been profitable, she had managed to save a little for her next journey. Maybe some new clothes even. But it was always them that drew her from place to place. When she heard the rumours she had to come. She had to deal with it. Because it seemed that no one else would. Just her. Where were the good guys?

There are no good guys. Just me, she thought to herself.

Any vampire picking up a reputation outside of its own city… that was a vampire that she had to destroy. Its success or excesses taunted her. Dared her to seek it out and eliminate it. The common ones, who she destroyed nearly every night in the alleys, the streets and dark places. They were little more than duty to her… but the ‘famous’ ones. She took some deeper satisfaction in their destruction.

More and more it seemed. For now she actively sought them. She didn’t wait to hear of them. She asked. She looked. She waited. She even tortured vampires for information on them. And then when she had found them she would destroy them.

But first before all that… the end of the cartoons.

The television had been blaring out the sounds of the cartoons for over an hour now and she loved them. She’d made herself start to watch them again – when she could. But now she loved them – like she had used to all those years ago when she had sat on her mother’s lap… sometimes even Daddy’s lap… and they had laughed together. She had to force herself to watch sometimes, especially the ones she had seen recently. But really… she did enjoy them. She could make do with Mr Magoo and some of the newer ones, Pinky and the Brain perhaps. But the classics… for as long as she could remember Bugs, Elmer, Sam, Roadrunner and the Coyote… they’d been part of her life. Not quite all though. Hadn’t she stopped watching, grown out of it when she was about fourteen? But only in as much as she thought she should not be watching at that age. No one had ever told her that… but it had seemed clear. That was not what typical teenage girls did.

When was I ever allowed to be a typical teenage girl?

Between the magic, the restrictions that Daddy had put upon her and the shell she had hidden herself away inside because of being different.

I was never a typical teenager.

Most teens don’t have their mother in hospital for years… and then, just as she is getting better, have their brother and father murdered. Then losing her mother to a relapse – or grief - and being driven away from her remaining family.

Here Aunt and Uncle had been right though. They were right to fear her and send her away from them. They knew the timescale as well as anyone in the family and it wasn’t so long now. They had known it. They were afraid of liking her perhaps. Not so many months… and they would have had the beast to deal with…

Cartoons. She had never stopped finding them funny and whenever she had the chance she would tune in and watch the coyote or the hunter get blown up, crushed, dropped off a cliff or fried in infinite variety of acme ways. It always made her laugh. She couldn’t remember when she had last laughed at anything else. Or enjoying anything else much. Other than the hunt. Satisfaction - she got that from the completion of her goals… her work. But enjoyment? There was nothing but the cartoons and her dreams. Maybe the occasional book if she came across one abandoned on public transport. She was never anywhere long enough to join a library and all her ‘earnings’ were tied up elsewhere. But the cartoons… She’d made herself take an interest – because there had to be something else. Just something. They were pretty much all she had to look forward to now.

And the blissful reality of sleep. Dreaming of another world – which wasn’t this one. Was it?

Her whole evening, with the TV in the room had been based around the cartoons. The time she would go out, the time she intended to return… how long she had to lose any pursuer that she might pick up. It wasn't professional but it was necessary. She had worked out early that without something to bring her home she would stay out hunting and eventually she would tire. Maybe far from where she could rest safely. Then she might suffer for it. Something other than the hunt and the kill. There had to be. She admitted to herself that cartoons they might not be enough but they were something.

Anything had to do.

Cartoons… the hunt… and her dreams. They had come again to her last night… stronger and more powerful than they had been for a long time. The sort of dream that did not fade. She might have been dreaming every night… but she didn’t always remember her dreams… but the ones that she did… they nearly always they had a consistent theme.

Her flame haired goddess. The woman in the dreams… she had no name. That was just how she thought of her. Didn’t she have a name? Last night though… it was like… it was as if she should have known a name last night. Finally. But it wouldn’t come. It was there, hovering maddeningly out of reach. She had been on the tip of Tara’s tongue… in more ways than one. That was the first time... that she had… like that. Dreamt. But she was still nameless, and so she remained her flame haired goddess… for now. How she thought of her there - out of her conscious control and desires.

And she did desire that woman… sometimes. Sometimes they were doing things to each other, with each other that she had never done… but in her dreams she wanted to so badly that it hurt even after she woke up. Deep down inside of her. The physical manifestation of the tight chest, the lump in her throat and the sweat was nothing compared to the mental torture that the dreams inflicted upon her. It wasn’t the torture of what they did in the dreams – it was waking and finding out that you were…

That she was alone. Always alone.

No matter what the subject of the dream every time it rammed that home. She was alone in a world of horror. Sometimes she wished that this could be the dream – that she would suffer the nightmares every night – if she could just have that young woman with the red hair to hold as her very own.

Remembering that she was alone just reminded her of why. Of what the vampires had taken from her. And why she had to remove them from the world… all of them. To stop anyone else from having to feel this way.

The reminder of what she had lost was what drove her sometimes. Not all the time… but sometimes it was the extra that gave her the urgency, the willingness to take risks that she would not do otherwise.

The dreams reminded her. And so after she dreamed… then she would go out and the fury would express itself. Not that she was wild or uncontrolled… she just took risks after she had dreamed. The red haired woman drove her to that fury. It was passion that she dreamt of, passion that she had to try and control or it would get her killed. And then who would stop the vampires? The Slayer? Slayers came and went - more than one since she had been put on this road. She’d known one, slightly, from just after the calling until… the Slayer’s death shortly after. Back in New York. Kendra and her watcher Mr Zabuto had never left the Big Apple. They had died there. Why did Slayer’s restrict themselves to just one city?

What about the rest of us? Where was the Slayer to protect us? My family?

Why hadn’t a Slayer dealt with the Sunnydale situation? Why hadn’t a Slayer been waiting for those vampires that had killed her family? Then she wouldn’t have had to live like this… She could have finished school. Maybe she could have gotten away from home for a couple of years… before she had to return. College. She could have gone to college if there had been a Slayer in Sunnydale.

And her family would have been alive…

That wasn't fair on the Slayer though… Being in Sunnydale, the Slayer – whoever it was back then for it had changed since – might have died and it might all have been worse somehow.

Knowing what she had lost or missed or could never have… that was the worst thing. The woman in her dreams, she must be some sort of symbol. Of everything that she had lost. Her family, her home, her life. The chance to love perhaps too. Perhaps that was why she didn’t dream of her family… not even Mommy. Maybe that was why it the most beautiful woman she had ever seen – reflecting her tastes so precisely. Could she have had someone like in her life if they had not come and snatched the choices in her life away? Could she have been in the redhead’s life? The interpretation of dreams was something that had always interested her… but she’d had none except her own to comment on for so long that she didn’t really trust herself anymore. Wishful thinking could get in the way. The way she saw the redhead though? As a goddess is she something more than just a person? Tara was a Wiccan… by training and by birth. The religious aspects of that must shine through in her dreams. This woman… this goddess was a manifestation of all that she had ever wanted.

And everything she had lost.

Sometimes Tara was afraid of her dream woman. Sometimes things were… weird or bad. Sometimes she even terrified her. And sometimes she was afraid for her. But as with the fear of her… there was never a reason. Sometimes she was missing her, dreaming of lying alone but knowing that there should be someone, her, there in the bed with her.

Sometimes she dreamed of actually holding her and sometimes her dreams were more carnal and she would wake up feeling that desire to the very depths of her being.

But the worst thing… the worst thing was dreaming that they, she and her flame haired goddess, would kill. She the goddess. The goddess her. Each other… someone else. But when they would die at one another’s hands… She knew that her task remained undone, the hunt incomplete, as she was murdered by the woman who, in her dreams at least, she loved. And she didn’t care. She welcomed it and at that last moment before death took her she would often slip a stake into the other living, breathing woman. Why a stake though? But then why not? She used them every night. Every single night. And it was a dream…

And that was the truth wasn’t it? It was just a dream. That woman, her dream woman wasn't real. She couldn’t be because Tara had never seen her… and yet she was in her dreams. And if the Goddess wasn’t real then at least she couldn’t hurt her… or be hurt by the Goddess. So she could just keep longing for her.

Tara flipped off the TV and gathered up what was required. Her bag – loaded mainly with stakes – also contained a few vials of carefully mixed powders in separate pockets. And as always her most precious possessions, that she could not risk losing. She had to conclude, looking back on her thought processes, that there was a good possibility that she was starting to lose her mind.

It was a common enough problem amongst magic users. So her mother had always warned her and the texts seemed to confirm. The danger of getting drunk on your own power… getting so caught up in what it could do for you. Relying on the magic to accomplish things that you could take a little more time to do right – or things you should never even attempt. She was careful. Her magic was strictly for her mission. That was all… that and the selling of charms and stuff that supported her. But even the fear of slipping into the thrall of the magic – or entering the darker realms – the fear alone could unbalance a person in its own right. Or you could be turned by the magic. Careful as she was to avoid the darker powers there were times when she could feel it pulling at her. And her anchor? Her anchor was just the desire for justice. Was there as great a purity of purpose there as there should be? As there needed to be? There had to be purity of purpose to resist the darkness. If you got caught up in a desire to use the magic just for it’s own sake – never mind what you told yourself – then it was a short, slippery slope. So her mother had always taught her and everything Tara had seen and felt had shown how true it all was. What could she hold onto?

Her dream woman maybe? No… for all she knew that woman was the very manifestation of her descent. That was one interpretation of the dreams. In the days when she got depressed it was the one she often went back to. Hence the cartoons. She encouraged herself to look forward to them. To have something else to live for other than what it was she was about to go and do. Because without hope, anticipation and distraction she knew that she would find herself at the top of that proverbial slippery slope… and might not even mind the fall. One day she would be out… cornered through tiredness or lack of care and she would slip into the dark ways. Maybe to defend herself… but it wouldn’t end there. That was why she had to be careful… Always so very careful.

She slipped out of her room and ensured that the door clicked shut behind her. Whilst the wards she had in place would keep out more mystical visitors she had suffered theft from places she had stayed before. Fortunately they had not touched the things that she really cared about – and now carried with her wherever she went. She followed the balcony along past other rooms and went down the stairs.

“You like the TV honey?” the lady behind the check in desk called to her as she passed by. The woman always seemed more than a little lonely… needing someone to talk to. She had kept Tara there for nearly half an hour when she had checked herself in, insisting that the TV that was standard here anyway when Tara had checked that there was one. In great detail. To be honest Tara didn’t mind listening to people. She didn’t like talking to them because she embarrassed herself and the people she met didn’t have time to get used to her – or she to them. But listening that was fine – it made them both feel less lonely for a few snatched moments.

That was a good thing.

“Y-yes. Th-thankyou,” she replied, making herself smile at the woman but knowing it was hollow. What did she have to smile about? Even if she succeeded tonight it wouldn’t be anything to smile about. Just a few handfuls of dust added to the city’s pollution problem. She opened the door, prepared to step out into the night, hearing her bag of stakes rattle as she caught the strap on the door and almost dropped it. She gave the woman another smile, a little more genuine this time and freed the strap. Klutz.

She couldn’t afford to be Klutzy… she had vampires to go kill.

At the edge of the car park she avoided the main street and ducked instead into the dark alleyway that led behind the shops, picking her way amongst the trashcans and heading downtown along the most undesirable route she could find. The sort of places that vampires might choose to pick on stragglers… or to have eaten a take out. It wouldn’t do to miss out on those. It was like Daddy had always said, ‘Look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves Tara.’

Yes sir. Same thing for vampires. She wouldn’t go out of her way to look out for the small fry… but when she found one she would make sure to sweep it right up. Yes sir.

*************

This part is directly continued in Part 8.


------------------
You hear that baby?

Edited by: xita  Image at: 6/1/03 11:44:12 am


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 Post subject: Part 8
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 1:54 am 
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Topics: 5
Originally posted by Katharyn

Part 8 Kittens... read the notes to get the best out of it*S*

Enjoy!!!

Katharyn

---------

Title: The Sidestep Chronicle – The Calling III – The Call of Silence II (Part
Author: Katharyn Rosser
Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome. katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited for this entire series. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.
Summary: Part 2 of The Call of Silence started in Part 7. This was originally one part but was just too long to post in one piece. Kick Ass Tara
Disclaimer: I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the Production Company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.
Rating: 15
Couples: None as yet but the first necessary decision is made.
Notes:The transcript for “Hush” was used for the quote from the news report heard in that episode. I have modified it somewhat to fit my needs but all credit to the transcribers and episode writers.
There is a nod of the hat, i.e. a steal, from the Lost Boys in this. You’ll know it when you see it I think.
This was originally one big part together with what is now part 7. It was just too big to post in one go. The split point is not ideal but neither I nor my beta reader could find a better one. The idea was that you get an update of her emotional state and her capabilities in one package. I personally would rescan Part 7 before reading this one.
It is definitely easier to read this way.
Thanks To: Jo “Wizpup” for all her help. Louise my always. Sass… for noticing the perfection! Kerry… hey you just are the anaesthesiologist’s fave*S*

The Sidestep Chronicle

The Call of Silence II

By

Katharyn Rosser


Tara had been ready to bluff her way into the club. It was something that she had done before… finding herself the loneliest and saddest man or woman who might get her through the door and pay her cover charge. You found vampires in all sorts of places, but the more she came to places like this, the more she found them in there. It was almost as common as cemeteries. They could even feed without worrying about being caught… as long as they didn’t kill. ‘Just another drunk who cut themselves.’ It was insidious.

This time, well she could have managed to pay or attached herself to someone, there were couples of all descriptions. Single people of both sexes and all persuasions too. Women as well as men who had given her a lingering appreciative look – despite her obviously flawed clothing. She wasn't dressed for this place. But there was no need to explain that away to anyone – it was ladies night. She couldn’t have planned this better. She could definitely afford the necessary expenses of the next few days now.

Assuming she emerged from this place alive.

“Ladies Night – Free Before Ten.” Definitely a club lacking in clientele. Hardly surprising. It was also a death trap. The vampires saw to that. Police reports showed it to her… but not it seemed to the police themselves. The deaths never occurred on the premises. Just around it, or to people who had come here. Usually for the first time.

Just as she was a first timer, she admitted to herself with a wry grin and was shocked when a man who saw her smile winked back at her. She shook her head firmly, kept her eyes off him and moved on.

She had no intention of becoming another first time casualty of this place. She intended to try and stop it… or some of it.

The people outside hadn’t been a true indication of what clothes were suitable for this place… It had been discouraging, in the short line, comparing herself to them. She knew that, though definitely more comfortable, she would stick out like a sore thumb. Inside… it was more like a sore arm.

She didn’t own that much in the way of clothes anyway – and nothing that would have been suitable. Even, as she looked the crowd over, her underwear which many of the youngest women, little more than girls, seemed to think was the dress code here.

‘Girls’… How easy it had become to see herself as older, wiser… but then she wasn't one of those prancing around in my underwear was she? They were probably at high-school at the same time. But even Gaynor Bapty in her class… even she wouldn’t have dared to dress like that – and she was a cheerleader.

Acres of flesh on display or barely concealed. Her own skirts and the long coat, flowing as she opened it to the heat, made her look like a nun in comparison. Those ‘youngsters’ were just too extreme - not to her taste at all. And she didn’t have time to worry about it anyway. She wasn't here to find someone to fall in love with – actually she kinda doubted anyone was actually looking for love here… she had something to do.

The music throbbed through her skull and she had no idea how people could find it fun. It made her feel old… serious and stuffy. But how could she do anything but disapprove. Music this loud was here to alter to your mind – to carry you away. The smell of alcohol, burning tobacco and other substances were more tangible ways of doing that. All that and all these people… it was like her very own definition of hell. And a vampire’s definition of heaven – though with their hyper acute senses they should hate it even more than she did. The stench of human sweat was oppressive, hanging in the air amongst those other scents and she could feel it all clinging to her even as she made her way towards the main bar and dance floor. No sign yet of those she was seeking.

She fingered the pendant that was a constant at her neck. Nothing not a twitch but it was a big club… long anyway. It stretched back into the old warehouse a good distance. The volume of humans would make no difference to the incantation sealed into the pendant’s matrix, but there were no vampires in this part of the club at least. But why would there be? It wasn't as if this, alcohol, was what they wanted to drink was it? The crowds gathered heading for the bars. The place was not full, not yet and but there were concentrations that got in her way.

‘E-excuse m-me p-please,’ she started to apologise her way through the queues at the bar, trying to cross them. Surely seeing that she was not trying to get to the bar they would let her through… of course not. Everyone here was wrapped up in their own concerns… or that of the person whose body they wanted to share tonight. Oh the desire… she could well understand the desire… it was just the method of attaining it she had a problem with. Even if she could make herself come to a place like this socially… and dress like that… she wasn't sure that she could ever approach or accept an approach by the women that were in here.

And so she had to work her way through the crowd, drinks spilling, smoke blowing in her face. What did they care about the weird overdressed young woman, struggling through them with a large bag across her shoulder? Nothing at all. The bag was open… no opportunist would find anything but a stake if they dipped into it. Her treasured possessions were secreted about her pockets along with her precious and limited cash. Just in case she lost the bag… plan, re-plan and then wonder what you missed. Yes sir.

The dismissive glances, the sneers, the not at all hidden laughs, often accompanied by being pointed out to others all started to come her way as she tried to move through the throng. Laughing at her voice, betraying her as usual? Or just her dress, her style or absolute lack of it? She wasn't concerned by that. So she stopped asking, reasoning that the magic was in the best interests of all these people – and it wasn't like it was big magic at all.

“Part,” she murmured under her breath and as she moved forward those ahead of her felt a hand on their shoulder, or at the small of their back and just knew that they had to move a little. People coming through. Just step aside. She wasn’t touching their minds, just using the pressure to suggest to them that they should move apart a little. It took little concentration to keep up the rolling effect and the sea of people separated subtly and often without even realising it – though some looked round to see who was disturbing them, confused enough by there being nobody to miss her entirely. Leaving her a path that led her to the dance floor, which was still pretty deserted compared to what it would be like in a few hours. Effortless, she could move with purpose, and the pendant gave her one, starting to itch the skin at her throat. They were here. Something vampiric at least. No knowing if it was her targets. Not yet. But close.

The booths.

Always booths... or a certain bar stool. Or a given reading room in a library for the bookish ones. They established territory and they stuck to it. It made them predictable. But it also made them ferocious in defence of what they believed was theirs… what she had come to take away from them – along with their despicable existence.

She made her way through the throng, preparing mentally. Two stakes in each hand. One in her palm, the other between her fingers, ready to swing back into place when the first two were gone. How many targets? No way to tell yet. More than one the itching told her, but not a horde. That would have burned more than this. But they would be surprised and that would work for her no matter how many there were. They would feel secure here, in their place. She disliked a hunt like this for that very reason… no way to set up. No way to truly prepare as she would have liked. They would arrive at the booth separately as part of the crowds. No way to get a count of them until they were all there. No way, in this crush, to pick them off individually.

She was almost through and starting scanning the booths. People got in her way, but it was all camouflage. Dressed like this she would attract attention in a heartbeat. Better that than attracting attention outside in the city though – and looking like a slut. No sir, I won’t ever dress like that Daddy.

The people in the booth, the people around them. She took them in, looking for the tell tale signs that would give them away. And wonder of wonders… a mirror. They had messed up. With the mirror all along that wall her task was that much easier – and there was less room in here than she had thought. Glimpses from further away looked as if the room extended further – but it ended. She was running out of room. So were they – all it took was spotting which things had no reflection. She might not be able to hear in this mess of noise but her visual senses would be enough for her. All she needed was that lack of a reflection. It was like an arrow above their heads pointing at them. How did the people here miss them?

Because they were not that obvious after all. The booths, when you were seated at least, were below mirror level – that and everyone was too busy looking at whatever body was to their tastes. To use the mirror she needed an angle… or to be closer to them where just being stood up would be enough. Close, though, brought its own risks. She looked up. No upper level. No gantry. No natural angle that she could exploit. The pendant was itching dreadfully now as she stepped over the invisible boundary from dance floor to drinking area, walking the line. Keeping to the edges ready to move back into the thick of the people if she had to do so. Moving along the room and stretching out with every sense that she had. Though all she could really rely on here was her sight. In such a crowd, nothing else would work.

The smoke was almost choking, cigarettes, less legal alternatives, puffs from the hidden smoke machine. The music was throbbing though her, resonating inside her and drumming inside her head. Just sight… and feel.

The pendant started to itch deeper into her flesh, no longer just a surface scratch, and she could immediately see why. The pasty-faced individuals in that farthest corner booth. Even though simply lacking the touch of sunlight was no crime in itself – especially in a deceptively cool city like San Francisco. When was the last time she had spent any length of time out just enjoying daylight? A long time ago. She had too much to do in the darkness to bother about the light and still expect to meet the next night rested as she needed to be.

Without rest there was no concentration and that left her defenceless. She had to be able to concentrate within a split second.

She made her way back into the crowd to avoid attracting attention by so obviously watching them and allowed herself to be drawn into some sort of drunken party that was going on in that part of the dance floor. She did not dance but she did allow herself to be manoeuvred by them. They looked to be people coming out from an office. Was today a working day? It was hard to keep track sometimes. She thought it was Tuesday though. They were harmless enough. But even as they brought her into their circle for some good-natured frolics she saw all that she needed to. Her eyes focussed on the mirrors above the booth. She was close enough now to get that angle she needed.

Six bodies in the booth. Two reflections. Four possible vampires then. No empty seats. No glasses or bottles to indicate that anyone else had absented themselves from a standing position. She had heard there were five though. Five targets. Five bloodsuckers that needed to be dealt with. Where was number five?

There should be five… five minus four left one vampire with a reputation that would be ticked off about losing it’s feeding buddies. And it would lose them.

The pendant was feeling like hot needles against her throat now, the reaction to the presence of the undead almost painful, but she would not scratch it, nor remove it. The pain was another motivation, as if she had needed it, to get the kill done.

No way to get them out of here. No way to trick them, not dressed as she was. They would never believe that she wanted to be bitten. She was in no way looking like the sort of person who came to a place like this. She would just have to be direct. Oh well. She was good at direct.

Tara reached into her pockets, shaking off the business woman’s arm that had looped through her own to do so. Four targets, six stakes – more than she had ever tried before. She found two more, placing them between other fingers, the first two to be used resting between the reserves. It was all a question of balance… awkward in the best of circumstances but she couldn’t be scrabbling around in her pockets when the time came. That would get her dead – fast. Good job she had practiced… feeling ridiculous all the time, thinking of Donny with his toy pistol and holster when they had been small…

Four targets. Stay hidden and take them one at a time, or risk exposure to get all four? She had never tried four at once but the line of sight was good once she stepped out of the throng, she could see them all. They were penned in by the humans at either end of the booth seating so even if she had to leave there would be a delay for them.

She had to get close. It was much too crowded to try and work a stake through the pressing, dancing, drunken throng. She would risk hitting someone to do that and even if she could – there was no way she could do more than one at a time through the crowd. Even if she closed in though… she had never tried four.

Where was number five? Who was number five?

Not here or somewhere around? Somewhere she didn’t know about? Hold one stake back… just in case. One spare then, only one miss allowable. Nothing that presented itself as an obvious source of impromptu stakes either. The fixtures were all metal and she couldn’t have broken them if she wanted to. Not without magic anyway.

Her eyes were firmly fixed on the vampires as she drew the stakes from her pocket and prepared herself. Focusing on the necessary point. The chest of each vampire. The heart. Their weakness and her strength. Funny how their hearts did not beat but they would die if they were staked there. Funny in a morbid sort of way at least.

Holding the stakes loosely in her hands, three now in each. Confident that she could hit the mark four times in rapid succession and still hold two back. So rapid that they would not have time to react. Maybe a second from impact to dust. All four stakes had to be into them by then, otherwise they would be moving – and on her. There was also the crowd’s reaction to consider. If they saw that, what would they do? Ignore it, panic… approach. She might use them to get away or she could be pressed closer to those beasts that might be left.

Curiosity killed the kitty, Tara. Yes sir… it’s just it wouldn’t be her curiosity.

She started to back out of the circle of drunken friends, eyes fixed on the vampires – their chests. The points that she had to hit - and she was spun once more by that woman who grabbed her arm a minute before. She clutched at the stakes desperately where they rested between her fingers but one slipped from her grasp and would have clattered to the floor of only she had been able to hear anything but the music. She made to follow it as the woman laughed at her and she forced herself to smile back, holding the other five stakes carefully and hiding them. The stake was gone, kicked across the dance floor. Lost.

No room for error now. If the fifth one was here then she needed to hit first time. It was the way that she worked… not being able to pull the stake back fast enough it was consumed with the vampire. If she had just been stabbing them she could have kept them, reused them, but then she would have been dead long ago.

Still pressure was her friend. It would help her focus, help her to concentrate. But she had to get away from this crowd. She shook off the linked arm, and moved forward through them and out into the open before the vampires, stakes hidden behind her hands, which were hanging down by her side. She even smiled at them as they looked at her. She would do anything to kill them. Even smile at them for their last few seconds of existence.

And they smiled back the leering smile of the predator. She knew that well. The hungry vampire presented with a meal.

Guess again.

She brought her hands up, palms open and applied the pressure with her mind behind each stake in turn. The first two driving into the chest of their targets and before either of them could even look down their forms started to dissolve. The two other stakes flipping into her palms from between her fingers and also in the air within a second. The other two looking on in alarm, their brains telling them to move but the body so far unwilling to listen to that order. The third, the one in the suit was also staked.

Deep enough? The position was good but the angle, might have driven it across the face of the heart and missed the kill.

But no it was starting to dissolve as time, to Tara, ran slower. It was fatally wounded as was the fourth, the female in the low cut dress finding her a stake protruding from the dipping ‘V’ that revealed more than just the inner curves of her breasts to the world. But it was only there for a second, before it, like the vampire woman was consumed by whatever process it was that destroyed them. She didn’t much care what did it, just as long as they were gone. The fourth one was all gone before the two humans, a man and a woman started to react. And even then it was just shock that tinged their faces. Looking at them she could see that they had been tasted. Their arms bore the scars, tracks not of needles but giving vampires what they wanted.

She’d saved their lives, maybe even their souls and they would just think she had stolen their pleasure.

It had taken only three or four seconds from her leaving the crowd to the point when the last vampire was reduced to ashes, that one exploding as they sometimes did scattering ash over the human male and the table. The ripples in the drinks as the dust landed caught her attention far more than the humans who were shouting for something.

Unheard in the racket of the music.

It was working for her. Whether they were crying out in distress, fear or to raise the alarm there was no point in it. And incredibly no one else seemed even to have noticed. Maybe it was the drink, maybe nobody was even looking. Perhaps people just didn’t want to see.

It had been quick and clean. Maybe not perfect, but better than she could have hoped in the circumstances. Four together!

Better so far. There was always the unexpected. Mr Murphy and his law. Her father had been a big believer in that from his time in the Navy and she had been through far too much to doubt that something you might as well call Murphy could come along and spoil her night.

Where was the fifth one? There were supposed to be five. Five. The informer had been very clear – no reason to lie about numbers when she was just promising to stop the pain of holy water upon its flesh. Mistaken? Had it been wrong? Were there just four? Had she found the wrong group? Perhaps there were still five out there… but the pendant said no. Not nearby anyway. Its reaction had stopped when the last of the vampires had been destroyed.

She spun around, scanning the crowd, fingers clutching around the last of her stakes and gripping the shaft. She couldn’t afford to lose this one. No more fancy tricks. She had to hold onto this one. Plunge and move on. She’d been told that once… and had laughed at the time, it sounded so pompous and stupid. But Mr Zabuto, the late-Watcher, had been right about that when he tried to impart some Slayer discipline into the amateur hunter he had found in New York City. But a hunter that was still way more experienced than his Slayer. Even then.

She couldn’t afford to try and make the trip back to the motel unarmed. Applying the slightest pressure to the crowds once more she started back through them, the pendant still at rest as she moved and giving her no warning sensations. But it was not infallible she had learnt that too. It was just a tool. She couldn’t trust it anymore than she would a pencil not to snap just when she wanted to make an important note.

A bad worker blames her tools. Yes sir. And she relies on herself.

Nothing there or just not detected? Trust your own instincts and senses… not the pendant. It was so constant. Right nearly every time… but it could mislead her too. Give her facts, but ones that she might interpret wrong.

The crowds closed behind her like displaced water, cutting her off from the humans who might pursue her and hiding her presence from any of the more potent hunters that might remain somewhere unseen. She couldn’t see through the people as she moved. But they couldn’t see her either. If there was anyone there at all. Assume there is. Make for the exit, she told herself, walking herself through hard learnt procedures that had kept her alive.

Four! She had staked four without them raising a hand to her… By the goddess. There had been a time when that would have drained her dry, left her head pounding for days. The pain would have been intense. And she would likely have missed anyway.

She was getting better she thought, then corrected herself as someone crashed into her arm with a drink and she felt her sleeve dampen with the sweet smell of spirits rising to her nostrils. She ignored their apology and moved on. She was getting used to it. That was all.

It still hurt. She just didn’t feel it so much.

What price numbness?

This was a dangerous time though. Success could make her overconfident… or it could lead her to draw more heavily on the magic. That couldn’t be. Wouldn’t be.

It was like swimming against the tide making her way to the exit. She had never done that. Swimming was not a speciality beyond what had been required in school and there were no tides where she had come from anyway. But that was what it must have been like. Using the magic to part the way was almost like moving through water. It was like the breaststroke. Her mind thrust out and grasped the fluid continuum that was air, pushing against it and forcing it into the obstructions. It was just like swimming against a current.

Where was number five? She knew that there were supposed to be five of them. What did that mean? Her information had come from unreliable sources, vampires who had believed that she might release them for the right piece of information. She hadn’t but they had still told her. Whilst they might have lied everything else had been proved correct. The location, the human companions that they favoured as prey. The mix of the sexes. Spot on. But there was one male vampire missing.

Could they have been mistaken?

That was a dangerous way to think, to start to believe in the mistakes of others. She couldn’t drop her guard and assume that was the case. She had to work on the basis that there were five. Four were dusted and that left one. One vampire. One stake. Perfect math.

The end of the queues for the bar heralded the end of the struggle. No one was leaving at this early hour. All the traffic was coming the other way, the queues stretching through the doors and past the burly doormen.

It was at that instant that the pendant started to itch, as she stepped through the door into the cool night air, more shocking after the heat in the club. Then she realised her mistake. Exiting. So quickly and alone. That was a guaranteed give away to anything that might have known that something had happened – but not who had caused it. Leaving was foolish. It marked out her guilt and whilst the police would never investigate there were others who might. Who were perhaps doing that right now.

Chances it was a random vampire she felt? She would have said fair… but they were territorial creatures. If some other vampire had arrived here it was obviously either deeply stupid… or fancied itself powerful enough to deal with the five. She couldn’t discount that either. They gained in stupidity and bravado when they rose from the dead – as a rule. No… she had to work on the basis it was after her and she just had to make sure that she hunted it instead.

She could only feel rather than see her pursuer. It was there. Behind her. She could hear the footfalls in the alley that she had ducked into which was surprising as the incessant beat of the music was still rocking through her head, probably would be for hours - but she knew that someone was back there and the pendant continued to scratch. She quickened her pace slightly. Not enough to impair her remaining senses, but enough to ensure that she could draw her pursuer in. Never out in the main streets.

She couldn’t be sure though, it could still be some random vampire attack, on the prowl for inebriated meat? She wanted it to be the fifth of her targets though. There would be no way to know for sure even if she turned and looked. Even if it came for her, unless it got all chatty, she might never know. She slowed and fumbled in her pockets as if checking for her keys or something. It was a distraction though. Any attack would focus on restraining that arm, fearing what it might be grasping. But the stake was in her left hand. Ready up her sleeve to drop into her hand and stab the animal through the heart in one easy motion.

So close. So close. She could hear the breath. The wheezing…

Vampires didn’t wheeze, mainly because they didn’t need to breathe. The vampire was not behind her. She turned to see the old man, a vagrant by the look of him. Certainly not from the club. Dragging his worldly possessions in a plastic bag slung over a broom handle or something over his shoulder. “Evening Miss… this is a bad place for a young-”

She switched off, filtered him out. Focusing on everything but the unfortunate homeless guy. Not listening to him would be doing them both a favour. The vampire was not behind her, but the pendant scratched and itched. It was close. It couldn’t be ahead of her, it had no way to know that she would come this way – unless it was just any vampire… not even searching for her. Just in range of the pendant?

But there was a third dimension. The tiny sounds of scrabbling were from above.

It was above her. Oh by the goddess no… She had assumed. She had assumed. Never do that, never. She knew so much better. She started to tilt her head to check up there.

She heard something strike the ground beside her and that only confirmed her fears. Workmen were not up on roofs at night. There was only one thing that might be. The swoosh as the air was parted by a much greater mass was the next sound she heard. Just like a cartoon. Swoosh. Above her, coming down, closer. Onto her. Literally on top of her. And he smelled of death… blood. Just been feeding. He had taken his meal somewhere away from the table. Just fed.

So he might only kill me – that was a relief. That was the insane sort of thought that came to her mind as the vampire snarled and struck her to the ground. Her left arm was pinned to the ground beneath her, the stake inaccessible to her up her sleeve even if she could get her hand out of the painful contortion it was bent into. She summoned the command to push him off her to mind, but he was too close, too powerful and determined, she knew that before she could apply the force that he would bite. His breath in her face, the stench of the blood nauseating her. It wouldn’t be so bad to die as long as she didn’t have to smell that.

He had seen what she had done. He wasn't playing around. He knew she was dangerous to his kind. She started to push him back, the magic taking hold of him, but it was already too late he was anchored to her. He knew, or had guessed, what she was and he was taking no chances. No jibes. No threats. No pleasure. Just the kill. A vampire after her own heart. Literally perhaps. She’d seen them take hearts when she had no chance saving the victim… when she had just had to watch and try to avoid throwing up for fear of discovery.

There was a clatter and something hit her feet before there was an cracking thud and the vampire twisted its head to look. Plastic bags on her feet? Huh? It turned from her just in time to get a broom handle in the face courtesy of that homeless guy. It snarled, fazed but very much intact. Still on the attack, intending to kill them both now. But it had forgotten what she was. What she could do. Maybe just for a second, it had shifted its focus to the source of the pain. But that second was all that she needed - Tara took her chance.

Reaching out she lifted it off her, holding it above her, unable to grasp her, unable to gain purchase with hands or feet and with the stake freed drove it upwards positioned it and let go with the magical force, closing her eyes and mouth in anticipation of dust.

The vampires weight never hit her.

“Damn vampires,” the homeless guy breathed, spitting and collecting up his stuff.

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

Her benefactor was asleep on her bed, his collection of stuff piled in the corner, Tara was watching the TV, the volume down low out of respect for his slumber. The loudest thing in the room was his snoring. The next… her laughter at the toons. It was good to laugh and he seemed oblivious to it.

She had killed and now she could laugh.

She wasn’t worried about having him in her room. He was just unfortunate. He’d lost his family, just like her. He was a wanderer. Just like her. He just wanted to find something that would make his life a little better. Just like her. Besides she was too wired to sleep. She had to ease herself down, away from the magic or she might find herself getting fixated on the sensation. The whispering inside telling her how good she had been. How well she had worked with the magic… what else she would do with it.

She’d been nowhere near her self-imposed limits and still it whispered to her. That was why she had limits in the first place… not to get close to them, where she might stray, but to stay far away from them. Far away.

She was far away from everything… She looked over at the piece of wood on her bedside cabinet… it was still taking shape, but she had locked the knife that carved it away tonight. She couldn’t have that floating around when she had someone in her room. That was begging for trouble. Knives were dangerous. They were not for playing with – no sir.

What made her change the TV channel in the middle of the roadrunner’s ritualistic humiliation of the coyote she would never know – but she would wonder about it a few times in months to come. From the cartoons she flicked at the remote and found herself watching the news. She never, ever, watched the news. The TV never carried any vampire related activity anyway and was just filled with just sound bites. Not so you’d know a vampire attack anyway. Newspapers in libraries were the best bet for tracking them down – much more detail. Much more editorial indignation at the lack of response or arrests. That was always a good clue. So why had she changed from Roadrunner to the world at large? Her part of the world was bad enough without knowing the rest of it. Things were bad all over the world – not all of it, not even a lot of it, was down to monsters and vampires. And that was just depressing… even if she killed them all, would the world be a lot better?

Just a little would do.

"Now a news item from quiet little Sunnydale, California.”

The name of the place caught her attention as perhaps no other beside her hometown could have. Sunnydale. It had taken a long, long time to discover that place. Her ultimate destination. The place where she would see justice. And probably die. But it could all be tracked back to there… the explosion of vampires that had led to the death of her family… and the life she was forced to lead.

“Apparently the entire town has been quarantined due to an epidemic of, as strange at this may sound, Laryngitis. It seems that the town was been rendered unable to speak for a period last night and there's no word yet what might have caused this or what other effects might be seen from this epidemic. Llocal authorities have issued a statement, a verbal statement, I should say, blaming recent flu vaccinations. A few sceptics call it a citywide hoax.
In the meanwhile Sunnydale has effectively shut down. All schools and businesses will be closed for the day as a precaution against further problems and residents are advised to stay home and rest their voices whilst the Centre for Disease Control has ordered the entire town quarantined. No one can go in or out until the syndrome is identified or the symptoms are proven to have completely vanished. If they had stayed silent no one would be objecting – but as they all seem fine now expect some hollering! We'll bring you more on that as it develops.”

Her future lay in Sunnydale. She was sure of that. And this… it was calling to her. It was luring her into its grasp. She was ready now. She had not been before. Not withstanding the ambush and the help the now-snoring guy had given her she was finally ready. All she had to do was to get there and find a way to stay. She couldn’t go just yet… there were preparations to make but…

She was ready to meet her fate – whatever that might hold.

***********

------------------
You hear that baby?

Edited by: xita  Image at: 6/1/03 11:47:20 am


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 Post subject: Part 9 - Getting There
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 4:32 am 
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Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5
Here you go Kittens, part 9... a little earlier than advertised, but once more I am not sure whether I would have been around tonight to post it.

Enjoy.

K


--------------------------
Title: The Sidestep Chronicle –Getting There (Part 9)
Author:Katharyn Rosser & Jo “Wizpup”
Feedback: Constructive criticism always welcome.katharynrosser@hotmail.com
Spoiler Warning: Pretty limited. The story occurs in an alternate universe though reference is made to events that occur in both realities.
Summary: Tara makes her way to Sunnydale and her future. A version of this part originally appeared (as did ‘The Interview’ which follows it as Part 10) as part of my earlier fic “The Beginning Cycle.”You should still read this part however as many changes have been made from the original which was just a teaser for this cycle. The characterisation has also been changed.
Disclaimer:I still don’t own any of the copyrights or anything else associated with BTVS. All rights lie with the production company, writers etc, etc. I am making zilch from this series of stories.
Rating:15
Couples: Not yet – though they are in the right town at least!
Notes: Apologies for any lingering unnecessary exposition in this piece and the Part 10. As I explained these were the original teasers for The Sidestep and that meant that I packed them with information about the Sidestep Tara that you readers are now already aware of. Thanks to my beta reader much of this has been cut, but I suspect that some, perhaps too much, lingers. Look on that as a summary of where Tara is now and a road map for the future… pretty much everything that is introduced from now on is wrapped up in the fullness of time
Jo, my beta reader, took a look at the material I am referring to and dared to presume that she could clear it up by writing her own bit… Guess what? It is pretty spiffy and I like it a lot. Hence the dual credit for this part.
Thanks To:I think it is about time that thanked the cast and crew of BTVS… there are some obvious candidates Aly and Amber without whom… well things would not be so nice*S* What they bring to their performances is undefinable IMHO but definitely very, very wonderful. And of course they have been given some quite wonderful scripts by the writers. Without spoiling anything lets also thank Mark Metcalfe and Harry Groener for playing, IMHO, the best villains BTVS has ever had. I could thank a few other cast members but that would give away future guest stars in this fic wouldn’t it?*S*
My own devoted “crew” who I am pleased that I can never take for granted. Kerry, Louise, Jo – who did more this time than the usual. Keep presuming dear.
Zahir for confirming that Fusion is coming… and Sass… I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed “Answering Darkness” so instead I offer you an advertisement here: KITTENS GO READ THAT FIC IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY!
Belated additional thanks to the mods and their helpers for the new board!


The Sidestep Chronicle

Getting There

By

Katharyn Rosser




Just reaching Sunnydale had been trial enough. It was a couple of weeks since the quarantine had been lifted and the rest of the world had forgotten about the missing person and murder capital of the United States. There were no longer any buses to this town, not after they had become a magnet for ‘gang-related/PCP incidents’ more commonly referred to outside of Sunnydale as wholesale slaughter and within the town, she guessed, as business as usual. The drivers, understandably, had organised to get the town taken off their route schedules and didn’t now stop within 20 miles of it.

Not that even many times that distance had been far enough for her family or safe enough. Distance made no real difference. The effects of Sunnydale rolled out over the world. The docks as an entry point? Sailors in San Francisco had told her that Sunnydale’s wharves were reputed to be a haven for a gang of vampiric pirates and therefore similarly not an option for humans wishing to enter the city limits – even during the daytime. Only the foolish believed that vampires couldn’t operate in the daytime. It was just more difficult for them.

Tara herself had been that sort of fool once. She had made that sort of mistake. Believed that she was safe inside just because the sun was shining bright outside. She had slept and almost failed to wake up more than once before she had learnt her lessons. Even now she was still learning.

Never stop learning Tara. Yes sir.

The airport had been her only realistic option to make it on time, though flights were also limited, this time by market forces. No one wanted to come to Sunnydale. No one who was entirely human anyway and vampires, she reasoned, didn’t often fly. The risk of delays and not being able to control your environment were too great.

Sunnydale, heck of a place to build a career – or not. Not really, unless you wanted to be a mortician. She never wanted to be in a mortuary again… not after her There were other, more specialised, talents that were still needed however. Not that she was looking for a career here anyway. Or even a really job. Her motivation was far greater than making money and living an American dream that hadn’t ever existed in this town. Only nightmares existed here. And one of them was hers. Maybe… maybe her dreams existed here though as well? It didn’t matter… until the nightmare was dealt with how could she dream?

Stepping off the plane she had been surprised to be met in the arrivals hall by a small man holding a card bearing her name. Taller than her by inches he nonetheless seemed very small and vulnerable. It was the way he carried himself. He was afraid and not of anything definite. He just lived his life in a state of fear, perhaps with some reason. She didn’t know or much care what that was. She, on the other hand, did have plenty to be afraid of – but nothing left to be afraid for. She couldn’t even be afraid for her own life anymore. There was nothing good left in it that was worth anything. It was just biology to her now. Biology, as her body kept ticking over, and justice. Whatever it took of one to fulfil the needs of the other.

That was what the decision to come here, to this town, now, had meant. There was nothing left now but the justice. Not learning, not developing her skills for the test ahead. This would be the test and she would pass or she would die.

Possibly both.

His suit was far more expensive than her own off the peg skirt and jacket combination. He didn’t wear it as nearly as well though. And yet here he was. He’d introduced himself as Allan Finch, Deputy Mayor but what could such a title mean if he was reduced to making airport pick-ups for his boss? The word from those who had reason to know though was that the Mayor himself did not have much of a say in the running of Sunnydale anymore – so where did that leave his deputy? Errand boy. She wouldn’t have stood for that problem herself – not when the cause was vampires… And one very specific vampire at that. She wouldn’t stand for it. She would act to correct the situation and Allan Finch would benefit. The Mayor would benefit. The whole town would benefit. Whether she herself benefited at all wasn’t an issue she wanted to think about much. She especially didn’t want to think, now that she was geographically so close, how she would feel when her task was achieved. If she was still alive. She was afraid she would still be as empty as she was now. It was no way to live a life. And without the desire for justice what would she be left with? Cartoons and a lump of self-carving wood?

No way to live.

Allan attempted to engage her in small talk as they moved through the airport, she walking much faster than he seemed comfortable with. She strode with purpose and despite his longer legs he had to scurry to keep up with her. She had no baggage other than her cheap, but posh looking, briefcase and a suit bag she had carried onboard as hand luggage. This suit had cost her the last of her meagre savings – along with the air ticket. If The Mayor had not sent the car for her she would have been forced by poverty to take other steps to reach City Hall. Perhaps not walking several miles into town, and certainly not using the magic, but other practical measures would have been taken – whatever they turned out to be. She imagined herself riding in the back of a truck filled with pigs. Like the last time she had hitched a lift. And Daddy had shouted at her for that dangerous mistake – even though it had been okay.

It wasn't safe. No sir.

She refused to surrender her bags to Allan. She was long past requiring the waving of hands to defend herself against whatever there might be out there. If something did threaten her then her thoughts would be protection enough and his chivalry did nothing for her. She similarly refused to place them in the trunk of the car, instead electing to keep them in the back with her. She was wearing and carrying all that she had in the world. All they had permitted her to take with her when they drove her out from home three years ago, all she had been able to acquire in that time. At least what she had wanted to keep.

Besides she had been in cars before where she had needed to make a fast emergency exit. When you did that you took your gear. Or you lost it. Some of this was irreplaceable. She had already surrendered some of her possessions to make this trip. Turning up carrying her sleeping bag would not have given the correct image. But she had been assured that her expenses for this trip would be generously covered, including a hotel room. And as for tomorrow night? By then sleeping might not be an issue anymore.

Sliding into the plush leather rear seats of the limousine she ignored Allan’s prattle as he attempted to show her the points of interest as they came into town – though she was taking note of what she could see and the route back to the airport. She had quickly learnt to know her territory. The vampires, the demons and the other things that lived in darkness, they all learned every crevice, every sneaky path. She could do no less for she had long since dwelt in darkness too. The sunlight didn’t hurt her… but it wasn't the friend that it should be. She had to walk in darkness if she was bring the pure burning light of justice to Sunnydale. And this would be her territory. She just didn’t need the humorous anecdotes.

‘Pure burning light of justice…?’ she wondered. It was easy to reassure herself that it was what she promised. Not so easy to truly believe it. Not the ‘purity’ of it anyway.

The airport itself was not technically in Sunnydale and as they drove by the marker for the city limits she was glad she was seated. It was then that emanations from the mystical convergence hit her. She had always doubted the power of a Hellmouth, but crossing that threshold – strangely, or perhaps not strangely, precisely aligned with the city limits – she could doubt it no longer. There was power here. Not just in the hands or claws of individuals although that was undoubtedly the case too. There was spare power. It was already whispering to her like the magic did after she had used it. Begging to be used, to be brought into the physical world. And she would use it if she had to. She would use it to gain justice. Or she would be buried by that power. But she wouldn’t be consumed by it – never that. She had done… things… that her mother would never have approved of, not often, but she had. Now she had her limits. Vital limits. Even to attain justice there were limits. Not until the very end of her life would she ever consider violating those limits – when all she could do was take her greatest enemy with her. But then she didn’t need to anymore. The simple skills got her through. She was better than she had been – that was why she was here now, more confident in the abilities the Mayor believed might make her the exceptional person he was seeking.

Clearly they were entering the town from the poorer side of the tracks – least if Sunnydale still had a railway that was worth anything but scrap metal they would have been. The residences reflected not only the neglect of the fearful but also a poor economic situation. This was not what the brochure advertised she thought to herself.

She was aware of Allan’s surface thoughts now and not just through his body-language. Weird. She had the hereditary ability of the Maclay women to look and read a person… if she really concentrated and focussed. But usually it was just a keen observation of body language, words spoken along with the tinged colours of a persons aura. Here though… since crossing the city limits… It had to be the power of the Hellmouth… still whispering to her. She could read him. Just the surface thoughts, but they were like a book, no a film clip. More a film clip, in the back of her minds eye. He was scared, it was true, frantically sweeping his gaze over the whole area, almost ignoring the road itself.

She didn’t like the sensation of having a part of him in there… in her mind. It didn’t feel right to see that. Even though she was not trying to do it.

Shut it off Tara. Yes sir.

How sir?

If she focussed she could cut back on its effect, but she could still feel him. Was this what life on a Hellmouth was going to be like? Perhaps she shouldn’t even be here… but then she had to be. Justice was due here. The rest of it had all just been a rehearsal.

Her own attention fell on two young women walking up the road holding hands and shopping bags. One of them had striking red hair, caught momentarily in the headlights. Could it be? Perhaps her dream and that hair were the only reasons she noticed them at all. This was not a safe place for them. They would no doubt be someone’s meal very shortly. She didn’t care – couldn’t care - but she twisted her head to keep looking at them as they walked to their fate. She had the strangest desire to tell Allan to stop. But who could be sure what they were? So they sped onward and she forgot them in seconds.

The sense of relief she felt sweep through the Deputy-Mayor when he made the turn away from the seedy looking warehouse district that they had been driving towards was clear and unambiguous. Something there scared the deputy-mayor but then a lot probably did. That something though - that would be part of her duties to become aware of it when she was successful tomorrow. And to deal with it. And even if she wasn't successful then she would be here, in this district, tomorrow by noon. And she would die. But before she did the evil there would tremble. So would the ground itself. She would only violate her limits in the absolute certain knowledge that she wouldn’t survive it anyway. To deliver justice for the rest of the world was one thing… but only if she wouldn’t have to be consumed.

That was how far she had come – and more and more the realisation of that saddened her. She had obeyed the limits on her craft out of respect for what she had been taught. Out of the knowledge that to access the black arts would destroy not just her – but also those around her.

But now something whispered to her. Maybe it was just pragmatism, maybe it was the Hellmouth… but she thought it might be something far, far worse. It might be what she had become and that was a terrible thing.

It asked her questions… If you were going to die anyway what did it matter? It whispered to her that ‘this whole town could be made to burn.’ There was no one left that she had to be concerned about so what did it matter? Least of all in Sunnydale.

Things she didn’t want to believe were coming from inside her… maybe the fact that she felt it was bad… that she had to resist it… maybe that proved that she was still her mother’s daughter.

But then she was so far beyond what the one who had taught her had known as Wicca that it wouldn’t have been recognised. Even the black arts she had been warned of seemed inconsequential… but they might give her that edge she needed at the end to see justice done – at the very end. If there was no other choice at all… if she was already as good as dead but there was still a chance to complete her task.

The whispers had been seductive for so long, trying to tempt her. Now that she was here… now they threatened her with missing her chance if she did not give in at the end. And they might be right about that. But she would delay that end as long as she could. That was what the interview was for. To give her time. Time to plan, time to do some good for this town. Time to reduce the odds.

Maybe to live just a little too.

Moving now through the more genteel residential areas there remained no one on the streets other than those you would not wish to stop and meet. Occasionally some of those individuals turned their attention to the limousine but always stopped themselves within a few steps as if remembering some instruction. They were, in the main, vampires; heading out form the warehouse district that she and Allan had just passed though. They fanned out across Sunnydale with brazen abandon, believing that they had no-one to fear, and that the setting sun had signalled the end of all hope until dawn.

They considered themselves the masters and mistresses of their domain. She knew that they weren’t. There was only one Master here.

For now.

And then there were none, so the rhyme went.

Allan made some remark about the vampires, and at once she focused on his words as she had not done for the rest of the journey – though he had not noticed her lack of attention. Some part of her brain had been making non-committal chit-chat in response to him. She could not remember what she might have said. That was part of the penalty she paid. She had become so single-minded that she risked missing events peripheral to her point of focus. Errand boy he might be but this could all be part of the interview process so she was playing nice too.

“The Mayor is most concerned by all these er… vampires. This is an important recovery period for him, with lots of planning having to be carried out and they are causing all sorts of problems. If you are successful you will be expected to help the team solve that problem.” Allan didn’t sound as if he relished being a part of that particular team anymore. No doubt he had joined when things were better – or at least bad in a different way with less prospect of his own mortality. She held no illusions about who and what his boss was. He was the lesser of the particular evils that she wanted to obliterate. She also had no illusions about her own mortality. If she got this job she would very likely die in the role. If not because of what she did then because she had nothing else to live for. It was likely that even if she succeeded then it would be at the cost of her life – of being consumed. If not that…

What else was there – especially here?

Life had to mean something more.

And the talk of vampires proved she had been right to come here. She had not been mistaken. There had always been that risk – that all this was for nothing. The post was not at all as advertised – she had assumed that from the mystical symbols hidden within the logo of the Mayor’s office that had topped the national advertising campaign. They had leapt out to anyone with the eye and remained hidden from the world at large. But she had long since learnt that to assume was to invite trouble – and had been forcefully reminded of it more often than she liked. But why would a local small town mayor advertise for a ‘talented assistant’ on a national basis? And in very specific publications. Only if he needed a very specific class of applicant. She had gone to the library to fax off her resume, having interpreted the symbols – symbols not uncommon to the older texts of Wicca but still understood by a very few these days. She suspected that many of the characters she could not pick out or identify were in the ancient languages of other groups or races. This Mayor was certainly casting a very wide net and now it was clear what he hoped to land. A talented assistant to help him deal with a very special problem. A problem that she would be ‘delighted’ to assist with. If she was asked she would say she was ‘delighted.’ It was her whole life now. And would be if she got the job or not. But with the post her life might have a greater duration. Whilst she accepted death, she did not invite or look forward to it. She had got past that stage in her grief. It had taken time, but now her life had a purpose at least. If nothing more.

Looking back now she could see how the raw grief had driven her life immediately after the deaths of her family. She had been so young, and so alone. The horror of her father and brother’s violent deaths had almost paled against her anguish when her mother had been torn from her by the wave of grief that followed. The vampires may not have tasted her mother’s blood, but Tara knew that it was on their hands. She had never doubted that the vampires had killed her whole family. And she had wanted to die too. Wanted to find release from the pain and grief that tore through her.

It had been the hours she spent next to her mother’s body on the cold mortuary slab that had given her the resolve she needed to choose life. The weak, young girl she had been when she found her father and brother’s bodies had indeed died. Died with her beloved mother. But what remained was a young woman who had something to live for, a purpose that drew her on. And an understanding of what would be needed to achieve that purpose.

The first step in her mission had been to destroy the vampires that had taken her family from her. She knew now that she had placed herself in terrible danger when she had tracked them down and killed them. She had been so unsure then, so fragile in her abilities and understanding of the magic that she had used. She’d always known that the magic demanded respect; that the path between light and dark was a narrow one, and one to be walked with care. In her grief and rage she had pushed hard against a line she had almost forgotten was there.

Her motivation had been rage, hatred for the beings who had destroyed her life. In destroying all of their existences she had touched a darkness that had lived with her ever since. If her hatred had been allowed free rein, that darkness would have sucked her in. But she had been saved by her discovery that she had more than one reason for actions. In acting upon the hatred that pushed her to kill the vampires, she had found, without even looking, another reason to destroy them. Her actions had saved another, a member of her own family, her cousin Beth. So instead of pure rage, her magic had combined a desire to protect with a search for justice. Instead of total darkness, she had found herself walking a grey route, a difficult path whose direction was not always clear. The desire for justice became her motivator, her means and her destination. She would have justice and she would do what she must to achieve it.

It had been hard at first. Her use of magic had proved to her extended family that she was exactly what they had feared. A demon. As bad in their eyes as the vampires that threatened to rip out their throats. Even after she had saved their lives, they had still asked her to leave, told her to in fact. They knew what was coming, what she would be, and even though it was some years off then, they did not want her around. They could not see past their own prejudices, and her use of magic had been almost as frightening to them as the things she used it against. When they had driven her out, there was still time. Time before the inevitable happened. Time to practice, to hone her skills; but now time was running out and the time to start was upon her. Time to start before her humanity was snatched from her.

She’d been foolish when she’d left them. Wasted time moping about, wasted the opportunity she’d had, in the last days, to gather the things that would have helped her. She’d collected keepsakes from the family home, but left behind practical objects that were probably still sitting there in the house that no one would buy. She could have salvaged weapons or the spell ingredients that she had had to work for months to replace. But Tara knew that the struggle had made her who she was now. Resourceful. Powerful. Determined. A survivor. Good things.

Cynical. Mistrustful. Not so good.

Alone.

She had started erratically in the months that followed her bereavement. Taught herself to control the magic that was her weapon and her friend. She had nearly been lost on more than one occasion, but she had learned. And not just about herself and her mission. She had also learned more about the vampires. About their movements and their source. She had asked judicious questions of the few people she had trusted. She had listened to conversations in the lairs she planned to destroy and on one occasion had let herself be cornered by a vampire, lulling it into a false sense of security to listen to its bragging. Its plan had been to prove itself worthy so it could return to Sunnydale and join the Order of Aurelias, join the Master of whom it spoke with such awe. She’d allowed it to boast for several minutes before a push with her mind planted the stake through its heart and ended its plan for good.

And if it had got there then the Master would have done the same thing anyway. Neither of them had known that you couldn’t just join the Order… they had to be created into it. Another piece of information she had put together…

Sunnydale. She knew it now for what it was. The source of her pain and grief. From the information she had gathered she had pieced together a history which led to the loft of her family’s barn. Three years ago the Master had risen in Sunnydale, of course there had been no one to prevent what had, apparently, been foretold and the town had fallen in the face of unimagined evil. If it had been foretold why hadn’t the Watcher’s or someone done something? Stopped it… or at least tried.

Some said that even the Master had been shocked by the sheer numbers of newly created vampires. Far more than Sunnydale could ever support. Far more than the whole region could support. So he had sent out his favourites, his minions, to spread like a plague across Southern California. The weak and unresourceful had been driven before them, leaving only the strongest, the most powerful and the most gifted newcomers here in Sunnydale.

The rest had retreated to surrounding areas, driven back by the Order of Aurelias. It had been like dropping a rock in a lake. There had been a terrible splash and then the ripples had spread. One such ripple had brought a group of refugee vampires to her home at the crack of dawn three years ago. A group that took away her family, took away her life, and had ultimately brought her here. To the source of her pain. To Sunnydale.

It had taken long enough to find out where she needed to be. And still longer to find a way to get here, to stay here with support. Assistance in destroying the Master and every demon that he suffered to keep in his presence. That was what she needed. Now she couldn’t afford to be alone. Not if she was going to prevail here. She’d needed time enough to bring her knowledge of the arts to the ancient levels lost to most Wicca for centuries. Since the overreaction to the inquisition had robbed them of their most learned sisters and most powerful tomes. But now she had collected together some of that knowledge. To obtain it she had done things. Some of them were not strictly good things that she would never have contemplated three years ago – might have even seen as bad.

Her world was no longer that black and white though. There was a lot more grey – and very little colour. But now those things, they were just the means to an end. As was this job – if she got it. And if she helped this town thenso much the better. Sometimes the whispers told her that if it was destroyed in the process then that would be just fine too - because if these insipid fools had stood up before the Master had risen – it would never have happened. None of it. They had stayed in blissful ignorance and her family had paid the price. How many other families had paid for the ignorance of the people of Sunnydale. So went the whispers.

But a town wasn't an entity. It was filled with people. Scared people. Grieving people. People who had been hurt as badly as she had – worse maybe. And she couldn’t blame them for more than a few seconds at a time.

The car pulled up outside the hotel where her prospective employer was putting her up for the night. Allan leapt out to open the door for her and from him she sensed deference, even fear - and not just of being out in the open away from the safety of the car. Instead it was a fear of her and it was not an altogether unwelcome sensation. So said the whispers…

But to be feared by a human. No that was wrong.

Respect – how many people had ever respected her? Her manner, her voice – they all went against her in the respect stakes. She would give him reason to respect her after tomorrow. After the interview. She would prove herself to him, his employer and the people of Sunnydale who would be employing her. He needn’t ever fear her. But the respect yes, that felt pretty good. It had been a while since she had felt good for any reason other than cartoons and killing vampires.

Maybe this was the place for her. A place that was desperate for help. Help that she could provide. Where the people could know that good was being done and appreciate it. Where she could maybe even settle, live a life as well as fulfil her duty, before… what was coming.

She smiled, and he gave her a little smile in return. She hadn’t been smiling at him, but it didn’t hurt to let him think so. She wasn't some sort of B-I-T-C-H. Just focused. The smile was at the idea that there could be anything else for her but the justice and possibly death.

But he had proven that she had respect. She had a purpose and tomorrow, being positive, she would get herself the job that would fulfil that purpose. It wasn't a purpose sent by some higher power. It was simply justice with – if she was totally honest with at least herself - not a little vengeance taken into the mix. She knew that because it felt good. Justice alone wouldn’t. Justice was neutral… it was an absolute. She delivered justice and accepted that as vengeance which felt good. But the justice was the key… the motivation. She could never be motivated by ‘feeling good,’ the vengeance itself.

To get justice she was going to accept the lesser of two evils. She was going to become part of that. And it was very definitely evil that she was dealing with. This whole forsaken town was filled with evil. It reeked of it. But she couldn’t win without getting her hands dirty – and if nothing else since that day three years ago she had made herself into a winner - that was what had kept her alive. An uncanny knack, of coming out on the top of the pile. Mr Zabuto, who had told her that, was as dead now as his charge, the Slayer.

Without that, ever so predictable, slayer he had been an easy target for the Hafsted demon. She hadn’t interfered. She had been forced to make a choice… there was a chance he would be attacked. But she knew that there was a vampire attack on a carol concert about to occur. She had chosen the children over him… and she didn’t regret it. She liked to think that he would have approved… she never found out before he actually faded away before her eyes.

But everyone died around her – and it was getting harder and harder to feel anything but a passing regret. She wasn't numb. She was just getting used to it. She knew that was a terrible thing – but if she felt every death as keenly as once she had… then she wouldn’t be able to function at all. She went to places that attracted death. It wasn't surprising people died there.

She shut the door politely but firmly on Allan and his fawning queries as to whether he could do anything for her and accepted his assurance that he would return at 8.30am with a civil word of thanks. He was no better than the rest of them. But no worse she supposed either as she placed her case on the neatly made up bed, opened it up and revealed the tools of her trade, took the necessary ingredients from the bottles into her hands and secured the room against uninvited guests.

A hotel room it might be – but there were ways of protecting yourself. There were always ways and it was just a place. Not a home – without the wards any vampire could have crashed into here with no more than bruise from bashing the door. And there were other things out there… things not restricted as vampires were to being invited. If it was supernatural though – it wasn’t coming inside, not without possession of her charm. The bracelet, one of two, tinkled around her wrist. She had to wear one herself… she was hardly a normal human herself was she? Just using the magic had changed her at a level that removed her from that category. Then there was her heritage…

The only problem would be if the maid or room service were magic users… that might be tough to explain away.

She could barely remember having a home anyway – so much had happened since then. When had there been a place of hers that vampires could not enter just because they were uninvited?

The only thing that went before the warding ritual in every place she stayed was the placement of the photographs. One of two teenage girls and a cat. She’d loved that cat… She couldn’t remember being one of those schoolgirls though and that always made her sad – that she couldn’t remember anything but this life. The other was of her mother. She risked a lot to keep them out of her case. If she had to leave quickly they would take vital seconds to collect. But she would spend that time. She had spent that time before and would again – she didn’t doubt that. Besides the frames were deliberately and obviously cheap and worth nothing to a thief.

With her security taken care of she ordered a sandwich and bottle of water from the room service and collected them herself without allowing anyone into the room. Her dietary needs were slight. She drew strength from her actions rather than food. If you got used to an abundance of food or exploited it then you missed it all the more when it was not there. If she had eaten too heartily today then tomorrow – when there might not be any – she would be that much hungrier. It was the same with anything else. And she had been going without long enough in that first year to know that it was the expectation of food rather than the actual hunger that got you in the end. Hunger was just pain. You could live with and control that. As long as you got a certain bare minimum to keep your body going then the rest of it, the expectation, was mental and that was what undid you – spoiling the concentration that was so key to what she did.

It was still early when she removed her suit to eat the sandwich, but she would not need those clothes again today and it wouldn’t do to stain it before tomorrow. She was already running the events of tomorrow through her mind. Making plans. Formulating evasion plans. Even considering her routes of exit from the town if things went wrong – though she had no intention of leaving even if the worst happened. One way or another she was here to stay. But you always left yourself an exit - preferably several. To lapse from the habits that had saved her life, she had learned through bitter experience would be to lose her edge. And now more than ever she needed her edge. As sharp an edge as possible.

Always learn Tara. Yes Sir.

Her whole life, for three long, often painful and sometimes humiliating years, had been building towards the possibilities that would open up to her tomorrow. She would succeed.

Her ablutions took moments after finishing her meal. Her clothes and possessions carefully lain out to allow her to make her exit with just seconds notice without losing anything. And then she lay down and closed her eyes, calming herself. She was nervous. But not scared. It was anticipation rather than fear that she felt. One way or another her future would be mapped out tomorrow. Either she had one or she didn’t. It was in this state that she would drift into a long sleep. Whilst her talents required little sustenance they did require sleep and so she allowed herself that luxury, confident that her enemies would not yet know that she was here – or even that she was an enemy just yet. But ready just in case.

Her only sop to comfort was to take one of the spare pillows and hold it against herself. Hugging it. It was the only way, the only time of the day, that she could ever feel that she was not so crushingly alone. She might not have had hope, but she couldn’t do much about that. But she could pull this pillow to her body and feel a little less alone. The only way that she could think that she was not missing out on something that she should have or that should have been. That feeling had been getting worse recently – since the night a couple of weeks ago that Sunnydale and its Mayor had appeared on the national news about some plague of silence they had experienced – albeit briefly. She didn’t know what the silence was about – nor did she think it had anything to do with her decision. Something else had happened that night. Not just that.

She had just known.

She had known that it was time to make her presence felt here. But for some reason the loneliness had kicked in too - it was getting worse and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. Nothing but clasp the pillow to her. The strange thing though was that she was not missing anyone she had ever known. Their memory still burned within her as the fire that drove her on, but she was not missing them. It was something else.

Sometimes she fancied that it might be her dream girl. She had laid the shaped wood out with the knife on the dresser. Far from her bed, but distance had no effect. If both were left free, and she dreamed, then the wood would be shaped a little more. She hoped that she dreamed tonight. She wanted to see what would happen. She tightened her grasp on the pillow possessively.

Perhaps it was natural, this feeling, because she was so alone. Perhaps more alone than anyone else in this town – alone because she had never, really, been anything else. But that didn’t mean anything. Lots of people were alone. She could get through it because she was better equipped and better prepared than lots of people were.

All that remained was the alarm call – she had almost forgotten it. She could wake from her sleep if interrupted at the drop of a pin – she had trained herself to do that. But if not disturbed then she might stay here, asleep, until gone lunchtime and she could not oversleep, not tomorrow – she had a job to get and then the days of late mornings in hotel room beds would be gone forever. She picked up the phone without opening her eyes, already having memorised the numbers needed to acquire services. “I-I’d like an alarm call please. Room34.Seven a.m. please.” She instructed and then confirmed her identity. “Yes that’s right, Maclay. Thank you.” Justice would start to be done tomorrow. A person could sleep pretty well knowing that.

****************

You hear rthat baby?


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 Post subject: Re: Part 9 - Getting There
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 6:24 am 
I'm only operating on one cup of tea this morning so the eloquent repy this story deserves is presently not available. Instead I offer the following:



This fic rocks!!



Thank you Katharyn.



CK

"You wanna go out sometime, for coffee, food, kisses and gay love?" Willow- Normal Again.



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 Post subject: Praise
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 6:51 am 
Katharyn -

Your fantastic story continues to stun with it's tightly constructed story line. How much of the plot do you have worked out before you post? Are you working off a set outline? I'm filled with technical questions this morning - my first reaction when I step back and admire the craft of someone's writing.



Keep up the great work. You've got me hook, line, and sinker.

BM

*********

TARA: Willow and I always know how to find each other!

ANYA: With yoga?



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 Post subject: Re: Praise
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 7:34 am 
The whole plot for SS is completely worked out already, the ending written a long time ago so I had a definite point to get to.



All that I am doing now is amending the parts as my beta reader checks them and running a finalredraft.... adding a few bits in there too.



Glad your liking it!



Katharyn



-------



You hear that baby?



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 8:01 am 
Wow, what an amazing chapter! It takes a long time to read though. See, the problem I've always had with writing is that I'd write the end first, and try to get to that end ASAP, cutting out the juicy middle stuff. But wowza, you just keep pumping out amazing results! I still wanna see faith, she's my third fav character.And I just realized how silly it is to post my sig, which has a quote from the story it's posted in.

"Nothing gets in the way of fate Lilah. Not time, not space, not distance, no person or creature. Not even death. Eventually fate will bring them together."

-Excerpt from Katharyn's "The Sidestep Chronicle"



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 12:33 pm 
Supermus said

I still wanna see faith, she's my third fav character.



This post is simply to take us to 19 so that the next one will create a new page - as this one is starting to tick me off now... I have to refresh several times to get the full text up. But I shall make some attempt at a proper reply, so Supermus...



It is fair to say that anyone who is not specifically already dead in this reality and was involved in canon Seasons 1-4 has a fair chance of appearing in this fic - at least in cameo or by mention. There are exceptions of course and I am not just sticking people in there to go "there they are" but the cast does fill out some. Does that include Faith? Well I like her too... make of that what you will.



Apologies for the bump... but it was for the best of causes.



Katharyn



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

You hear that?



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 1:45 pm 
Another post to help bump the page, but I also gotta say this is another excellent update. I loved this insight into Tara's character/state of mind. I have a feeling it'll play well into the next few parts.



-----------------
Hey, and later we can churn our own butter and make sweaters out of sheep.

Dawn: I gave birth to a pterodactyl.
Anya: Oh my god. Did it sing?



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 2:22 pm 
Katharyn- you can use the quote feature here too. just use the same code as before. it's QUOTE in brackets, [ Q U O T E ], sans spaces. like this:

Quote:
Check out the quotage!


Sorry if you already knew, but I got a vagueish feeling you didn't.



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 2:45 pm 
Ahh, this fic is so good I just can't stand it *G* On one level, I kinda' want to stop reading and wait until it's done, so I can sit down and read it all at once ... on another, I just can't stay away.



Your Tara is fascinating! All that pain and loneliness mixed up with all that resolve and sense of purpose - yummy. And it's bittersweet knowing that what she's really looking for - what she needs after justice is done - is right there in Sunnydale, but wearing the face of what she hates most.



Oh, the angst. The pain. The trust that this will have a happy ending despite all of that *G*



-Sass

Oh, and thanks for pimping my fic ;)



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 3:27 pm 
Hey - a co-writing credit! How cool is that?! :cool



Thanks Katharyn - it's a pleasure to be of assistance :grin



And if I'm allowed to do rewrites I may even sneak in a storyline of my own. I've got a great idea for my favourite kind of fic, where two beautiful girls fall in love and end up together against all the odds. So if anyone spots that sub-text in The Sidestep Chronicle, you'll know that was the bit I wrote!



As if....



My trouble is that Katharyn writes so well I don't have any excuse to do rewrites.



Jo



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 4:28 pm 
Since I read the Beginnings Cycle not that long ago, I distinctly remember this part from the previews in that story. And I still love it. I like the added parts that weren't there before. There are so many levels to this story, and it makes such an interesting read. Absolutely loving this.






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


"Honey, I'm the original one-eyed chicklet in the kingdom of the blind." - Glory



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 5:37 pm 
Another fantastic update... I'm fascinated by your Tara as well - I wonder how close to the surface all of the emotion really is. All the stuff she's used to make her numb, used as her strength, is all stuff she's never dealt with either. I haven't enjoyed reading anything on the Board as much as this ever before...

---------------
Never anger a dragon, for you are crunchy and you go well with Brie...



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 5:50 pm 
Katharyn, you continue to blow me away and keep me glued to my screen simultaneously. Tara - at this point - is such a tragic hero. I love all her commentary, the way you explain her habits and strategies. And every time we hear her father's stern, emotionless, inflexible (at least that's what it sounds like to me) voice in her head, with her automatic "Yes, Sir" response, it rips my heart out. And we might see Faith? Mmmmm.



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 9:33 pm 
katharyn, darling, would you mind terribly emailing me your last update? (rane018@yahoo.com) i cannot seem to load up the first page of this thread entirely and i am freaking out with anticipation. hehe... thanks love. :)



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2002 11:22 pm 
Supermus thanks for the pointer.



Sass, Happy ending? That would be telling... aw shucks I made it clear enough back in the old Novogate replies... Yeah there is an ending that is bright as the rest is dark. IMHO. It is all about the journey to that point.



Charlie, I would say closer than she might like. She tries hard and is very good at what she does, but she can't cut herself off.



Wizpup, You write you get credit. That's it. You get credit for beta, for ideas and for writing. There is a "Special Guest Writer" coming up in a few parts time too. Someone twisted enough for the job...



Thanks very much everyone for teh feedback and for getting us page 1 which was just too slow! Rane - I have e-mailed Part 9 to you but if anyone wants to go back to page 1 for any reason adn the info gets chopped just keep refreshing it will turn up.



One more long part - again that you have already seen - and then we are into some shorter snappier parts that will allow time to pass and more stories to be told. But the focus remains the same.



Thanks everyone!



Katharyn



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



You hear that baby?

Edited by: Katharyn at: 10/12/02 12:11:23 pm


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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2002 2:27 am 
I know nothing . . . absolutely nothing. And you can't prove a thing.



If I keep saying that someone will one day believe me. In the meantime I am going over the story so far yet again. Its not only a good story the first time round - it has the virtue of being re-readable.



Forget what I said at the start - I know theres much more really special stuff to come. I'll be glued to this thread.





Nam Et Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est

(Lit: For knowledge too is itself power)



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 Post subject: Re: Fic: - The Sidestep Chronicle
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2002 10:33 am 
Offline
23. Volumey Text

Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:23 pm
Posts: 3794
Topics: 5


Beg to differ sweetness... I know and that is all that counts.



So everyone, when you see the poodle look to the twisted one. (and if that makes any sense to you right now then you have a fertil imagination indeed. Just remember what I said*S*)



Part 10 will post tomorrow night as I am just running a post beta redraft on it (thanks Jo!)



Katharyn



-----------

You hear that baby?



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