By Barb C.
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Synopsis: A young Slayer has a job to do.
Author’s notes: This story takes place in the same universe as "Raising In the Sun," "Necessary Evils," and "A Parliament of Monsters." It takes place approximately ten years earlier than "Twilight of the Gods." Many thanks to betas slaymesoftly, typographer, kehf, rainkatt, deborahc, brutti_ma_buoni, and torrilin, and special thanks for last minute beta-ing to dhw!
Previously in "Little Sister:"
Thirty years after Buffy Summers freed the demon essence that powers all Slayers from the Shadow Men, Addie McElroy is a young Slayer out of the San Diego creche. Believing that their mixed human and demon nature means that Slayers, like souled vampires, are doomed to Hell, Addie conceives a daring plan to save her sisters' souls. That plan involves kidnaping the granddaughter of the infamous Buffy Summers herself, and it doesn't go well - Addie is captured by Buffy and Spike, who contact her Watcher and make arrangements to return her to the Council.
Addie's faith in what she knows about Slayers, vampires, and rogues is shaken by her encounter with Buffy and Spike's daughter Vicki, while Buffy fears she's inadvertently damned the Slayer line. But it's not until Addie's fellow Slayer Alicia arrives to rescue her, and Buffy discovers Alicia's true heritage, that things really hit the fan. In order to thwart Alicia's dangerous quest for vengeance against the Summers-Pratt family, Addie is forced to do exactly the opposite of what she intended to do, and now she must face the consequences...
Catch up on the previous parts at my website or at AO3 or jump right into Part 11 of
In a perfect world, Buffy would have happily followed Addie into unconsciousness, to be awakened by breakfast (and an agreeable vampire) in bed, well after the adrenal blocker wore off. The world being imperfect, she followed Spike upstairs instead.
"Put her in Vicki's room," she directed. Slipping past him, she twitched the curtains closed so Spike could cross the bedroom unsinged. Outside she could hear sirens – Connie's backup, arriving at last. Well, Connie could deal with them. "I'll get her settled. You'd better get back to the airport and make sure La Chalmers and crew haven't gnawed their own legs off trying to escape."
Spike snorted. "If that lot gnawed their legs off they'd likely poison themselves." He laid Addie down on Vicki's bed with a grimace and straightened, rubbing his shoulder. He met Buffy's appraising look with one of his own, but whatever he saw in her eyes must have passed muster. She gave him a nod in return. His lips brushed the top of her head, and he was out the door and down the stairs.
Buffy sighed, ground the heels of her hands into her eyes, and set to work getting the unresponsive Slayer out of her grimy, bloodstained clothes and into a pair of Vicki's Vampy Cat pajamas. The owner of both bed and pajamas materialized in the doorway just as she was tucking Addie under the blankets. Buffy braced for objections, but Vicki, for a wonder, wasn't fretting about potential damage to her spotless white counterpane. She flung herself at her mother with a shriek of, "Mom! You're okay!"
Once your kids hit their teens, taking shameless advantage of life and death situations was your one sure source of PDAs. Buffy hugged her back, hard. "For creaky old lady values of okay. I'll be better once this shot they gave me wears off. Where's Jess?"
"Dad sent her out to the shed to find that old pair of crutches for Bill." Vicki glanced at Addie, lying pale and still beneath the sheets. "She'll be all right too, won't she?"
Well. This was something new. Vicki had never worn her heart on her sleeve, the way Bill did, nor committed herself fiercely to causes like Alex or Connie. She reminded Buffy of her pre-Slayer self at times, in a way that simultaneously charmed and dismayed her. Vicki was pretty and popular, and liked being so. She had friends aplenty, but her friendships weren't usually... deep. Not the sort of deep that provided a failsafe against the occasional urge to eat the people that annoyed you. This... this could be good. Or terrible. The alchemical mix of human and vampire could produce gold. Or a block-leveling explosion.
"I think so." Buffy smoothed an errant curl from her daughter's forehead. "Willow used to get like this sometimes, when she took on more magic than she could handle. She just needs to rest."
Vicki bit her thumb and gazed down at their guest, meditative – almost brooding. "Do you think the Watchers will still take her back to San Diego?"
"Probably, honey. It's where she lives. They're her legal guardians."
"I guess I should tell her goodbye, then," Vicki said with entirely unconvincing nonchalance. "When she wakes up."
Buffy's laugh was half groan. "Fine. Just be quiet, and don't let Jess rampage around up here when she gets back in." What time was it? God, not even two in the afternoon. She hadn't even got the turkey in the oven. Christmas dinner was going to be pig's blood and baloney sandwiches. She paused in the doorway. "And don't go all Edward Cullen and sit there watching her sleep."
Vicki flushed, to the minimal extent that any vampire could. "I wasn't going to – fine."
Leaving Addie to her sleep, and her middle daughter to hover in a not entirely un-Cullenish fashion, Buffy made her way down the hall, stopping off at the bathroom to splash water on her face. Her reflection looked back at her, exhausted and almost pale enough to pass as a vampire herself. Sometimes it was a surprise seeing the let's-call-it-mature Buffy that others saw, and not the fresh-faced girl who still existed somewhere in the back of her head. Today she noted the lines at the corners of her eyes, the slight loosening of her skin, with neither regret nor dismay. This was her face, every year of it. The eldest of four generations of Slayers.
Not a bad thing to be.
Self-acceptance, unfortunately, wasn't magically revitalizing. Every step down the stairs still felt as if she were trudging through wet concrete. In the living room, Toni was talking with great vigor to a pair of slightly shell-shocked police officers, while Bill hitched restlessly back and forth on the fabled crutches (souvenir of one of Dawn's college skiing trips). Even with vampire healing, it took a few days for tendons to re-knit.
Shoving weariness aside, Buffy planted her hands on her hips and the rest of her in her son's path. "Bill, stop that; you're tracking blood all over the carpet. Jess, sweetie, don't bother your brother when he's bleeding out. Did you see the carpet steamer while you were out in the shed? Well, go back and look for it, we're going to need it."
"It's okay," Bill said. "They already took pictures. It's not evidence any longer." But he seemed glad enough of the excuse to ease himself onto the sofa; he'd never been as good at I-laugh-in-the-face-of-major-organ-damag
His head drooped, and his voice fell to an anguished whisper. "Oh, Mom, I screwed up. I screwed up so bad. I should have smelled that she was pregnant."
And there was the block-leveling explosion aspect. Buffy sat down beside him and covered his cool hand with her warm one. "Oh, Billy...it's not easy to tell, that early on. Or so your father tells me. I feel like I should have known somehow, too. But we couldn't have. We just have to... go on from here."
Bill didn't look particularly consoled. He might have been immune to human guilt in the strictest sense, but he'd definitely inherited her over-active sense of responsibility. They sat shoulder to shoulder while the officers took innumerable pictures of the wrecked living room and everyone's injuries. There were forms to fill out and interviews to conduct, and Buffy dutifully ticked every check box and answered every where were you on the night of. Sometimes she could sympathize with Lydia Chalmers' nostalgia for the bad old days, when they could have swept all this under the rug and exacted a more personal brand of justice.
But on the whole, Buffy thought as Connie finally bundled the sulky, uncooperative Alicia into a patrol car which would convey her to the special cell in Sunnydale's Second Precinct, a police department that could take rogue Slayers in stride was a win.
The DeSoto pulled in just as the police cars were pulling away. Spike eased out, still favoring his shoulder. A minute later Ms. Chalmers and Addie's Watcher emerged from the back seat, both looking a little green around the edges (a perfectly normal reaction after one's first ride with Spike). Ms. Thackeray broke away from her superior and all but ran up the front walk. She pushed her way past the ruined front door and looked around at the wreckage, frantic. "Where's Adele? Is she all right?"
"Upstairs," was all Buffy had time to say before Lydia Chalmers strode in with a sweeping, outraged gesture at the departing police cars.
"Don't tell me they've taken Alicia away!" the Head of the Council fumed. "Surely you realize that this isn't a matter for the courts!"
Toni looked up from tucking a fretful Nita into her carrier. Her dark eyes were anthracite-hard, and she straightened with a sharp exhalation, like the warning snort of a bull. "I warned her I'd press charges if she caused any more trouble. I realize she's a screwed-up kid. But she's dangerous, and I need to be absolutely certain she's not coming within a mile of my daughter again."
Squashing her urge to jump in wasn't easy, but this was Bill and Toni's fight. Buffy got up, gave Bill a shoulder-pat, and sidled over to Spike. "What happened to the other Slayers, and the Council ops?"
"Took half of 'em to hospital, and dropped the other half off a block away from that Council safe house on Jefferson they think we don't know about. Don't think they're an issue for now; they're a sad an' sorry lot at the moment." Spike bent down with a grunt and pulled the Christmas tree upright again. It wobbled, but stood. "And a good thing; I've got a foot and a half in the sad and sorry camp myself. Chalmers kept pestering me with questions 'bout how you survived the spell. Told her I was no magician, and hadn't a clue what happened, but she's going to suss it out sooner or later."
Damn. She'd hoped they could keep that development away from the Council for a bit longer, but Buffy supposed that had always been a pipe dream. Addie was too conscientious, and Alicia too vindictive, to keep it a secret for too long. She gave the tree a critical once-over. A little lopsided from the fall, but probably salvageable if they fluffed it up a little. The carpet underneath was soaked, though. Pity the water couldn't have spilled on the bloodstains. "Yeah. Let's just root for later."
Spike cocked his head at her. "You all right, pet? You look a bit peaky."
"I feel peaky. Whatever that is." For someone who'd lived in America for decades now... sometimes Buffy was convinced Spike scoured the internet for annoying British slang. At least he'd got over the cheeky Nandos phase. "Half of it's just that stupid adrenal blocker. I always forget how sucky it is to feel like a normal person."
She leaned into his side with a sigh, and felt him lean back; even odds as to which of them was holding the other up. Once upon a time, they'd have been frantic to sneak off for victory sex about now. At the moment, a victory nap sounded more attractive. Though possibly after the victory nap, a victory bath with accompanying victory backrubs were in order... but first....
With icy composure, Ms. Chalmers was saying, "Rest assured, the girls who participated in this... debacle will be monitored very closely. They will also be receiving regular doses of adrenal blocker until we determine that they are no longer a threat to the Council's authority."
"That's great, but I'm not all that impressed with your monitoring so far," said Bill. He'd struggled to his feet, and stood swaying but determined. "There's another thing. I can't force Alicia to acknowledge me as her father. But I can't just forget she's my daughter, either. I want her to know that having me in her life is an option."
"You're asking for... visitation rights?" Ms. Chalmers' pitch and eyebrows both rose ceilingwards. "I can't possibly agree to that, if for no other reason than to honor her mother's wishes. Kerry Alford's liaison with you was unwise to say the least, and she made it quite clear that she wanted her daughter kept away from your...destabilizing influence."
"I'm sure Kerry had her reasons." The slight lisp in her son's voice told Buffy that he'd sprouted fangs, and she edged around the Christmas tree to get a better view of the argument. "But I can't see that keeping Alicia from knowing me has done anything but mess up her head."
Ms. Chalmers at least had the grace to look troubled. "Kerry did what she thought best for her daughter. Take a look in the mirror, young man. No – you can't, can you? At this late date, Alicia will never see you as anything other than what you are: a demon. The very thing she was born to slay. If I were you, I would do my best to forget about her. It would be advantageous for both of you."
Bill's growl turned into an exasperated huff, and he shook off his game face. "You're not me." The stubborn he got from both sides of the family. He shot a covert glance at Toni, who hesitated for a moment, then gave him a reluctant nod. "Here's the deal. We won't press charges, if and only if you give your word that you'll let Alicia know that if she ever wants to meet me, text me, phone me, whatever -- I'll be there."
For a long moment Ms. Chalmers wavered, visibly weighing the inconvenience and expense of a trial and probable conviction against the inconvenience of a vampire with a legal existence entangling himself with Council affairs. At last her mouth clamped tight, acknowledgment without approval. "Very well. We can work out the details later."
Her phone chirped, and she answered with a tch of annoyance. "I'm rather busy at the – nothing? Have you tried another airline? Yes, I realize it's the holidays. All right, if that's the best that can be done..." She slipped the phone back into her bag with an expression that on anyone else would have seemed impassive. "The next available flight to San Diego is tomorrow evening. Where has Honoria got to? It appears I must go downtown to see to Alicia's release, and we need to take Adele back to our, er, hotel." Spike probably heard Vicki's small, disappointed noise from the stair, but Buffy wasn't sure anyone else did. Lydia extended an imperious hand. "The Scythe, if you please. The Guardian did entrust it to our care."
The most powerful Slayer weapon of the age was leaning against the arm of the couch, its blade still crusted with Bill's blood. Buffy felt a momentary pang; she hated to see a beautiful weapon treated badly. Although this particular beautiful weapon had caused so much trouble, part of her hoped it would rust. "What are you going to do with it? I'm assuming Alicia's lost her all-access pass."
Ms. Chalmers looked, for a moment, every bit as tired as Buffy felt. "When the Guardian offered us the use of the Scythe in exchange for sanctuary in her final years, I felt that the risk was an acceptable trade-off in order to gain access to an artifact of such power. I'm no longer certain that was the correct course of action. And yet..."
"You can't just stick it back in a stone again." Buffy walked over to the couch and picked the scythe up. The balance was perfect, the weight likewise, as if it had been custom-made for her. It was like that with every Slayer, she knew; part of the thing's intrinsic magic. The power in it sang to her, but like any siren song, it only led to destruction. "Too many people know it exists now. You either use it, or lose it."
"I suppose you're generously offering to take it off our hands?"
Buffy laughed. "If I'd wanted it, I'd have taken it thirty years ago." Chalmers looked nonplussed at the amusement in her voice. "It's your problem. But it seems to me that the solution's right under your nose. Or up the stairs."
Chalmers gave her a frosty nod. "I'll take the matter under advisement. And now, if you'll excuse me – "
"Lydia, wait." Buffy extended the scythe, haft-first. "I'm guessing this wasn't how any of you expected to spend your Christmas. It sure wasn't how I expected to spend mine. Tomorrow's Boxing Day, and I've got a thirty-pound turkey that isn't going to eat itself. If any of you want to carpe the weird British holidiem, you're invited. Dinner's at two. And since Addie's out cold, we'd be happy to let her spend the night here. "
She didn't really expect a yes. The Head of the Council gave her a curious look, wondering, perhaps, what her nefarious secret plan was.. "That is... extremely gracious of you under the circumstances," Lydia Chalmers said at last, guarded. "I would not have expected you to turn the other cheek quite so far."
The oldest living Slayer's grin grew downright impish. "Not saying I can change hearts and minds with the power of green bean casserole, but hey, the last mortal enemy I invited to a turkey dinner did end up marrying me, so. Worth a shot."
Addie woke up feeling as if a giant had picked her up and wrung her out like a washcloth. She could smell something incredible cooking – turkey? Her stomach growled. She rolled over, squinting. A knife's edge of light sliced through the blackout curtains at the window, illuminating the band posters on the opposite wall, and a pair of big blue eyes staring straight into hers.
"Moooooooooom!" Jessica Summers-Pratt trampolined off the bed and raced out into the hall. "She's awake!"
Vicki's room. Vicki's bed. Addie looked down at herself. She was wearing pajamas adorned with sharp-fanged, creepy-cute cats. She ran a hand over the soft flannel. Once, when she was younger, she'd asked for a Vampy Cat backpack for Christmas and gotten socks, a rattan practice sword, and a lecture on the dangers of normalizing demonic influence. It only stood to reason that an evil vampire would have evil pajamas. Even if they were really cute evil pajamas.
No normalizing, Addie told herself sternly. She struggled out from under the blanket, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and sat there waiting for her head to stop spinning. Even easing off the bed as carefully as she knew how, her knees wobbled and gave out on her almost as soon as her feet touched the floor, and not even Slayer reflexes could save her from falling flat on her butt.
Buffy Summers-Pratt stood in the doorway, kerchief around her head and apron around her waist. Her nose was smudged with flour, and she had a pile of folded clothes tucked into the crook of one arm. Addie scrambled to her feet. "Where's Alicia?" she asked. "How long have I been asleep?!"
"She's safe," Buffy said. "Not happy, but safe. And since yesterday. I gave Willow a call last night, and she said that was pretty normal after something like you did." The older Slayer shook her head. "She was impressed, by the way. And also said to tell you to never, ever do that again."
I impressed Willow Rosenberg? Addie swallowed. "That sounds good to me."
"Unfortunately," Buffy went on, "Lydia Chalmers is also impressed. Even if she's not quite sure what it was you did yet." She regarded Addie gravely. "The Council is going to be very, very interested. Even more interested than they were in your original spell."
Addie rubbed her forehead. She'd done the exact opposite of what she'd set out to do. Instead of finding a way to safely de-power a Slayer, she'd discovered a way to make more of them. Right now the number of Slayers was limited by the unyielding constraints of biology: A Slayer could only donate so many eggs to the breeding program, so fast, and children only grew so quickly. The need for Slayers in the field was in constant conflict with ensuring the existence of the next generation. But before the change, there had been thousands of Potentials – and oh, gods, Toni was a grown-up. Make that tens of thousands, if you counted all the ones who'd aged out of their Calling years.
Ms. Thackeray's worried face flashed before her, and part of her wanted to protest that no, the Watchers wouldn't do that. They couldn't do that. They still had no idea whether her idea about Slayer souls was right or not. But she couldn't get the words out. Tens of thousands of trainable Potentials, ranging from teens to old – uh, women Buffy's age. How many of them would jump at a second chance for power, regardless of the cost? Or push their children to take it? Of course the Council would be interested. Addie sat down on the edge of the bed, a queasy knot tightening in her belly as the implications spun out of control in her brain.
But she couldn't have just let Buffy and Toni die, could she? Looking back, she couldn't see what else she could have done. Was this how Buffy Summers had come to doom them all (maybe) to Hell? No grand, arrogant fall from grace. Just the moment-to-moment scramble to do the right thing.
"All of this is my fault," Addie said miserably.
A lot of grown-ups would have rushed to reassure her that it wasn't, but Buffy just sighed. "Some of it, maybe. I think there's more than enough blame to go around." She laid the clothes down on the foot of the bed, sat down beside Addie, took her hand and squeezed. "I can't order you not to tell Lydia about this. She'll find out sooner or later anyway." Her expression was serious in the dim light. "Just think hard about what you tell her, and when."
Addie bit her lip and nodded. After a moment, she said, "Things... don't always turn out the way you expect them to."
Buffy's smile was small and rueful. "No, they don't. When I was Alicia's age, more than anything else, I wanted my life to be normal. When I got a little older, I realized that I just wanted it to be mine. I wanted so badly to give all of you that same choice, and I hate that by doing it, I may have taken another choice away from you." She turned to look at the window, squinting at the line of bright, pale December sun, filtering through the oak leaves. Almost to herself, she said, "All we can do is what seems right, right now." She straightened and patted the stack of clothing. "I've got to get back downstairs, or Spike will steal all the liver bites. Go ahead and get dressed. Your Watcher brought you a change of clothes. Dinner's in an hour or so."
A little reluctantly, Addie pulled off the cute (but evil) pajamas, and dressed herself in the utilitarian workout clothes Ms. Thackeray had provided. Amidst all the grey cotton, there was a bright green and totally non-regulation scrunchy for her hair. If she asked, Addie knew her Watcher would just blink vaguely behind her glasses. It made her smile anyway. The comb and toothbrush she'd used the other day were still in the bathroom, so Addie made use of them before heading downstairs.
Voices, along with a loud banging noise, became audible as Addie reached the head of the stairs. The banging was Spike, hammering a sheet of plywood across the broken-down front door. Buffy, Toni and Alex were engaged in various arcane rituals in the kitchen, while in the dining room, Connie and a tall, dark-haired man with a bemused look and a distinct frisson of vampire were setting out plates and silverware. In the living room the Christmas tree was upright again, though a little the worse for wear, and Vicki, Jess, and Bill were re-hanging the surviving ornaments on the branches. The crimson stain in the middle of the rug had been reduced to a faint pinkish-brown smudge.
"Adele!" A scarf-swathed bundle appeared like a summoned genie at the foot of the stairs, and resolved into her Watcher, fumbling one-handed with her glasses. Ms. Thackeray's arm was in a sling, but she trotted up the steps and enveloped Addie in a one-armed, patchouli-scented hug. Her wrists still sported circlets of scrapes and bruises from being tied; it was a guilt-inducing jolt to remember that for a regular human, it might take a week or even two for those marks to heal. "Oh, my dear, I am so relieved that you're all right!"
Addie hugged back, overwhelmed with relief and affection. Maybe if Alicia had had a regular Watcher, instead of always being a special pupil of Ms. Chalmers... it wasn't like the Head of the Council had time to bond. "Are you okay? Did – "
"Adele, come here at once. I don't care to shout."
It was Ms. Chalmers. She sat stiff and straight in the very center of the Summers-Pratt's couch, so that it seemed like a throne. The scythe was propped up against the arm beside her. It gleamed a menacing and vaguely Christmas-y red in the light of the tree. The Head of the Council raised one imperious hand and beckoned; Ms. Thackeray gave Addie a look both apologetic and reproving, and fell away.
The Summers-Pratt's living room felt miles across, and although Addie was standing, she felt terribly small by the time she reached the couch. From the cover of the Christmas tree, Vicki was watching, blue eyes wide, white teeth indenting her pale pink lip, and that, if nothing else, made Addie stand straighter and square her shoulders. This was it. She was going to be dishonorably discharged, or cashiered, or something. There were always rumors about what happened to Slayers gone rogue. Stories of raving, vicious girls confined in dank, dark cells or musty attics, hidden away somewhere beneath Council Headquarters in London, or hunted down by their own sisters like the demons they'd allowed themselves to become. Addie snuck a look at Buffy, who gave her a small, encouraging smile from the archway. She'd met real live rogue Slayers now, and it wasn't like that.
The Head of the Watcher's Council studied her for a long moment, lips pursed, eyes implacable. "Adele McElroy. You acted with decisiveness and courage this morning. You saved at least two lives, possibly more, and your actions may have prevented more devastation than any of us know. I am perfectly cognizant of how much we owe you. At the same time, it was through your willful disregard of the rules that this situation arose." Chalmers picked up the scythe and laid it across her lap; the candy-apple red blade looked distinctly out of place on her heather tweed pencil skirt. "We return to San Diego tonight. You, Alicia, and all the girls who supported her will report to Doctor Braden-Thomas as soon as we return to the creche, where you will undergo an immediate psychological evaluation. You will be confined to the grounds of the creche until we're confident that nothing like this will happen again. In addition, your allowances will be docked until you have paid for the damage done to the airport, and to the Summers-Pratt's home. Do you understand?"
Addie nodded shamefacedly. "Yes, ma'am." She looked up. "Trudy's all right, then? And Alicia? And – and those men? The ones who got shot?" A week ago she couldn't have imagined quizzing the head of the Council, and she didn't feel too good about it now, but she had to know.
Ms. Chalmers didn't look entirely displeased at the question. "Gertruda is in intensive care at Sunnydale General Hospital. She's expected to make a full recovery. As are the other operatives who were wounded, though in their case it will take considerably longer." Addie let out a shaky breath as Ms. Chalmers went on, "Alicia currently occupies a cell in the Sunnydale Municipal Jail. Mrs. Summers-Pratt's oldest daughter assures me that the jail, and the police force, are capable of handling a Slayer. Regardless, she's been given a dose of the adrenal blocker as a safeguard. As have you."
"Oh." Was that why she felt so weak? "I thought I felt like this because of the spell."
"You do. You overstrained your magical capabilities considerably. Obviously we will have to enrol you in accelerated magical theory classes at once – " At Addie's gasp of delight Chalmers raised a quelling hand and added, "This presumes that Doctor Braden-Thomas authorizes it, of course. Slayer-witches are quite valuable, and without the proper training, quite dangerous. Do not imagine this will give you more latitude than you've enjoyed in the past. Less, if anything."
"Yes, ma'am," Addie whispered, her head whirling. If she were allowed to take the advanced magic courses – could she maybe fix the spell someday, so it work the way she'd hoped it would? Even if that was possible, would the Watchers really let her do it?
"One final question, Adele. From all we've been able to determine about the structure of that spell, the younger Mrs. Summers-Pratt should have died. And yet she seems to be unharmed. Remarkably so. Are you able to replicate what you did to save her?"
"Uh." Addie felt the pit of unintended consequences yawning beneath her. Should she tell Ms. Chalmers? Toni had wanted the power, but what about the ones like Alicia, the ones who didn't? She was no longer certain that she'd give up her own power, not when she could do good with it here and now. But would Lauren or Trudy, who'd seen the Cleveland Hellmouth from the inside, feel the same way? And was having a demon's power alone really enough to condemn you? Surely it mattered what you did with it? "I – I don't know. I was just kind of... making it up as I went along."
Ms. Chalmers watched her closely for a moment, and sighed. "Disappointing. But perhaps not unexpected. If you do remember, Adele, you must come to me at once. It could be quite important. Please consider the problem when you're able to take up your studies once more."
"Canapes?" Buffy materialized beside the coffee table, brandishing a tray of cheese and olives beneath Ms. Chalmers' nose. Rogue Slayer to the rescue, once again. "Dinner's almost ready; we'll eat as soon as Alex's girlfriend gets here." She gave Ms. Chalmers a doubtful look. "Uh... the smell of pig's blood doesn't make you queasy, does it?"
Several hours later, presents had been opened, crackers had been popped, and turkey had been devoured. Buffy was curled up on the couch with Spike, and Jess had fallen asleep with her head in her father's lap, making a strange soft rusty sound. Ms. Chalmers had already left, to see to getting the rest of the Council forces to the airport. Ms. Thackeray perched nervously on the edge of her chair, observing Bill flipping in and out of game face to amuse his daughter, and Alex maneuvering his sort-of-girlfriend Evie under the mistletoe. Connie and the dark-haired man (Sam Lawson, who was something to do with the Initiative) were out on the porch.
"Probably making out," Vicki said with a sniff. She applied another coat of Christmas polish to Addie's nails. "They're always sooooo extra. She was so mad at him when he drank that Mohra blood, she didn't speak to him for a month. I wouldn't make myself mortal just for Connie, that's for sure."
"You're already mortal," Addie pointed out.
"But if I wasn't. Hold still. See, you paint a stripe down the middle first..."
"You have... quite a lot of vampires in the family, Mrs. Summers-Pratt," said Ms. Thackeray, holding her glass of pinot noir in front of her as if it were a cross.
"They do seem to have accumulated over the years," Buffy allowed, taking a healthy sip from her own glass.
"Heavens, look at the time." Ms. Thackeray's good hand dove into her multitude of scarves and whipped out an old-fashioned pocket watch. "Adele, we had best be on our way to the airport."
"Right now?" Addie protested. "Can't we wait till my nails dry?"
"Unfortunately not. You know what airport security is like these days. Now, say good bye to your, er, little chum – "
Addie turned an apologetic look on Vicki, who looked stricken, and whispered, half to herself, "Oh, I knew I should have changed! I look grotesque!"
Considering that Vicki's complexion was flawless, her curls smooth and bouncy, and her skirt and sweater set perfectly coordinated, Addie really wanted to ask her how she defined grotesque. Vicki didn't give her the chance. "Wait here!" she said furiously, and dashed for the stairs at vampire speed, narrowly avoiding trampling her brother underfoot.
Spike grinned and sing-songed, "Too late, Watcher. Some-one's got a pash."
Ms. Thackeray, now fluttering nervously at Addie's shoulder, adjusted her glasses. "Oh, dear," she muttered. "Oh, dear."
Adults were so stupid. No one had anything, Addie thought crossly. And it wouldn't matter even if they did, because soon she'd be back in San Diego with a million years of detention, and Vicki would be here in Sunnydale, with her stupid sweater sets and her stupid Carlos-perfect hair. A moment later Vicki reappeared, the faintest possible wash of pink mantling her fair cheeks as she handed Addie a small, flat, hastily-wrapped package.
"I just wanted to say thank you," she said. "For saving Mom and Toni."
Vampires might not be able to blush, but freckle-faced Slayers sure did. Addie squirmed, but took the present. "You're welcome. But I couldn't have done anything if you hadn't untied me. That – that was really was brave of you." She peeled back a corner of the wrapping. "It's a book? Pippi Longstocking?"
"Yeah. Sorry it's kind of old and beat up, but it was my favorite when I was little, and it, uh, reminded me of you." Vicki couldn't go pinker, so she settled for examining her newly-laquered nails for flaws. "When I was a kid I always thought she must have been a Slayer."
Ms. Thackeray was steering her determinedly towards the kitchen door, but Addie called back over her shoulder, "I've still got your number. So, uh... thanks. For the book. And for not eating Lauren." She grinned. "Because then I'd have to kill you."
Vicki sniffed again, but her cheeks went the tiniest bit pinker after all, and before the door closed, she smiled the tiniest possible smile. "Well. You could try."