This story was first posted to the Buffy-L list, and they are all to blame for encouraging me. The humans (and Cordelia) in this story belong to Joss the Creator, etc. etc. No profit, no lawsuit, no foul. The critters belong to me. Please ask before borrowing any of them.
a story in several endings
There was a loud, pained noise, and the tumble of bodies stirred slightly. Willow, having landed on top when the walkway fell in, was the first to regain her feet. She reached down to help Xander up. Buffy, Slayer-enhanced, crawled to her feet despite having both Cordelia and Jenny landing directly on her. Giles, somehow on the bottom, lay there staring up at what was left of the ceiling.
"Well, he said, blinking through glasses askew on his nose. "Let's not do that again, shall we?"
"Agreed," Jenny said, reaching down to give him a hand up. Instead, he simply held on to her hand, enjoying the feel of her skin against his, the fact that they were both still alive.
"So. We dis that witch or what?" Buffy was practically vibrating with energy, and both Cordelia and Willow spared the energy to shoot her a dirty look before staggering over to a still-intact sofa and collapsing onto it, leaning against each other in exhausted accord.
"Yeah, I'd say this was a witch-free zone," Xander said, looking around and seeing nothing except settling dust and debris. "Maybe we should work on procedures a bit more, though. Y'know, so next time the walls don't come tumbling down when we drop a house on her?"
He then noticed Willow and Cordelia sitting next to each other and moved to separate them before his ego took another shredding at their claws, er, hands.
"So, no witchipoo. That's two down, think they'll start getting the message that Sunnydale's not a real healthy place to be?"
"Not all witches are --" Jenny started, in the tone of someone who's said something a dozen times and doesn't expect this time to be any different.
"Yeah, yeah, well, the ones who've come to town give covens a bad name, y'know?"
"I have to agree with Buffy," Giles said, slowly sitting up, still holding onto Jenny's hand. "We have not had a good run of luck with practitioners of witchcraft, your circle notwithstanding."
"It's about to get worse," Jenny said, letting go of his hand and walking to the markings the now-deceased witch had been working on when they dropped in.
"What?" Buffy was at her side at once. "Great, now what? Demons? More wild spells running amuck? Witchlets running around invading Sunnydale's nursery schools?"
"We interrupted a a spell-casting, it would appear," Giles said, coming to stand between the two of them. "Jenny? Any idea offhand what she was in the process of doing?"
"Well?" Buffy asked.
"She was Calling a familiar."
"Oh. A cat, huh? I like cats," Willow said helpfully. "Should we go get some milk?"
"A familiar may take the form of a feline," Giles said, slipping into pedantic lecture mode, "but they are, in fact, demons."
"Great. More demons. Just what Sunnydale needed."
"But this spell wasn't finished, right? So the calling wasn't done?" Cordelia sounded hopeful, and a great deal more knowledgeable about demons than could be considered even remotely trendy.
"The spell was interrupted," Jenny agreed. "But from the sign here, I'd say that the demon was already called. It just hadn't had a chance to bind to her. If it had, we wouldn't have been able to defeat her so easily."
"You call this easy?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah, my blouse is never going to be the same," Cordelia complained. "And it was one of my favorites!"
"So..." Willow looked around nervously. "There's a demon on the loose, looking for a witch?"
"That would about sum up the situation, yes," Giles agreed.
"No," Jenny disagreed. "A familiar has to bond with a master. Otherwise it can't take form."
"And that means...?" Xander asked.
"It means," Jenny said, turning to look at the group, "that, as the closest ones to the place of Calling, the odds are pretty good one of us is going to have a new friend tomorrow."
"My vote's for Cordelia," Willow muttered sotto voice to Buffy. "She's already rhyming with witch."
Jenny Buffy Cordelia Xander Willow
The Slayer's Tale
(this one's for Kimberley)
"So. It's dark. It's raining. I'm standing in the middle of a graveyard at three a.m. talking to myself." She paused. "Yup. It's official. I'm the Slayer."
Sighing, Buffy adjusted the strap of her bag more comfortably on her shoulder, and wished that someone would start a trend in wooden-framed umbrellas. It would be handy for wet-weather slayerage. "It slices, it dices, it keeps off the rain and stakes vampires, all in one compact package."
She kicked at a tuft of wet grass and scowled into the inky-black night. "Bet every vampire in Sunnydale's spending tonight indoors. And laughing themselves silly at the Slayer all out in the rain. I mean, I killed a witch tonight. Saved everyone from a lifetime of being turned into frogs. I deserve a break, right?" She waited in vain for an answer. "Great. Giles the Faithful Watcher is probably tucked all safe and warm in =his= bed. Probably with tweed sheets. Ugh." She shuddered. "That's it, I'm doing the home thing. The dry, warm home thing."
As she turned to leave, the sound of something slipping on wet grass alerted her in time to swing backwards, stake rising upwards in perfect aim. But she slipped on the grass herself, her boots proving their impractability once and for all, and as she fell she swore that tomorrow morning she was going to go out and invest in some nice, dull, practical, rough-soled hiking boots.
Assuming she made it to tomorrow, that was.
The vamp dropped on top of her, his breath worse than his looks. Her arms pinned to her sides, she couldn't reach for the wooden stake lying by the side of her head.
There was a squeal, something high-pitched and moving fast, and then a louder, lower-pitched sound coming from the vamp as he jerked back, his hands leaving her and reaching around as though to grab the back of his head.
Buffy didn't need to wait for an engraved invitation. Her arm shot out, grabbed the stake, and brought it overhand down and through the vamp's back. The wood broke off in her hand under the power of the blow, but it went in enough to dust the bastard.
And in the residue of that dust, a small, heavy, furry body dropped onto her chest and dug it's nails firmly through her t-shirt and into the sensitive skin there.
She batted it away, jumping to her feet. "What the hell was that?"
A weak, wounded chittering answered her. It seemed to be coming from the grass at her feet. Well. Whatever it was, it =had= helped her out of a jam. Backhanding it just because it got a little too aggressive with the claws didn't seem quite fair. Dropping to one knee, Buffy reached out and picked up her unlikely ally. A warm, sinuous form wove itself around her palm, sliding up and placing it's narrow little head trustingly against the inside of her arm. Small, black eyes blinked up at her, and the creature let out a contented little chirrup.
"Hey there." Normally, Buffy wasn't much for rodents, but this one was kinda cute. In a rodent-y kind of way. "What's your name, huh? You somebody's pet?"
And then she felt it, like that damn Slayer sense Giles was forever nattering on about. Something strange, but familiar. Like the way she had felt when Angel was around, only moreso. Like something grafting itself permanent-style onto her soul...
And then it clicked suddenly, and she looked down at Kali, her arm instinctively having curled in to her torso to provide a more secure sling for the ferret.
"Oh, great." Kali chirruped once more, as though asking why they were still out in the rain.
"Good question, rodent." She reached down to reclaim her bag from where it had fallen, wincing a little as Kali's claws dug in for purchase. "Gotta get some long-sleeved shirts, you're going to ride there. Man, I hope you're nocturnal. This gig's pretty much nighttime hours only."
Giles would know. Or Willow. They'd know what the care and feeding of a ferret-familiar would be, and how many local laws she was breaking in having it, and how to break the news to her mom... Buffy paused. Nope. On that one, she suspected, Giles and Wil would both beat a quiet but hasty retreat.
The Watcher's Tale
(this one's for Penny)
After dropping Jenny off safely at home, Rupert had wanted nothing more than to head for his apartment, drop all his clothes in a pile on the floor, and crawl into bed until Monday morning. But there was work still to be done.
So, instead, he turned the car around and headed back to the school's library. Letting himself in via the use of a small lockpicking tool he would rather swallow dry rather than let any of his young charges know he knew how to use, the Watcher moved through the darkened hallways, enjoying the unaccustomed quiet.
Safely in his refuge, Rupert turned on a few lights and started searching through the pile of books he had accumulated during the preparations for the night's battle. Somewhere in all of this, there must be something on the familiar-calling spell Jenny had described.
He could, of course, merely have picked Jenny's brain, but she tended to mash all sorts of folklore and mythology into her information, and for a matter like this, it was best to have unvarnished truth. It might not sound quite as good, but it was certainly more useful.
Besides which, the poor woman looked exhausted.
He stopped a moment in his opening of books, bemused by his pun. "Besides witch. Heh. Yes, quite."
Finding three books which might prove to be of interest, he settled down at one of the long tables, spread them out in front of him, and went into what Buffy referred to as 'scary study mode'.
An hour later the muscle connecting neck with torso spasmed, reminding him that he should have put an ice pack on that shoulder. Stretching carefully to see how badly it had seized up, he was startled by the feel of a warm puff of air on the back of his neck.
Turning his head slightly, he saw a pair of large golden eyes staring back at him.
Rupert jumped. The owl perched on the back of his chair bated his wings, then settled down.
"Well. I.. um..." Rupert tilted his head quizzically.
The owl tilted its head quizzically. And blinked.
"Yes. Well." Calm down, he admonished himself. It's not as though you weren't half-expecting this. He backed up and sat down on the table, carefully avoiding the open books. "An owl. I don't think I'm quite flattered. Although you're quite the handsome bird," he hastened to add when those eyes somehow became even larger with indignation. "A barn owl, yes. Well. I suppose we've taken care of that pesky mouse problem, have we?"
An owl's beak is not suited to any kind of expression, but Rupert would have sworn on his Watcher's journals that Lochan gave him a definite smirk.
"You do know that you're going to be working your wings off," the human said conversationally, picking up one of the books and closing it carefully, now that the need for it's contents was obviated. "You'll be able to do a much better job of keeping up with Buffy than I, and your night vision is indubitably better than mine."
Lochan made a soft noise of agreement, lifting his wings and raising one clawed foot in invitation.
"What? Oh, yes. Here." And Rupert stood up, book in hand, and offered his free arm to the bird. Moving carefully, Lochan sidewalked up the Watcher's arm, talons sinking into the heavy tweed cloth without pinching the flesh underneath. Settled on his shoulder, the owl fluffed out his feathers and nipped contentedly at Rupert's hair.
"None of that, now," Rupert scolded, picking up the other books and carrying them back to the shelves. "My hair is going quite quickly enough without you trying to line your nest with it..."
The Technopagan's Tale
(this one's for Keith)
Jenny Callender sat on the old cedar chest by the window, looking out at the streetlights and sipping from a glass of cheap chardonnay. The mouthfeel of the wine, sliding from acidic to lemony, suited her mood. Irritated by the fact that Rupert had gone home directly after seeing her safely to her front porch, worried because she was convinced that fall had hurt him more than he was admitting to, intrigued by the thought of maybe the familiar's spell landing on her, despite her avowed denial of being a witch. But mostly, more than anything else, she was tired.
Status quo, in other words, she thought wryly, and finished off the glass in an unladylike gulp.
Leaning forward to place the now-empty glass on the windowsill, she caught the faintest flicker of movement outside on the porch. Normally, in a normal neighborhood, she would have either gone outside to check on it, or written it off as the wine and her imagination.
But this was Sunnydale. You never wrote =anything= off as just your imagination.
But by the same rules, you didn't go outside to check on shadows in the night, either. Not if you wanted to continue seeing the dawn rise, anyway.
Then the shadow flickered again, too low to the porch floor to be a vampire, unless someone had Turned an infant, and Jenny was pretty sure that she could handle a pre-teething vampire.
"Damn Rupert, anyway," she muttered as she stood and moved towards the door. "If he'd stayed, I wouldn't be doing this. I wouldn't be anywhere near the window. And if I were I sure as hell would be paying attention to something =inside= the house."
She unlatched the locks, picking up the polished wooden stake she kept in the umbrella holder -- better safe than undead -- and opened the door partially.
There was a sensation of relief, a feeling of grumpiness and irritability that echoed her own, and a dark shadow about the size of a large cat hopped past her legs and into the house without so much as a hail-and-well-met.
The hare stopped just across the doorsill, black nose twitching, and long, dark red ears folded low over her skull as she sorted out the new smells and sounds. Then, satisfied all was well, she paw-shuffled her way across the hardwood floor and leapt up to the sofa, settling down with the grace of a cat as well.
"Um. Hello." Jenny said finally, closing the door and leaning back against it. "And who the hell are you?"
One ear twitched, and the sense of irritability increased.
"Oh. I =was= kinda hoping you'd drop by. I think." She took a long look at her new companion, and sighed, heading back to the windowsill to reclaim her glass. She was going to need more wine. "Great. A rabbit. The Goddess =does= have a sense of humor."
Irini twitched both ears at that, then, catching the tenor of Jenny's thoughts as related to a certain absent librarian, gave a mental snigger that was warm and full and rich.
"Funny," Jenny said, only partially mollified at her familiar's ability to catch her thoughts already. "Ignoring the obvious jokes everyone but everyone's going to make, I would never have thought myself the much along the lines of rebirth or rejuvenation. And certainly not self-sacrifice."
Irini sent a renewed wave of irritation towards her, along with an undertone of sarcasm.
"Yeah, okay, so maybe a little on the self-sacrificing part -- hey! What do you mean, martyr? I'll martyr you into a pair of gloves, see if I don't!"
And the mental snigger became a deluge of laughter.
The Hacker's Tale
(this one's for Dori)
Willow sat in front of her computer, staring at the screen. She had promised Giles that she would keep an accurate journal of stuff that happened, stuff that wouldn't be, like he'd said, 'tainted with the inevitable pomposity of a Watcher's overeducation.'
She grinned, despite the difficulty in getting words to come to her brain that would describe tonight's activities. She loved it when the Watcher talked like that, using the words that would cause Xander and even Buffy to squinch up their foreheads and go 'huh?' Maybe it was mean of her, but when Giles talked to her -- just to her -- about stuff, it was almost okay that she was just Willow. Maybe just Willow wasn't such a terrible thing to be. Even getting Ms. Callender's approval on computer stuff wasn't as good. Anyone could hack, if they had the patience to learn the rules. Being a Watcher was different.
Not that she wanted to be a Watcher.
Willow put her fingers to the keyboard again, then stopped.
Well, not really. Not right now. Maybe later.
Yeah, later. There was college to think about, first. And Giles had said something about hooking her up with someone he still new at Oxford. That would be so cool, to study in England. Although it would be tough to leave California, and Xander and Buffy and everyone. But still, =Oxford.= There were all sorts of software companies setting up there now. Even Bill Gates was moving over there.
Not that she wanted to work for Bill Gates. Not really. Not unless he got a clue about debugging before releasing software. You had ta be able to sleep at nights, right?
So involved with her internal debate, it was several minutes before Willow heard the soft tapping at her door.
Looking up at the clock on her desk, she frowned. Who could it be, this late at night? Getting up, she went to the door and opened it just a crack.
Something zipped by her head, trailing a noise like a miniature powerboat.
She jumped back, and turned to come face-to-beak with a tiny, jewel-winged bird. hovering right in front of her nose.
"Pretty," she said, reaching out involuntarily to touch the bird. It darted back, not alarmed but warning nonetheless.
"Oh, I'm sorry. You're right, I shouldn't do that." A pause. "Hey!"
The hummingbird zipped away, coming to rest on the top of her computer, where it posed like a tiny statue. She followed, still staring. "I heard you!" Her tone was accusatory. The bird tilted it's tiny head slantwise, as though looking at the screen, and lost its balance, falling.
Steady hands caught her before she could damage her wings, and replaced her on the top of the screen casing.
"I heard you," Willow said again. "Oh.. wow. Neat!" And a grin spread across her face as a hum of contentment transferred from the tiny bird to the human, a sound both aural and mental.
Then her grin faded. "Whataminiit. A hummingbird? A hummingbird's so... wimpy."
The bird chirped puzzlement at her, then hopped from her perch to the keyboard.
"Hey, watch it, you'll, what? What do you want me to do?"
Ten minutes later, Willow pushed back from the computer and stared at the screen, a little of her contentment returning. "Vibration of pure joy, huh? And duality, 'cause you fly forward and backwards. Cool. okay, so it's not kickass like a tiger or anything, but a tiger'd be kinda tough to keep in suburbia, right? And I wouldn't want a tiger anyway. I want =you=."
Achava opened her wings and flittered to Willow's shoulder, tangling herself intentionally in the long red strands of her Mistress' hair.
"No, you can't make a nest of it," Willow giggled, reaching up to untangle the bird. "Come on. Let's get you settled. And then I've got to get some sleep... oh, who can sleep? I can't wait to tell Giles!"
The Soldier's Tale
(this one's for Ashley)
Xander lay in bed, counting Buffys jumping over fences. In skintight black running pants and a stretch lycra top that didn't stop her chest from moving with every leap.
Sure, it was juvenile. And not worthy of him. And Buffy'd kick his ass seven ways from Sunday if she knew. And then Cordelia'd cream whatever was left. But that's what private thoughts were for. Especially when you're seventeen, and your hormones are in overdrive.
But not even this time-honored exercise was helping him get to sleep. Tonight's activities had been pretty tame, compared to what they'd been through in the recent past, but.. but he couldn't get to sleep. It was like there was something tickling at the back of his mind, trying to wedge it's way in. And he couldn't fall asleep until he found a way to shut it up.
There was a thud, and the scrabbling sound of something else -- claws?
"Bastard, get out of here," Xander muttered, then sat up suddenly, remembering that Bastard had died the death of all outdoor cats the year before.
Swinging his feet over the side of the bed, Xander got up, senses alert. He could feel the soldier-side slipping over him, dropping like a flak jacket over his normal teenager reactions. Moving forward at a slow stalk, he reached for the doorknob, turning and pulling it open in a smooth, swift swing.
Nothing was there. Just an empty hallway.
He looked down the hallway to the left, then to the right. Nothing. he looked down at his feet --
and saw a trail of dirt that began and ended at his door.
And then he felt something brush by his feet, moving low and quick towards the nearest pile of clothing, where it proceeded to burrow underneath until only the tip of a wide black muzzle protruded.
Xander closed the door behind him automatically, mindful of his mother's long-standing instructions to never let his bedroom infect the rest of the house. Taking a cautious step forward, he went to his knees, still aware that whatever this was, it could snap out at any moment.
But somehow, he didn't think it would hurt him.
"Hey there, fella." He extended one hand, palm up and open. "Hey there. Come on out, let me take a look at ya."
A blunt, flatish head poked a little further out, narrow eyes wary, set into a white forehead that had two black stripes running alongside each other up the skull and, presumably, back into the rest of the body.
"Well, what the hell are you?" he asked, letting the muzzle rest gently on his open hand. "Takoda, huh? Is that your name?"
Somewhere in the back of his brain, Xander-the-normal-teenager was yowling something about talking to animals, losing his mind, never getting laid for sure once word of this got out, and how this was all someone's fault and he, Xander, was going to be plenty pissed about it in the morning. But outwardly he was calm, even pleased, as the badger extricated himself from the dirty laundry and allowed himself to be seen completely.
"Takoda. That sounds like an Indian name, huh? Well, Takoda, I don't know about you, but I think this bonding moment needs food-like objects. Yes?"
The response from Takoda was an overwhelming agreement. And a specific request.
"Yeah, I think we can do potato chips somewhere around here..."
(This one's for Vampry, who needed the laugh)
Cordelia shrieked, batting ineffectually at the large, lumpish thing at the foot of her bed. It looked like a rat that had crawled into the shell of an army tank, she thought in disgust, and then recoiled even further at that indication that she had been spending so much time with soldier-boy Xander. Oh God, was she turning into some kind of army slut?
Movement at the foot of the bed brought her back to the present problem. How the hell had this.. =thing= gotten in here? And how could she get rid of it? Without touching it, natch.
Scrambling out from under the white down-filled comforter, Cordelia grabbed at the phone on the nights table. Jabbing at buttons, dialing a number she had been forced to memorize rather than risk writing it down, she stopped halfway through. Hanging up, she instead reached for her phone book, flipping to the second page of "R's". Dialing, one eye on the =thing= making a mess of her sheets, she spoke into the phone. "Willow? Oh god, Willow, you've got to help me!"
"What? It's.. humped. And scaly. And it's got these beady little eyes and a tail like a rat's, and.. yeah, it does look a little like Xander when he's pissed, and...it's a =what?!="
She stopped screaming long enough to let Willow say something else.
"An armadillo? I've got an armadillo in my bedroom?! Why do I have an armadillo in my bedroom?"
She looked at the creature nervously, listening to Willow again. "Uh-huh. Yeah, I'll wait. Thank god you've got two phone lines... yeah, yeah, so, what's the deal with this thing, anyway? I mean...oh. You're sure? Protector from undesirables, huh? Well. I guess I could deal with that. Yeah, I guess I don't have a choice, do I? Not from what Ms. Callender said. Ugh." A pause. "Yeah, thanks, Willow. Yeah, I'll, ugh, bring it in tomorrow. Somehow..."
She hung up the phone and stood by the side of the bed, her hands planted firmly at her waist.
"Before you go =anywhere= with me, you armored rat, you're going to take a bath."
She wrinkled her nose. "Ugh. But that means I have to touch you, doesn't it? Where's Xander when you need him?"
Yes, all the familiars chosen =did= have a significance, as did their names.
First off, obviously, the list I could work from was restricted, as Willow pointed out, by the practicality of modern familiar upkeep in the 'burbs. So things like the larger cats, some birds of prey, and the occasional sea-mammal were Right Out. (pity, that. I could see Giles talking Watcher lore with a dolphin...but I digress.)
Anyway, as follows:
Jenny -- the hare is a lunar animal, associated with rebirth and renewal in most world cultures. I was working mainly from Asian mythology here, which says that the red hare is a portent of peace, and prosperity under good rulers. Also, according to Buddhism, the hare is a symbol of sacrificing oneself for a greater good, which Jenny was sent to do. The name Irini is a variant from the Greek, and means peace, something Jenny needs.
Willow -- as I said in Willow's story, the hummingbird is the symbol of harmony, and the joy which comes of harmony. It also equates with duality, because of it's ability to fly backwards and forwards, which works well with Willow's mix of timidity and courage, not to mention the fact that she's a techie who can communicate easily with Giles-the-hidebound. Achava is Hebrew for friendship.
Xander -- the badger in Amerindian mythos is a creature of strong heart but not-so-strong will; aggressive and fierce, but easily distracted. In Asian mythologies, he is a trickster spirit who desires others to admire him. Takoda is a variant of the Sioux word for "ally."
Cordelia -- Sorry, I couldn't resist it. [g] In South America, the armadillo is representative of women, and is the keeper of boundaries, protecting humanity from undesirables. They haven't actually gotten around to talking yet, so I didn't find a name for it. (him? her? who can tell with an armadillo?)
Buffy -- the ferret signifies persistent pursuit. 'nuff said. Kali is rom Kali Ma, the battle aspect of the goddess-wife of Shiva. She dances the great dance, and is said to be the fire which burns a human soul down to it's most essential elements, thereby freeing one to discover one's true identity (I =knew= all those alt.religion classes would come in handy someday!)
Giles -- not for the reasons you might think! Yes, the owl is popularly seen as a symbol of wisdom. But in most cultures, it is also a symbol of death or disaster. The call of an owl is said to bring bad news. Hence Giles' reaction. Of course, in some Asian myths, the owl is also a symbol of ungrateful children (gee, who could that be..?) and there are Amerindian stories which call the owl a defender, and bringer of success in hunting. Lochan is (I am told) Hindu for "eyes" or "sight."
Questions? Comments? Rude and quite possibly physically impossible suggestions? Send em all, I'm not scared!