Peter hugged Mary-Jane to his chest tightly as he used his amazing spider-strength and agility to jump away from Buffy's house.
He was an idiot! A sucker! A dim-witted dodo with dumb-ass hot wired into his genetic makeup! It was like, instead of a genetically altered spider, he got bit by the retardo-bug!
God! Such an idiot.
Buffy Summers was working for those Bringer guys! Why else would she set him up like that?
So not a Slayer...
He leapt onto the top of a movie theater and decided to rest there for a while. He looked around, taking stock of their surroundings. It looked like he'd brought them to downtown Sunnydale.
Gently, Peter laid Mary-Jane on the roof and brushed a hair out of her sleeping face. He smiled a little, looking down at her. Watching her sleep was one of his favorite things to do.
His smile transformed into something ugly. But Mary-Jane wasn't asleep, was she? No she wasn't. They knocked her unconscious.
Knocked her. Unconscious.
The only family he has left alive.
He should go back. Show those jackasses what the proportional strength of a spider meant!
Spider-Man could rend metal asunder, and Peter Parker could easily do the same to Buffy Summers and her merry band of bad guys.
He took a half of a step before deflating.
And if he went off and did what he so wanted to do, where would that leave Mary-Jane? All alone on the roof of a building in downtown Sunnydale, that's where. The Bringers could show up at anytime and try to kill her again.
They have to keep moving. Where? Who the hell knows.
Peter picked up the unconscious redhead and leapt away, doing his best to convince himself it was the wind that made his eyes water.
"What are we gonna do, Giles?" Willow wailed into the phone. As soon as she patched Anya up, the redhead called her mentor back and told him what was going on.
Giles considered the situation. It was odd, he decided, that the young man had taken off like as he did. He was rather under the impression that Peter's trust, as hesitant and reluctant he might've been to give it, has already been gained. It also made little sense to remove the potential slayer from the actual Slayer's protection. No, if Willow is to be believed, then it appears as though Peter was caught in an explosion, woke up some time later, attacked Anya, and took the potential. All for no discernible reason.
Willow's concerned voice stirred him from his thoughts. He had been silent for quite a few moments.
"Willow, you say Anya has seen a vision of Xander?"
"...Yes," she replied hesitantly.
"And this girl, the potential, she has also seen a vision?"
"Well, it was more like a creepy reflection on a computer screen. Less flamey too." Willow frowned, not liking the implications. " So I was right?"
Willow's frown deepened into a scowl. "About somebody messing with us."
"It would appear so. And now they've gotten to Peter. Find him, Willow. Find him now, and convince him of your sincerity."
"Don't worry, Giles, I will."
Willow hung up and dialed Buffy.
Across the Pond, the Watcher replaced his phone upon the receiver with a mirthless chuckle.
"Don't worry, she says. Silly girl... As if I could help it."
Buffy didn't want to answer her cellphone. Buffy wanted to look for her sister uninterrupted. But Buffy was a responsible Slayer and answering the stupid thing unfortunately fell under responsibility's jurisdiction. After about ten seconds of Willow explaining what was going on, Buffy decided she wished she had ignore her phone after all.
Sighing, she told Willow that Dawn had to take priority for the moment, but she and Anya should do a locator spell and call again with the results. Buffy hung up and headed to the last place she absolutely knew Dawn had been.
The Slayer paused before going in, just for a moment, to consider her old alma mater.
All the clues to Dawn's whereabouts are inside that awful place of learning, and nothing will stop the Slayer from finding them. Buffy walked through the front doors the school that had dominated her life for so many years with no further hesitation.
It was the height of stupidity, in Anya's very vocal opinion, to go looking for the little super-powered miscreant. He clearly didn't want their help, she pointed out. If he did, then he wouldn't have caused Anya to bleed out her own blood!
"Which brings us to the very logical assumption that a search-and-rescue will only turn into a search-and-get-our-asses-kicked-for-bothering once we find the hormonal freak!"
Willow glared at her friend, the twice former vengeance demon, and wondered, not for the first or last time, what the hell Xander ever saw in her.
"He's scared, Anya. I told you what Giles said," the witch reminded her, putting together the locater spell. "Hand me that crystal, would you?"
Anya rolled her eyes, complying. "Yeah, yeah. So what? We already knew we were being messed with. It still doesn't give him the right to manhandle me."
Accepting the crystal, Willow continued her lecture. "They're just kids, with no real idea about the supernatural. And with Buffy looking for Dawn, we're all the backup they have." She gave Anya a look that would allow no argument. "They need our help and they're gonna get it."
Dawn woke up in chains for the second time in as many days. Xander smirked at her, face in full on vampire mode.
"Hey, good lookin', what's cookin'?"
She stared at his hideous yellow eyes, shining with malevolent mirth. It was, she decided, the worst thing she's ever seen in her life. Dawn weeped, but her face was schooled into an expression of the utmost disgust. She mourned for her friend, but she would freak out later. Focusing on staying alive long enough for Buffy to rescue her was the priority.
Vampire Xander made the sad noise. "Aw, Dawnster, why so gloomy?" He moved close and wiped a tear from Dawn's cheek. "You don't have to be so sad, honey." His expression brightened. "I got good news! You get to stay alive! ... Well long enough for Buffy to come rescue you anyway." Did he just read her mind? He laughed at her obvious confusion. "C'mon, Dawnie, you're acting like I don't know you well enough to know what you're thinking. But don't worry. We aren't actually using you as bait this time." Xander held his right hand up. "Scout's Honor."
"Why..." Dawn's voice cracked. She started again, stronger this time. "Why the hell else would you kidnap me?"
He leaned in close. Real close. "Maybe, my pretty little jailbait, I just wanted some time with you?" Then he forced her into a kiss.
"Xander," Buffy's voice rang out from the entrance to Dawn's cell. "What did I say about that?"
Xander pulled back and shrugged apologetically."Sorry, Buff, I couldn't help myself. But, hey, at least I didn't taste, right?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Whatever." She brightened when she caught sight of Dawn. "Yay! I'm so proud of you, Dawn. I honestly never expected you to get Spike cogent enough to go all Frank Morris on us. Good job."
If Dawn's hatred and rage could melt people, the ones standing in front of her would be puddles of bubbling grease right now.
Buffy giggled. "Aw lookit the little pouty-face."
"What are you," Dawn demanded venomously, still not believing for a second that the apparition before her was her sister.
"I'm Buffy. Didn't we go over this already?" She turned to Xander. "Do I look like a Buffy?"
He gave her a lusty once over. "I'd say that's a definite oh yeah."
She sauntered sexily over to him. "Do I smell like a Buffy?"
Xander smirked, but didn't reply.
Buffy leaned in to him, just centimeters away from his lips. "Do I taste like a Buffy?"
At that, Xander sneered. "I wouldn't know, would I?"
The smile on Buffy's face was full of sadistic satisfaction that she'd gotten under his skin. "Well maybe if you're good, you'll find out."
He snorted. "Not likely." Xander straightened and headed for the exit. "I think I'll leave you two alone for some family time. I'm gonna go get a bite of someone to eat."
Buffy waved cheerfully at him before returning her attentions to Dawn. "Hey, sis, wanna hear my theory on why Dad left?"
It was literally the only place he could think of to go. He didn't know where anything was in this godforsaken town. Except, that is, the apartment of the guy Anya was freaking out over. It was really, really, stupid to come here. It may as well be enemy territory! General Fury would kick his little spider ass if he knew Peter was taking such a risk. But it wasn't like he could go into a hotel or anything. He didn't have enough money for that, and there really was no protection against the Bringers.
Here, at least, Peter was able to scrounge up a sword. Ooh, and a crossbow! Cooool.
He took an arrow and loaded the weapon up. Seconds later, the spectacular former Spider-Man fell backwards on his ass as the arrow narrowly missed his face and imbedded itself in the ceiling.
Peter looked up at it. "Note to self," he muttered, setting the crossbow down. "Don't touch this."
Nearby, laying on the sofa, Mary-Jane let out a little moan. Peter sat down next to her and gently stroked her hair.
"Mary-Jane Watson? You have been charged with defilement of duty. How do you plead?" Buffy the Judge loomed over her, silently demanding an answer.
Mary-Jane glanced back at her advocate, panicked. Willow Rosenberg shrugged uselessly.
Anya let out a shrill laugh. "Of course there's nothing for her to say. Someone's messing with her! It's only right to remain silent! Anything she says can and will be used against her!"
Buffy the Judge shook her head solemly. "Then I guess I have no choice but to convict you." The gavel thundered down upon the Judge's Desk. "I hereby bestow upon you the rank of Slayer. And everything that goes with it."
Dawn, in a slutty game show girl's outfit, pulled back the curtain while an omnipresent announcer began telling her what she's won as the one girl in all the world.
"You've received the strength and skills to hunt the Vampires, demons, and the forces of ...EVIL!"
"BUT THAT'S NOT ALL," the audience roared.
"No it's not, audience. That's not all by a long shot. Our newest One Girl has also been given the whole weight of the world on her shoulders!" The omnipresent announcer chuckled. "Boy, it sure is a good thing she's got all that strength now."
The audience chuckled appreciatively.
Mary-Jane tried to tell them that she didn't want it, but nobody was paying attention to her. She shouted it at the top of her lungs, but everybody was busy watching Buffy wow the audience with a song and dance routine about slaying demons while at the same time giving a lecture on how vampires are cute, but not good for the nookie. Well, not emotionally good.
It was when Mary-Jane yelled that someone else should be the Slayer instead of her -because Buffy gets killed really soon they're gonna need a new Slayer- that the whole world, which was on it's way to her shoulders, stopped to stare at her.
"What do you mean?" Buffy asked her, stunned.
"I... I don't want to be a Slayer."
Willow looked at her with absolute disgust. "But you'll make someone else go through it?" She pointed to a yellow man in a funny uniform who was sitting at a console. "Mr. Data, on screen!"
The view screen showed a young girl, no older than thirteen, playing baseball with her friends. She was laughing and bashfully flirting with a cute boy. She was blushing scarlet. He was sitting so close to her! Suddenly, out of nowhere, the boy gave the girl a kiss on the cheek, a mighty blush forming on his own face, before stammering something about practice and rushing off to get at bat. The girl stared at him with a shocked, but ridiculously happy, smile.
The smile faded as a man in a suit stopped in front of her, blocking the game from sight.
The screen changed to depict the girl as she looked down at a bent piece of metal in her hands. Tears rolled down her face as she finally understood how she would no longer be able sit with cute boys and play baseball. The man in the suit looked on with a detached expression.
The screen changed to depict the girl as she screamed in terror. A vampire jumped out from the grave, his large frame dramatically dwarfing her own. The girl gripped a stake and gamely attacked. The man in the suit looked on with a detached expression.
The screen changed to depict the girl as she was being brutally beaten by a gang of demons. The weakest one lifted a fist the size of a watermelon that practically quivered with the anticipation of bloodying her further. The girl fought back bravely; hands steady, eyes hard as steel. The man in the suit looked on with a detached expression.
More demons arrived the Slayer's schooled demeanor vanished, replaced by a little girl that knew she was going to die.
The screen terminated.
Everything was dark, save for the light that shined down on a sobbing Mary-Jane.
Buffy walked out of the darkness and embraced the girl.
"It sucks, I know. I've lived through it all myself." She pulled back and gave Mary-Jane an empathic expression. "Do you know why you saw that?" She shook her head. "It's because you needed to." Buffy brushed a tear away from Mary-Jane's cheek. "It's so that you'll understand."
Slowly the darkness faded and all around them stood Buffy's family. Dawn, Xander, Willow, and more faces than she didn't recognize, all surrounded them. It was then that she realized how safe she felt.
"They protect me, so what may happen to her," Buffy held her hand out, and from the crowd came the baseball player. She took Buffy's hand and gave it a squeeze. Buffy smiled warmly at her. "...won't happen to me."
The baseball player spoke. "I would die only because I don't have what Buffy has. What you have."
Mary-Jane couldn't even begin to comprehend what it might be they're talking about. "What do I...?"
"Duh," a familiar voice said from beside her. "You have people who can actually help you."
"...Peter!" Mary-Jane latched onto her boyfriend with a desperate embrace.
"It will be all right, MJ," he told her softly. "Even if you do get Called, I'll always be there to protect you."
Xander piped up. "Yeah, and if he can't be, we," he gestured to the Scoobies, "sure as heck won't leave you hanging."
Willow and Dawn both nodded enthusiastically. Anya shrugged and said, "Yeah, whatever."
Buffy pouted. "You're lucky you've got Peter. I wish I had somebody that can punch the Hulk on my team."
"It was more like I hit him with a car," Peter corrected in a cluelessly casual manner. Buffy's eyes bugged out in amazement. "It, uh, it didn't actually hurt him." Everybody stared, impressed regardless of his modesty. "Anyway," he said to his girlfriend. "It's not as if you've actually been Called yet."
"Yeah, totally, "Buffy agreed, getting back on track. "All you have to do to keep from becoming a Slayer is save my life! How easy is that?"
And then Mary-Jane woke up.
The first thing she noticed was that she wasn't at the Summer's home any longer. She began to panic, but calmed when she saw Peter leaning against the armrest in a deep, deep sleep.
Mary-Jane took stock of their surroundings and it didn't take her long to figure out where they were. But why were they there, and where was Buffy?
...was going to die!
She reached over to wake Peter, but hesitated. Instead, she moved him to a more comfortable postition. The guy hasn't had a chance to sleep in forever, unconsciousness due to explosions not withstanding, and he could really use the rest.
The Potential silently found a book Xander kept around with all his friend's numbers on it and dialed Buffy's house.
Willow was about to start the incantation when the phone rang. She debated whether or not to ignore it, but decided that it might be important. Willow picked up the phone and was promptly bombarded by a whispered babbling.
"Mary-Jane?" she asked uncertainly. It could be her, but...
Before the witch had a chance to even finish her thought, Anya leapt from her spot on the floor and snatched the phone. "What happened to your crazy boyfriend?"
Mary-Jane stuttered whilst attempting to think of a reply . Anya, ever the example of patience, brushed it aside and demanded to know where they were.
Anya's eyebrow twitched and, wordlessly, she handed the phone back to a very offended Willow. With a harumph of indignation, the redhead resumed the questioning, needless to say, in a far more soothing manner.
"Where are you?" she asked, having not heard the answer. "Oh. You're at Xander's apartment. That's good. Why?" The younger girl had no answer, save that she hoped Willow would know. "Sorry, sweetie, I have no idea. The last time we saw you, you were..." Willow glanced at Anya, remembering how she quieted Mary-Jane down. "... You fell asleep." She was about to tell her what happened with Peter, but thought it might be a bad idea. Instead she told Mary-Jane to arm herself. She really should wake her boyfriend up and give him a couple of weapons too. Willow also suggested that she not say Willow on her way.
"Why?" Mary-Jane asked, to which Willow had no response. "Why are we here?" the she asked directly. "Why aren't we still at your place?"
Willow began hedging an answer, but Anya, becoming impatient again, snatched the phone away again and belted out the pure, unfettered, truth.
"It's because your boyfriend went psycho and beat the crap out of me."
Willow grabbed the phone back and, with a glare at her friend, attempted to put out the emotional brush fire Anya had started. "It didn't go down like that. Peter was in the same room as me, healing up. I was talking on the phone when he grabbed you and ran. If he was beating people up for fun, he could've started with me. I think the only reason why Anya was hurt is because he couldn't have gotten you out without her noticing."
Mary-Jane shook her head. "But that doesn't make any sense," she protested in a heated whisper. "Why would Peter want to leave?"
"I think it's because whatever is messing with us got to him?" Willow sighed. "And it kinda seems like he got totally fooled too."
"Oh man, that sucks," she lamented. Her eyes widened when she remembered the other reason she called. "Hey, do you think that I'm still being messed with? 'Cuz I just had the craziest dream..."
Mary-Jane then went on to explain said dream to an increasingly alarmed witch. When she was finished, Willow told her stay put and that she and Anya were on their way.
Willow dialed Buffy's cell, but it went directly to voice mail.