Author's Note: Many thanks to those who voted 'Changing the Death Toll' to be the 2007 Best Multi-Cross. Enjoy the new Chapter.
It was scary how fast Buffy, Jack and the kids fell into some sort of routine. Buffy didn’t kid herself, she knew it was all for survival. It was strange, but it made her less homesick. Within a week, Buffy and Ro’hane had stripped anything useful from the nursery ship. Buffy slipped out before dawn with a spear to go fishing for the Nautlean and to pick up the daily sap for the babies’ formula. If the bugs weren’t bad, she stayed long enough to gather fish for the older kids as well. Jack was planning a smoking hut. That way, they could preserve fish and other meats deemed edible for such a time when Buffy or Jack couldn’t go out and hunt. He was planning for worst case scenarios and Buffy was glad, she was more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of gal.
Buffy was also the night watchman –watchwoman. Her eyes were just better than Jack’s. He accepted all her strengths faster and easier than any of her boyfriends. He wanted
to know them. He wanted
Buffy to talk about her preferences and her abilities. And then he would incorporate them. It was so easy to see the maturity of that. When the young younglings were old enough to obey orders, Jack would start the older kids on night watch. Some of them had excellent eyesight, some not so good. Jack was striving to stretch them all. Vayla would tell him when he was pushing a particular child past his or her species’ capabilities. The children themselves would never complain or balk at any duty. Jack was such a planner, such a leader. Buffy had forgotten that the body of her partner was seventeen years old –younger than Dawn- before they had even climbed to the temple they now lived in. Once Jack remembered –realized- that no one was expecting him to act like a teenager, he let the persona drop. He relished
being himself. He liked being in charge. He loved having people take him seriously. He liked having someone to care for. The man –or was he a teen?- was a born caretaker.
He was such a mother hen
. He was perfect for these kids.
Jack made sure that Buffy had time for a nap or an extended time of meditation in the middle of the day, between the second and the third feedings. While the sun was in the sky and the most dangerous of the predators slept, so did Buffy. Most of the toddlers slept during the same time. That was what Buffy was supposed to be doing now, but her swirling mind wouldn’t let her relax. The older children would take turns watching over the dozing group. One or two would stay while the others would explore the temple with Jack. They would explore in pairs and they each had an assignment that they were to find. They were looking for indoor water and a ‘fresher. They were also looking to remove any and all creatures that had squatted in the temple. They didn’t need any more roommates. The older younglings had gained a couple scratches and bruises from their tussles with the wildlife, but so far, nothing more serious had resulted. Both Buffy and Jack were grateful for the small blessing.
They couldn’t keep the kids in the storage closet of the temple forever. Eventually, they would probably move the ‘day care’ into a more interior room for safety from invaders, both sentient and non. Jack only wanted to move once, so they were investigating the temple for the best possible arrangement.
Jack had approached Buffy last night about the group’s rapidly diminishing supply of food. He had an idea; he would go into the jungle and follow the herbivores and see what plants they ate. He hoped that if several of the herbivores ate the same plants, they’d be safe for the bulk of the children to consume as well. Buffy had agreed, but she had also suggested that he take Afep along for the ride. The Caamasi was in tune with animals and he had really good instincts about predators and when they were about. Jack had agreed.
Jack had hinted that he wanted to have an extended talk with Buffy about her abilities. He wanted to know how healthy it was for her to go without so much sleep. If the lack of any drowsiness now was any indicator, their current schedule was fine for her health. Jack also wanted her opinion on when would be a good time to start the older kids on night watch. They needed someone to keep watch at night and Jack was hesitant to give that much responsibility to Ro’hane or any of the older children just yet. Buffy mused about the sad history Jack had with kids, or rather his own little boy. Jack felt that he had to warn her so that she would be able to head off any bad decisions he made while trying to protect ‘Charlie.’ Buffy, in turn, had spilled the beans about her sister and how she had screwed that up. She had warned that she had a tendency to get mission focused and forget about the emotional needs of the people she was supposed to be protecting.
It was odd. If the two of them had met on Earth, assuming that they were both from the same Earth, Buffy and Jack would never had shared such secrets within two weeks of meeting. They probably would not have shared the secrets at all and would have let their pasts destroyed any budding relationship that might have occurred. Here, their working relationship had
to work. They had twenty-five kids depending on them. They had to work together. They had to use the other to make up for their own shortcomings.
Buffy rolled over again, trying to find a comfortable place to rest. It was easier since all the blankets were rinsed and didn’t smell quite as bad as before. Buffy was quite willing to gain a damp bed in place of the rancid smell. She bumped into something furry and opened her eyes. The only alien baby in Bail’s care stared back at her. The girl had retractable claws that she only used when scared. The claws, her facial features and her fur reminded Buffy of a very intelligent cat.
Buffy raised her head to look at Vayla, today’s babysitter. “Hey Vay, does this one have a name?” she asked as she clucked the baby under the chin.
Vayla spared Buffy only a glance. She took her outpost position very seriously. “No, Master Buffy. None of the children closest to you are named.”
Buffy grimaced. That was just wrong. She would have to fix that. “Well, this one is now Hadassah after the feisty new Slayer I met last month. I swear that girl always landed on her feet. What is Hadassah anyway?”
“Our Hadassah,” the Twi’lek stressed the possessive, “is a Bothan. They are very loyal.”
“Loyal is good. And what is this pretty boy?” Buffy picked up the blue-green reptilian with just a little bit of black hair.
“He is of the Falleen. They can exude powerful pheromones that make them attractive. The one I observed created a near hypnotic affect in the human he was manipulating.”
Buffy blinked at that and then grinned. “You, little boy, are now Manolo, ‘cause I have been know to go into a near trance near one of his works of art.” Buffy put the Falleen back onto the baby blanket with Thor Junior and picked up the last of Natal’s responsibilities, a chunk of a human female. The baby squirmed and almost fell out of Buffy’s arms in her attempt to get back to her ‘family group’. “You’re determined enough to be a Chloe, kiddo. That girl did let anything keep her from getting her way. Not even death. She managed to save the world a couple decades ago even after she had died.” Buffy muttered.
Natal, the other babysitter to the afternoon, accepted her charge back. She smile, pleased that all of her younglings were now named. It was long past time.
Buffy turned to look at the babies on the other side of her. On the closest blanket, Sabé’s three girls were sleeping. Kendra and Fraiser had already been named but the alien baby had not. With her red skin and sharp incisors, Buffy knew that she was looking at a predator. The baby had horns that spiraled both up and down from the head. “What is her species?” Buffy asked.
“She is a Togruta,” Natal answered this time. “They prefer to live in groups, their favorite meal is a rodent that is alive until their first bite.”
Buffy winced at the idea of eating anything that was still wiggling; she was much to American for that. Xander had told stories of meals that he had been required to eat to gain good will from the villagers that he was trying to convince into giving him their little girl.
Natal saw the wince and hurried to improve the child’s image in the Master’s eyes. “They prefer to be barefoot whenever possible. They believe that it cuts them off from the land in a spiritual way.”
“Really?” Buffy remembered the one African Slayer Xander had returned with. The poor girl had hated the city and had hated her shoes. She could only be found in one of three places: the forest behind the Giles’ house, the gym, or the library and in all three places, she would be barefoot. Terase had eased into the Slayer household after reading about another Slayer that preferred to be barefoot. The feisty American colonial Slayer, Felicity had diaried her emotions. In reading Felicity’s solutions, Terase had learned to enjoy the Slayer lifestyle. “We’ll call her Felicity,” Buffy announced. Eager to forget about the new Slayers and Xander, Buffy turned to Nein’s unnamed human female. “And she can be Sophia. She was an England Slayer, who wasn’t all stuffy and disobeyed her Watcher when the time was right. Raised by the Watchers, she lasted nearly two years. That was really good for them.”
Vayla and Natal memorized the new names and shook their heads at the importance Master Buffy seemed to put on independent thought. Buffy knew that they didn’t understand the difference between good obedience and bad obedience. They would learn and hopefully there wouldn’t be blood to make the lessons stick. Buffy remembered the lessons she had learned about good disobedience and bad disobedience. She remembered the lessons that Willow and Xander had learned the hard way.
Buffy jumped to her feet. She didn’t want to remember the other Scoobies. And she definitely didn’t want to think (or worry) about Dawn learning (or not learning) certain lessons. It was time to go hunting again.
The Slayers were hunting, Xander thought with a wry smile. And they weren’t hunting demons. They were circling their prey like wolves, eyes trained on their goal. They would take turns testing the defenses of their opponent.
Giles most certainly wished that they would be so intent with their Chosen duties.
Xander just smirked as he watched Giles trying to shoo all the Slayers away from the new shipment. Terase sat at his feet and watched with ill-concealed amusement. She didn’t understand the attraction or the allure.
Giles was most certainly regretting allowing his wistful mourning for Buffy overtake his good sense.
“Back off!” Giles –no, that was most definitely Ripper- yelled. “Not a single one will be distributed until after they have all been verified and cataloged.” He turned to Kennedy, his now permanent shadow, and motioned that she should move the packages to his study.
The girl had been at his side since Willow had done her disappearing act. Xander knew that Willow hadn’t been thinking of her girlfriend –or anyone or anything but accomplishing her goal- when she initiated her search for Buffy, but leaving Kennedy behind had done butt-loads for the girl’s maturity. She had latched onto Giles, first for confirmation that Willow was still alive and well, then later because it was habit. Giles, never one to tolerate idle hands, had set the girl to work. In the beginning it was just errands that needed a Slayer’s protection. Those jobs had soothed Kennedy’s ego enough that she soon didn’t complain about doing errands that didn’t need a Slayer to complete. Giles was a Watcher through and through. He knew a Slayer’s nature better then a Slayer knew herself. He would give Kennedy the less-glorified jobs when her Slayer energies insisted that she do something now
. At that point, she would be eager to do just about anything.
Kennedy stooped next to Terase and asked for the girl’s assistance. Terase agreed without hesitation. That was the other reason that Kennedy didn’t mind working for Giles: since he was the boss, his messages would boss others around and if Kennedy was the one delivering the messages, she
was bossing the others. Also, Kennedy learned a bit of discretion in that if she delivered the message wrong or in such a way that the receiver didn’t obey, Giles would blame her. When Giles blamed her, he skipped a day of checking Willow’s health. While others could conduct the spell, Kennedy had alienated most of them long ago.
Xander was pretty sure that Kennedy would eventually forget for whom she was doing all this work in the first place. Her relationship with Willow if –or rather when- the witch returned would be vastly different. Xander was pretty sure that everyone –Kennedy included- preferred the new version over the old Kennedy.
Xander meandered after Terase, Kennedy and Giles. He wanted to see the ‘art’ that the Watcher’s council had commissioned. As previously mentioned, Giles saw idle hands and immediately put him to work unpacking. Kennedy was sent to ask Tamera, the resident Coven witch, to come and join the group. Xander looked over the pallet of shoe boxes and laughed to himself.
Buffy would have loved this. It was her idea. Xander remembered the meeting so clearly. He had happened to be the first to arrive. A harried Giles had soon appeared, Buffy dogging his heels. She had been complaining about the most recent jewel that had been needed to defeat the Big Bad. Why do all the world saving amulets have to be part of some butt-ugly ring or gaudy necklace,” Buffy had whined.
Giles had turned on her, exasperated. “Jewels are often used because the very faceting can strengthen the spell. The phrase ‘Diamonds are Forever’ is more than a catchy advertising slogan. Jewels don’t deteriorate like other natural phenomenon, such as wood or scrolls.”
“Sparkly pretty,” Buffy had retorted. “But why hide them in ugly mountings? There are so many pretty things you could make with them. Tiaras, for example. Why aren’t any in a tiara? I look cute wearing one of those.”
“The Council must disguise the jewels. They do so in the jewelry of the time periods. Jewelry is also practical in that your enemy doesn’t know where the jewel designed to defeat them is on your body.”
Buffy had snorted. “Any Big Bad fighting me knows that the Eighteenth Century gaudy thing around my neck doesn’t belong there.”
“Which is why we are commissioning the Coven –and Willow- to create more amulets, which we will try to disguise in more timeless pieces than our predecessors.” Giles had held up a hand to forestall any more argument from Buffy. “And yes, you are chairing that committee. I just ask that you don’t exceed your budget. And yes, you are getting a rather large budget to work with so that you can disguise them ‘properly.’ If that’s settled, we are here to discuss other important items. We need to decide which of the old Council families we wish to re-invite to the new organization.”
Buffy had gotten a sly look at this point and Xander had known that she’d been playing Giles from the beginning. “I noticed that one of the families is the Blahnik’s.”
“So?” Giles had drawn out the word as he tried to figure out where Buffy was heading. “I’m surprised that you are pronouncing it correctly.”
“One of them is Manolo Blahnik.”
“Oh yes, the cobbler.”
“Cobbler!?! Manolo Blahnik is no cobbler. He is an artist.”
Giles had looked properly horrified at this point. “Buffy…”
“Just think; we’ll hide the new amulets in
shoes. Then we’ll really mystify the enemy and we’ll look damn good defeating them too. And… get this: you can guilt Manolo into doing the shoes as a part of Watcher duty and we’ll get a discount that I can spend elsewhere in my budget.”
Giles had lost the argument at that point. He just hadn’t known it yet. He had finally agreed to Buffy’s idea. He had agreed so as to foster a better relationship with his estranged Slayer, he had done it because she was trying to be somewhat responsible with her budget, but most of all, Giles had agreed because it was the only argument that Buffy had involved herself in with her normal passion. After Buffy had disappeared, Giles had followed through with his side of the agreement because his Slayer might return someday.
After seeing how enthused the other Slayers were with the idea, Xander was glad that Giles had completed the task. As soon as Tamera entered the office, Giles set up his assembly line. Now Xander was opening shoe boxes, checking the shipping manifest to ensure that it matched and then handing the shoes to Tamera for her to double check the amulets attached. They wanted to make sure that everything was in order and none of the powerful jewels had been switched somewhere down the line. Tamera would pass the shoes to either Kennedy or Terase to be put into what ever pile Giles decided on. Giles, of course, was recording each transaction in his book.
The shoes were supposed to stay in those piles until they were needed but the new Kennedy was far from perfect. Xander watched as she diverted a pair of shoes that fit Willow’s style. He would let Giles know later, but he understood the desire. In his hands, Xander held a pair of shoes that featured a bright green jewel. Xander wanted to set them aside for Dawn. A pair of shoes that Buffy had commissioned could be just the thing to put a smile on her face. As he pulled the shoes out of the box, his thumb got nicked by the green amulet and a single drop of blood welled up. Xander immediately felt a bit faint, the jewel pulsed once and the cut healed.
“Bullocks,” Giles swore. “Xander, you faded out for a second.”
He laughed wryly. “Yeah, I know. This is bad, right?”