Dedication: My usual suspects, Jai L. and Andra. They seem completely unwilling to let this fic just die. *sigh* At least now they won't bug me for a little while, and I might get something done on Maiden, Mother, Crone. *g* Just kidding, love you guys.
THE NEXT MORNING, *FINALLY* (hey, it only took me *TWO YEARS*!)
There is one long moment before the first hint of the sun appears over the horizon that scholars of old believed was the moment that fairies and spirits had their last purchase on this reality before having to retreat to their own land.
Scholars of today would charitably call that complete bullshit. However, there is often a certain amount of truth in the tales of old wives. That one moment has been called the darkest part of night, because too often it is the final moment of some demon hunter that has been trying to hold out to dawn - and has not made it. For some, it is the moment where they wait for their dark god to plunge the world into night everlasting. This is the time when the darkest magics are cast - not midnight. It's the moment where dogs growl and cats look up with their gleaming eyes. The moment when small children call out in fear, and when adults wake up with the strange whisper of approaching danger.
In the dark bedroom where a man lay sleeping, a delicate radiance appeared. For long seconds, it was nothing more than an airy diffusion of light, but then it gathered to form a ghostly figure.
Golden hair drifted on a wraith wind to frame a delicate face which housed two large green eyes. Silent steps brought the figure next to the bed, and in a liquid motion the figure knelt. With infinite care, a hand stretched out to gently touch the man's sleeping face.
Phantom fingertips traced his cheek in a lover's caress. They slid down to the lips whose touch they remembered well, then over the strong nose, then whispered over the brow that was creased with sorrow and worry. Further up, they buried themselves in his soft hair - still thick, but brushed with silver at the temples.
The man stirred in his sleep, though whether wakened by either the hour or the touch was uncertain. Turning towards the figure, he mumbled a name in a voice that was rough with sleep. The phantom hand stilled, then slowly withdrew. The brilliant green eyes trembled with pain, and the soft mouth traced a word.
The figure might have wept, but tears are a comfort that the dead are denied.
The long moment ended, and as the light began to trickle slowly over the horizon in herald of a new day, the shade of Buffy Summers faded from sight.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
Rolling over, Kari reached out and slammed her hand down on the 'snooze' button. She groaned softly, then emerged slowly from her comfortable nest of blankets and pillows. Stumbling across her room, she picked up her phone and hit the speed-dial button. As she listened to it ring, she began looking through her closet. While Thursday was usually the day that she went to school in torn jeans and a cheerfully offensive tee-shirt, she felt the desire to dress up today.
Just as she was considering the merits of a purple skirt, there was a soft click as the phone was finally picked up.
"Wzzaaa?" came the sleepy voice on the other end. Tobin had never been a morning person.
"Listen, can I come over and shower?" Kari asked.
"Sure thing. I'll put out some coffee to distract my brothers, but you'd better hurry."
"I'll be over in half a tic." Kari said. Hanging up the phone, she quickly threw her clothing choices in a duffel bag, pulled some shorts on under the long tee-shirt that served as her nightshirt, shoved her feet in a pair of tennis shoes, and proceeded to climb out her window. Shimmying down the drain pipe with her duffel bag was an art that she had perfected over the last year and a half, when her parents had started argueing a lot.
Jumping to the ground, Kari made the fifteen-minute jog to Tobin's house, which was already stirring to life. Knocking on the door, Kari listened with interest to the yelling echoing out one of the upstairs windows.
"DAMN IT, TOBIN, GET OUT OF THE SHOWER!!"
"I NEED TO USE THE BATHROOM!!!"
"YOU'VE BEEN IN THERE FOR TWENTY MINUTES!!"
"GET OUT, TOBIN!!"
Oh, yes. Tobin's brothers were definitely home. For a moment, Kari couldn't help but pity their neighbors. The door suddenly swung open, and Tobin's mother cheerfully waved Kari in with one hand, while the other hand held a cel-phone firmly to her ear. Stepping into the hallway, Kari found herself hugging the wall. The entire entryway was filled with suitcases, duffel bags, and various other travel paraphanalia.
Clapping one hand over the mouthpiece of the celphone, Mrs. Sans gave Kari a smile. "Tobin is in the shower right now, dear. Would you like some breakfast? Theo just started the eggs."
Quickly Kari shook her head. With six children, Mr. and Mrs. Sans thought little of adding one more place to the table, and Kari had gotten many experiences of a Sans family breakfast. It gave the word 'chaos' a whole new meaning, since eight people were scrambling to eat and hurry out, while at the same time talking non-stop. Kari's preferred method of eating breakfast here was to wait until at least four members of the family had left, *then* find something to eat.
Walking past Mrs. Sans, Kari nearly ran right into Tobin's dad. Mr. Sans gave her a quick grin, and told her, "Kari, if you see any of the boys tell them to stop yelling at their sister."
Running quickly up the stairs, Kari avoided the various objects that littered the steps. Reaching the top, she found herself in the middle of the Sans boys.
Like Tobin, all of the brothers had dark skin and hair, along with almost feverishly bright eyes. Unlike Tobin, all were tall, with the shortest being TJ, who was a meagere 6'2. At the moment, all five were pounding on the bathroom door.
"Um, guys?" Kari asked carefully. A second later, she found herself being hugged by all five. In the years that she and Tobin had been friends, she had found herself accepted into the weird fold that was the Sans family.
"Kari, is that you?" Tobin yelled from inside the bathroom. When Kari called an affirmative, the Sans brothers remembered that they were trying to get into said bathroom, and began hammering on the door again.
"I'm coming out, and I'm indecent!" At those words, Tobin's brother immediately fled to their rooms. Kari rolled her eyes. They went through this whole scene everytime one or more of the guys came home, and they ended up running at Tobin's threat of indecent exposure. Despite the fact that she had never followed through on her threat, her brothers lived in mortal dread of a day that she might actually be serious.
The door flipped open, and Tobin walked out - fully dressed and rubbing a towel briskly over her damp hair. "All yours," she said with a slight yawn. "The guys should be cleared out by seven-thirty at the latest, so I'll just save you some bacon."
"Where are they going?" Kari asked, shifting her duffel bag to a more comfortable position.
"At *seven-thirty*?" she asked, her jaw dropping. Even after years of association, the Sans' still managed to surprise her.
Tobin gave an careless shrug. "Hey, Tom just got divorced. I assume they plan to drown their sorrows and then crank-call his ex-wife once they're completely trashed." Seeing Kari's still-astonished expression, Tobin just threw her hands up in the timeless 'hey, they're guys' gesture and trotted downstairs to secure breakfast.
With a shrug of her own, Kari entered the bathroom just as the aforementioned guys started venturing out of their rooms. Time for a nice shower.
Hunter woke up feeling battered, bruised, and like his head had a whole brass quartet playing inside it. All in all, he was uncomfortably reminded of the time he and Trevor had cajoled Jesse into helping them make up some fake IDs, and going down to one of the bars in Sunnydale University Collegetown to see if they could get someone to sell them beer. Someone had been willing, and the three boys had woken up the next morning seriously regretting it.
Rolling over, the memory of last night's encounter with the muggers rushed back. With a sigh and a groan, Hunter got slowly to his feet. Staggering over to his dresser, he paused mid-way through pulling a random tee-shirt out. Pausing, he chewed his lower lip for a moment in thought. The dance was two days away....it was now or never.
Rooting through his dresser, he managed to find a blue tee-shirt and a pair of jeans that were clean and untorn. After an extensive search of his closet, he extracted a dark blue overshirt. One quick visit to the bathroom later, he returned and dressed quickly. He then spent ten minutes carefully observing his reflection in the mirror, making sure that he looked good, but casual. Running a comb through his dark brown hair, he winced when he brushed against a large bandage. Asking a girl out when he looked like a mummy wasn't something he was particularly up for, so he carefully peeled off the bandages. Most of the bruises and cuts had faded enough so that they weren't readily apparent. For a moment Hunter paused, staring at the cuts in the mirror. Last night, when he was getting ready for bed, he could've sworn that he was in much worse shape. The sound of a honking horn and his father's voice yelling for him to hurry up quickly distracted him from the matter, though, and Hunter just had enough time to grab his bag before racing down the stairs.
In the kitchen, he passed by his dad, who was sitting at the table drinking his morning coffee while fixing the cuffs on his collared button-down shirt.
"Grab something to eat before you go!" Xander called to his son, just as Hunter was halfway out the door. Grabbing a bagel, he tossed it to the lean youth.
"Big day, dad?" Hunter asked as he fielded the bagel, gesturing with his free hand at the tie that Xander was carefully adjusting. Usually Xander forwent the tie, prefering to keep a slightly casual working environment.
"Meeting with a new client." Xander responded, "I won't be home until late. *YOU*, though," he said, pinning Hunter with a parental glare just as he tried to race out the door again, "are to be home right after school. No going out with your friends." Raising a hand to forstall Hunter's protests, he continued. "I told the Senecas and Trevor's mother about your accident last night, and I'm sure that they'll be putting the same restrictions on them. I want you to stay inside for a few nights."
"But-" Hunter started.
"That's final, Hunter. Now have a good day." Xander glanced at his watch, and quickly rose to leave before he was late. When he looked back at the door, Hunter had already exited, running across the lawn to where Trevor was waiting impatiently in his car.
Xander gave a deep sigh, and turned his gaze heavenword. "For once," he pleaded quietly, "just once, please try and make him listen to me."
Grabbing his briefcase, Xander hurried to get ready for his own workday, which didn't have the consideration to cease to exist because of problems with sons, prophesies, or old enemies.
Kari walked into the emptied kitchen twenty minutes later, feeling much better after her shower. Miraculously, Tobin was the only one present, and pushed a plate of toast over to Kari with a grin. Then, the small girl's dark eyes narrowed slightly as she observed her friend. Swallowing a mouthful of toast, Kari sat down and tried to look casual, even while Tobin was trying to stare holes into her brain. A long silence fell, as Tobin tried to mentally force Kari into admiting what she was up to, and Kari tried to concentrate on her breakfast.
Tobin broke the silence first. "You look very nice today." she said in a voice that was almost accusatory.
"Thanks." Kari responded.
"The skirt looks great."
"Thanks." It was true. The long skirt came right down to her ankles, but a small slit made it comfortable for walking in.
"Same with the halter top."
"I try." The halter top matched the skirt, though Kari usually wore it with jeans.
"I like what you did with your hair."
"Well, I thought I'd do something different with it today." She had combed her long brown hair out loose so that it fell down her back in a smooth wave.
"Purple is really your color."
"Thanks." This was true. The skirt and top were both a deep wine purple that Julia had once remarked was a shade that Kari looked best in.
Another long moment passed.
"You never wear purple."
"You hate it when your hair is loose because it gets caught everywhere."
"Royal pain in the ass."
"You haven't worn a skirt to school in weeks."
"And then only because all my pants were dirty."
"I'm not even going to comment on the top."
"That's probably for the best."
The two regarded each other for another long moment.
"You're really going to stand out."
"I'll change and we'll go."
"That'd be great."
Ten minutes later, Tobin returned downstairs, having exchanged her torn jeans and 'New World Order' tee-shirt for a pretty black sundress with a pale-yellow flower print.
"You owe me."
"Can I cash it in now?"
"Exert your womanly wiles on anyone except Hunter Summers-Harris."
"I'll consider it."
"No, I did consider it. For 1/24th of a second, really."
"As long as you made the effort then."
"We'd better go now. How is the Jeep working?"
"Tom gave it a jump from his car before the whole crew left, so we should be all set. It's going to be a pain getting in and out of in skirts, though."
"You owe me."
"You already cashed it in."
"There were two seperate debts. One was for actually wearing the dress, the second was for appearing in public in it."
"Okay, I'll give you that one."
"Fine. Let's go."
As Trevor stepped on the excelerator - his driving abilities might have been better suited to the Indy 500 than to the streets of Sunnydale - Hunter took a huge bite out of his bagel. Steering with one hand, Trevor used the other to take a long drink out of his Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup. With a quick twist of the wheels, the car screetched into the Senecas' driveway. Honking the horn, Trevor and Hunter sat back and respectively ate or sipped as they waited for Jesse. A few minutes went by, and they saw Mr. Seneca casually walk out the front door to where his own car was parked, holding his own mug of morning coffee in one hand while carting his briefcase along with the other.
In sharp contrast, Jesse came tearing out the front door right after his father, hair still wet from the shower, a breakfast bar clenched between his teeth, both shoes untied, and trying to zip his backpack closed as he ran.
Hunter gave a little mental groan. As fond as he was of his childhood friend, he had to admit privately that Jesse was a bit of a spaz. Half the fights that he and Trevor had gotten into over the years had been because someone was picking on Jesse.
"Geez, Hunter," Jesse said as he hopped into the backseat and Trevor pulled the car into an extremely speedy reverse. "Did you really get mugged last night? Because my parents read me the riot act this morning about staying out late, and now I'm grounded indefinitely."
Hunter winced. Jesse's parents were notoriously overprotective, and this was just the kind of thing that would set them off. He remembered two years ago when there had been a few unexplained dissapearences Jesse's parents had refused to let him go anywhere where adults or nuns weren't present.
"Yeah, I did. But it wasn't that bad. I mean, you can barely see the bruises today." Hunter made a helpless expression. "My dad did the same with me. What about you, Trev? Did your mom ground you?"
"I was out the door before she could catch me." Trevor siad, his face taking on a closed expression that his friends knew not to argue with. "My dad's home for a few days - do you mind if I crash at your house for a while, Hunter?"
"Nah, no problem." Hunter said. He knew that Trevor and his father didn't get along, and he knew better than to try and push any further explanation out of his friend. "I just hope that my dad lets up before the dance."
Trevor's face cleared up at the change of topic. "Why," he asked with a grin. "Are you finally going to ask someone?"
"Would that be why you look so swanky today?" Jesse teased from the backseat. Hunter felt his cheeks start to redden as the other two boys hooted with laughter.
"Well, excuse me if I take a certain pride in my appearence." he said huffily.
"Oooh," Trevor leered, "sounds like you've got it bad for some girl. So, tell. Who is this mystery maiden?"
"Do we know her?" Jesse asked. Feeling their eyes on him, Hunter shifted slightly in his seat.
"Well..." he hedged. "How 'bout those Knicks?" he asked, hoping that they would be diverted. From the glares directed at him, though, he realized that he wasn't going to get out of this one. Taking a deep breath, he faced the firing squad and confessed.
"It's Kari Ambrose."
"WHAT??" yelled his two friends, and Hunter knew that if he had had a camera at this moment, he could've captured a perfect study of the emotion known as utter shock.
"You're kidding, right Hunter? Right?"
"Trevor, look out for that car!" Jesse called to Trevor, who was too busy trying to talk 'sense' into Hunter to bother with such trivialties as watching the road.
*swerve* *screech* There was a great deal of yelling and gesturing as Trevor cut off another car.
"Guys, I think I'm going to throw up," Jesse moaned from the backseat.
"Not now, Jesse," Trevor responded sharply. "I'm dealing with a pod person who has taken over the body of Hunter."
"Oh, come on-" He said, rolling his eyes.
"Back, pod-Hunter!" The blonde boy beside him yelled.
"Now you're just being a pain. What problem do you have with Kari?"
"Plenty." Trevor said shortly.
"Her, personally, or her friends?" Hunter knew his best friend, and he knew that Trevor was acutely aware of their social standing in both the general school populace and the various sports teams they were members of.
"Never really met her, so I'm just assuming that she has serious mental psychosis, but mostly her friends, yes."
"What a load of-"
"Hear me out, Hunter. She hangs out with Julia Meah, that red-haired girl-"
"Mary." Jesse chimed in. Hunter looked up in surprise - usually their friend tended to steer clear of any conversations concerning social status. Jesse was acutely aware of the fact that he himself would be limited to the 'nerd' class if it weren't for Trevor.
"Thanks, Jesse, you are the Encyclopedia Nerdica." Trevor responded with a slight sneer. "So Julia Meah, red-haired Mary, and Tobin Sans. Julia is president of the Drama Club, and dates Richie the swim jock. Mary belongs to all the same classes and clubs as Jesse does. And as for the Sans harpy....well, need I say more? I'm not arguing that Kari is easy on the eyes, but don't drag your rep down that way by dating her. I'm just looking out for you, buddy. Listen, why don't you Nora? She's pretty, popular, and remarkably loose about her morals." From the expression on his face, Hunter knew that Trevor expected him to give in and agree, like he always had before. He knew that Trevor really was looking out for him, and usually he'd probably agree with him, but this time was different. As they pulled into the Sunnydale High parking lot, he turned to stare directly into Trevor's dark green eyes with his own piercingly jade gaze.
"With all due respect, Trev," Hunter said in a sweetly reasonable tone, but with a deadly serious edge, purposefully using Trevor's childhood nickname. "I think this time I can find a date of my own without resorting to your closet of cast-offs. And if I want to date Kari, I will. Got a problem with that? Too bad."
Not wanting to get involved in a fight like this, Jesse piled out of the car and hurried into the building, leaving the other two locked in a battle of wills. The contest dragged on for long minutes, until finally Trevor broke first and leaned back, defeated.
"You're right, Hunt," he said softly, "I can't stop you. But if this girl means this much to you even before you go on a single date, just think how easily she can hurt you. She's special, and you and I don't date the special ones."
Hunter nodded in understanding, and the tension evaporated. For the past three years of high school, he and Trevor had gone out with the popular girls, the ones who were looking for nothing more than a guy to one-up their backstabbing clique members. It was easier that way. Everyone knew the rules, and feelings had nothing to do with anything.
"Maybe it's time for a change." he murmered. Looking up, he saw Trevor give a brief, noncommital shrug, and the moment passed.
"Yeah, well," Trevor scoffed, "don't come crying to me when you don't get smootchies without commitment. After a week, you'll be begging for me to set you up with Nora." Seeing Hunter's eyes narrow again, Trevor grinned and unbuckled his safety belt, preparing to get out. "Loosen up! You'll get the girl, you'll go out, and in two weeks everything will be back to normal. Now all we have to do is track down this Kari Ambrose. I'll distract her harpy friends so that you can swoop in and make your move." Hunter laughed at the image, and also got out. Together, they sauntered towards the school. After a long pause, Trevor spoke.
"I'm going to have to deal with Tobin."
"I really hate that girl."
"You owe me."
"Just so we understand."
End Part 14
*sigh* About time! *g*